Tuesday, March 30, 2010

When Bread is Banned

A little something about me: I come from a bi-religious family (my mom's Catholic and my dad's Jewish), and we celebrate every holiday out there.

As a result, I've been to many a Passover Seder in my day. When my brothers and I were younger, we hated Passover with a passion because it meant we were trapped at the dinner table for hours at a time, forced to ask some really weird questions (like "Why do we open doors?") out loud in front of everyone and made to forego perfectly good leavened bread.

Now that we're all old enough to enjoy alcohol, it's another story. We love Passover! During which other holiday (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, whatever) are you required to drink 4 glasses of wine within the span of 1 hour in the name of good faith? It is binge drinking at its best.

During my childhood, Passover usually involved bad food. Thankfully, things have changed now that my family has secured an annual invitation to celebrate the occasion at Gloria's house. Gloria is a close family friend, an amazing cook and a food stylist who has rubbed elbows with the likes of Paula Deen, Giada De Laurentiis and countless other celebrity and local chefs. Check out what Gloria served at her Seder this year:

Naturally, it all started with a healthy serving of Matzoh.

Gloria served roasted lamb with Harissa sauce (untraditional for Passover but a really nice change of pace) and on the side, roasted spring vegetables including fennel, artichoke hearts and celery root.

Here's my full plate, complete with squash casserole (What? There weren't any breadcrumbs in it), roasted potatoes and Moroccan chicken:

The meal ended with a plethora of desserts made by Judy, another family friend and amazing cook. I had a huge plate of chocolate almond cake, lemon sponge cake with a lemon curd sauce and a whipped cream icing, homemade lady fingers dipped in dark chocolate and decadent chocolate mousse.

By definition, Passover (The Feast of Unleavened Bread) can't take place without matzoh. On Monday, we had matzoh ball soup as a first course. It just so happens that this soup is comforting, delicious and super affordable regardless of when you eat it. Run to the store, grab some matzoh meal and enjoy!

*The recipe below is from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Feel free to add shredded leftover chicken and more vegetables if you're looking to turn it into a main course.

Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls


3 eggs
6 to 9 cups good chicken stock
1/4 cup minced or grated onion
1/4 cup melted rendered chicken fat or canola or extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup matzoh meal, approximately
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish


Beat together the eggs and 1/2 cup of the stock. (If you would prefer very light matzoh balls, separate the eggs and beat the yolks with the stock. Beat the whites until almost stiff and fold them in after adding the matzoh meal.)

Stir in the onion, fat, salt, and pepper. Add the matzoh meal; the dough should be quite moist, barely stiff enough to make into balls. If it is too moist, add a little more meal.

Cover the mixture and refrigerate for an hour or overnight. When you're ready to cook, place a large pot of salted water to boil. (You can also cook the matzoh balls directly in your stock, but use the larger quantity of stock; the balls absorb a lot of liquid.) Using wet hands, shape the mixture into small balls, about 1 inch in diameter. Meanwhile, cook the carrots in the 5 1/2 cups stock.

Turn the heat under the boiling water to medium—low and cook the balls until expanded and set, about 30 minutes. Set them in soup bowls and ladle the stock and carrots over them, then garnish with lots of parsley.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Confessions of a Pasta-holic

I'm obsessed with pasta. I crave it almost constantly, and I'm willing to eat it at any time of day, including as soon as I wake up in the morning. Carbonara for breakfast, anyone?

Ironically, it's easy for me to identify my favorite pasta dish. When people ask me what my absolute favorite meal is (like if you were trapped on a desert island and could only eat one thing for the rest of your life), I immediately say spaghetti and meatballs.

My mom happens to make a killer version. Her trick, which she learned from a little old Italian lady in Buffalo, NY, is to include bite-size pieces of Italian bread soaked in milk to her meatball mix. Most people use fine bread crumbs, but I think the larger pieces of milk-soaked bread give the meatballs texture and keep them moist. Unlike my mom, I like to include half a pound of ground pork in my meatball ingredients (my mom prefers to use only ground beef and ground veal). I find that the pork adds a spicy, heartier flavor.

So, here's my mom's recipe, which I made for a group of hungry friends a few weeks ago. The ingredients cost about $40, and the recipe feeds up to 10 people. There were 7 people in our group, and we didn't have any leftovers.

Old-School Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs


For the meatballs:
4 slices Italian bread, torn into bite size pieces
3/4 cup milk
1/2 pound ground veal
1/2 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crusts removed)
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 healthy pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 whole bay leaves, dried or fresh
1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, liquid included
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, liquid included
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves

For serving:
1 1/2 to 2 pounds spaghetti (or your favorite type of pasta - wheat penne would be delicious as well), cooked al dente
Freshly grated Parmesan


Tear bread into pieces and soak in milk for about 5 minutes. Remove bread from milk and place in a bowl with the ground meats, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg and egg. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs.

Pour olive oil into a dutch oven to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the red pepper flakes, bay leaves and tomato paste and cook for three more minutes. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot over cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chicken: It's What's For Dinner

I am quite sure that I have never mentioned this but my Dad developed a strange and devastating food allergy late in life. . . the man is allergic to beef and pork. I know, I know perish the thought, right? And can I tell you, my Dad LOVED him some beef and pork, especially bacon! But the way I look it, the allergy might just be a blessing in disguise because it's made him somewhat of a healthier eater.

Needless to say, my Mom, Dad and myself are always on the lookout for great new ways for him to enjoy his staple protein - chicken. Let's just say that sometimes the recipes he comes up with are interesting to say the least. For example, chicken marinated in something that frighteningly resembles tarter sauce. I kid you not.

So, when I came across a chicken gumbo recipe last month in The Foster's Market Cookbook by Sara Foster (one of my favorites), I thought it would be perfect for my dad.

Not only is this gumbo healthy, it's also delicious and easy to prepare. It makes a terrific main course served with crusty French bread or cornbread. Not to mention you can freeze your leftovers (and you will have plenty), and I swear it only gets better with time. I enjoyed some last night, in fact. The recipe is below. And Dad, you should make this one!

Chicken Gumbo with Chicken-Apple Sausage


3-4lbs of chicken breasts (bone in)
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 yellow onion diced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
4 garlic cloves
8 cups chicken broth (low sodium is a healthier choice)
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups chopped fresh or frozen okra
6 plum tomatoes, cored and cut in half lengthwise
4 chicken-apple sausages, about 1 pound (if you don't already have a favorite variety, ask the butcher what is popular)
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 green onions, chopped (for garnish)
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons of gumbo filé powder
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rub chicken breasts with olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat the canola oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or a large, heavy saucepan. Cook chicken about 4 to 5 minutes per side (8 to 10 minutes total), until crispy and brown. Remove the chicken from the Dutch oven; place it on a baking sheet and cook it in oven about 30-40 minutes until juices run clear.

While chicken breasts are roasting, make a roux in the Dutch oven in which the chicken was cooked. Add flour slowly while whisking constantly and cook 4-5 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if the roux is browning to quickly. Continue to cook and whisk until the roux turns a darkish brown-orange color. Reduce heat to low and add the onion, green bell pepper, red bell pepper and celery and continue to cook and stir 3-4 minutes longer until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cook and stir 2 more minutes.

Remove the chicken from the oven when done and pull the meat from the bone with a fork. Add to the roux and vegetables. Then add chicken broth, bay leaves, Worcestershire sauce, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir well. Reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the okra and continue to cook about 20 minutes longer, stirring occasionally, until the gumbo is thick and the flavors have developed.

Meanwhile toss the tomatoes and sausages with olive oil in a baking dish and bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, turning once, or until lightly brown. When done remove from the oven, chop the sausages in 1/2-inch pieces and add to the gumbo along with the tomatoes.

Remove gumbo from heat and stir in the sherry, filé powder and parsley. Discard the bay leaves and serve immediately, over a bowl of steamed rice if desired. Garnish with chopped green onion.

Monday, March 15, 2010

One Dish Wonder

It's my hope that one of these days we can throw an Affordable Foodie bash here in my "quaint" little apartment. Not only would that give us all a chance to experience these delectable dishes in each other's company, but it would provide you with the opportunity to see my kitchen. It's one of those kitchens where you basically have to laugh to keep from crying, if you know what I mean. For starters, my washer and dryer are right there...literally just a few feet from the sink. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Maybe at some point in your life you've lived sans dishwasher. I hope not, for sanity's sake, but if you have, you understand that even for someone who loves preparing great meals (and I do), not having a dishwasher can often take the wind out of your cooking sails. I mean, here you've slaved away and enjoyed the spoils of your hard work...and then you're left with 30 extra minutes of manual labor requiring rubber gloves. Ugh! With that in mind, this Affordable Foodie has a new found appreciation for recipes that are not only tasty, but ones that don't clog up the sink with countless dishes.

My very favorite of this type of recipe is for beef enchiladas. It's a no-mess, easy and absolutely mouth watering dish! And the best part is it only uses one pan and one baking dish. I pair the enchiladas with slices of avocado, romaine lettuce, pickled jalapenos, sour cream and Jack's Fresh salsa. The recipe is below. Enjoy! I apologize for the pics; I had to use my iPhone.

C's Famous Enchiladas

(You'll need an 8x10 in. baking dish)

1 1/2 cans of El Pasos enchilada sauce
1 package of 12 in. tortillas
1 can of Rotel
1 package of McCormick's taco seasoning
1.5 - 2 lbs of ground lean sirloin
1 package of chopped romaine lettuce
Jack's Fresh salsa
2 avocados sliced into 1/2 wedges
1/2 cup of picked jalapenos
3 cups of pepper jack cheese, freshly shredded)
1 cup of shredded 4 Mexican cheese blend
1/4 cup of cilantro, roughly chopped


Cook meat in pan until brown. Add package of taco seasoning (follow the standard directions on the seasoning package). Also add 2 tablespoons of enchilada sauce - we recommend the Old El Paso sauce you can find at your local grocer. Once meat is cooked, add about 3-4 tablespoons of meat to each 12" tortilla. Tightly roll 5 tortillas with beef in a casserole dish. Cover with remaining enchilada sauce, rotel, and picked jalapenos.

Then add cheeses and cilantro to top.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until cheese bubbles. Serve with romaine, sliced avocado, salsa and sour cream.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Inman Park Restaurant Week Review: Sotto Sotto

It truly is a wonderful week to eat in Atlanta. Not only is Buckhead currently holding its restaurant week, but so is Inman Park.

During Inman Park Restaurant Week, 13 of the neighborhood's best dining establishments are offering special prix fixe, three-course menus at $15, $25 or $35, as dictated by each restaurant. The event will benefit the Believe in Me Foundation, which supports the education and welfare of children with autism. At the Affordable Foodie, we refuse to miss out on an event that combines food and charity, so we rounded up a group to join us at Sotto Sotto last night for an authentic Italian meal.

Like many of the restaurants participating in IP Restaurant Week, Sotto Sotto is offering a broad array of choices at varying price points by giving diners the option between a $25 and a $35 prix fixe menu. Our group chose the $25 menu and enjoyed some amazing dishes like a salad of blood oranges, fennel, arugula and Ligurian black olives dressed in lemon and olive oil, fresh strands of pappardelle coated in a braised duck ragu and handmade tagliatelle with wild mushrooms.

Among our group of four, we sampled all of three of the desserts that are offered on the Restaurant Week menu. The clear winner was the warm Belgian chocolate soup with croutons and hazelnut whipped cream. This is one of Sotto Sotto's most popular desserts, and we can see why. The slightly salty, crunchy croutons serve as the perfect counterpoint to the creamy, melted chocolate. The best part - the chef serves the sippable dessert in a coffee cup, so you can easily enjoy every last drop.

p.s. Thanks to our outgoing friend, Sam, we have a date with chatty owner Riccardo Ullio who offered to give us a lesson on how to make fresh pasta!

All good things must come to an end, and for Inman Park Restaurant Week, you're looking at this Sunday, March 14. Check out the special menus and make your reservations now!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Atlanta a la Cart: Support the Street Food Movement

Christiane Lauterbach, the well-respected editor of Knife & Fork, wants you to know that Atlanta is missing out on a major national trend: food carts and trucks. She's started an interesting blog called Atlanta Food Carts (duh) to educate hungry Atlantans on the reasons why our fair city is behind the culinary curve.

From the "About" section of the blog:

"Born of frustration, started in hope, nourished by memories of delicious street food eaten al fresco in other American cities (Portland, New York, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans among them), this blog would like to document a budding Atlanta scene inhibited so far by existing regulations adverse to the process."

Don't you want to see Jenny Levison of Souper Jenny take her business on the road to a neighborhood near you? Wouldn't it be great if you could buy a steaming hot breakfast burrito courtesy of the guys from Tacqueria del Sol on the street below your high-rise office in Midtown?

At AF, we believe there's nothing better than spending an average of $5 for a delicious lunch straight from the sidewalk. Join us and sign Lauterbach's petition to help bring casual, affordable, delicious food options to the streets of the ATL.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Buckhead Restaurant Week Starts This Weekend

The dining scene is heating up this weekend in Buckhead with the start of Restaurant Week on Saturday, March 6.

I admit that I usually steer away from prix fixe menu deals. Maybe I've become a bit jaded, but I'm typically disappointed by the uninspired menu options made with the cheapest ingredients possible (choice of salad/soup for an app, bland chicken or discount fish entree and the ubiquitous sorbet trio or slice of chocolate cake). When offered a "deal" at a restaurant, the food better be delicious and exciting - regardless of the discounted price.

You'd think that the chefs involved with Buckhead Restaurant Week heard my prix-fixe rants and set out to prove me wrong. Upscale restaurants that I usually can't afford are offering three-course menus with tons of exciting options for $25 per person, not including beverages, tax or gratuity.

Here's a little taste of the menus that inspired me to lunge for the phone and make a reservation:

Craftbar: Call me crazy, but it appears that you can choose one first course, one second course and one dessert from the full menu at Tom Colicchio's hot spot at The Mansion on Peachtree Street. Yummy options include pecorino fondue, hamachi sashimi, a braised short rib sandwich, lamb lasagna, meyer lemon curd ice cream sandwich and s'mores, among many others.

Kyma: Pano Karatassos and his crew are serving a wood grilled whole fish with a lemon vinaigrette, so grab a buddy and head to this contemporary Greek haven ASAP.

Pricci: Dig into a steaming bowl of Gnocchi Alla Romana or a pretty plate of roasted cod with tomatoes, olives and capers at this classic Italian restaurant. A traditional dessert called Maritozza Alla Crema involves a shot of chocolate liquer.

Portofino: If the weather is nice, dine al fresco on the deck and enjoy fried goat cheese with chestnut honey, butter poached rock shrimp and apple olive oil cake.

The Palm: Treat yourself to clams oreganata, aged prime top sirloin steak and key lime pie at one of the fanciest joints in town.

The fun ends Sunday, March 14, so hurry up and make reservations to take advantage of some truly legit deals.