Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Smothered Baked Potato


Today was a cold, ice rainy day.  After two slippery walks with the doggo I realized that the weather was screaming "BAKED POTATO FOR DINNER".  The Vegetable Roux that I am using as a gravy is inspired by a recipe from New Orleans Food by Tom Fitzmorris that he calls Peas in a Roux.  I added some wine, some other veggies in addition to peas and the idea of serving it poured over a hot baked potato just seemed natural.

2 baking potatoes, washed and dried well
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Salt & Pepper
8 scallions, sliced
4 oz baby bella mushrooms (about a heaping 1 1/2 cups)
2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into half moon discs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 dry white wine
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Bragg's Amino Acids
1 teaspoon of Sriracha
  1. Preheat oven to 425 with rack in middle.  Using a fork poke each potato 4 or 5 times (leaving 16 or 20 holes).  Lightly coat the potatoes with olive oil.  Lightly salt the outside of the potatoes and place them on a wire rack that is on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet.
  2. Place the potatoes in the oven and bake for about an hour.
  3. Once the potatoes are done take them out and let them sit for about 10 minutes.
Start the following steps about 10 or 15 minutes before the potatoes come out of the oven.
  1. Melt the butter in a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add the flour and make a light roux - making sure to NOT burn the roux by constantly stirring.
  2. Add the 'shrooms, carrots and scallions and lower the heat to medium-low.  Add a pinch of black pepper and two pinches of salt.  Stir every few minutes.
  3. After the 'shrooms about half their volume (about 12 minutes) deglaze the pan with the wine then add the stock, Bragg's and Srirachi.
  4. Stir in the peas and raise the heat slightly until the peas are hot.  Cover and lower heat.
  5. After the potatoes have sat for 10 minutes: Hold each potato with tongs use a fork to make a continuous dotted line lengthwise across the top of the potato.
  6. Place the potato in the tongs so the tongs are holding each "pointed" side of the potato.  Squeeze the tongs and the potato will pop open.
  7. Serve the potatoes smothered with the Vegetable Roux as an accompaniment to a salad, or blackened fish or by itself.

    Note: Not all the gravy will be used.  I find that I need to add another spoonful of gravy about halfway thru eating the potato.
- Add grated cheese before the gravy for a fun twist.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

My Big Fat Greek Springroll

My first recipe of 2018 and it's a weird one.  I accidentally bought some fillo dough; I wanted puff pastry sheets.  I looked at what I had lying around and came up with this idea.  I like to save time and space by building the "Greek Logs" directly on the parchment lined cookie sheet.

Serves 4

1 9x14 inch square of fillo dough, thawed, cut to form two squareish rectangles
1 pack of goat cheese (4 oz)
1 lemon
1 bulb fennel sliced thin
quarter of  an onion sliced thin
1 red bell pepper cut into thin strips
1/4 cup minced parsley
1/2 cup sliced black olives
2 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
dry white wine
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place thawed dough on it.  Preheat the oven according to dough package instructions.
  2. In a bowl mix the goat cheese, a little lemon zest, a lot of cracked black pepper, the juice of half a lemon and a third of the parsley.  Set aside.
  3. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil 10 inch non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add the fennel, onion and bell pepper and a little salt and pepper and cook for about 7 minutes.  
  4. Add a quarter cup of wine, cover and reduce heat to medium and cook for 5 or 6 minutes.
  5. Off heat add the olives, juice of the other lemon half.  Toss to combine.  Mix in the panko.
  6. Using a cheese knife or spoon spread half the cheese mixture across the center third of the Phylo.  It will look like three even parallel striped flag.  Dough on the top and bottom, cheese spread in the center.
  7. Top with parm!
  8. From one of the dough ends start rolling up your "Greek Log".  
  9. Bake per dough package instructions.  I like to over cook them just slightly...  They burn quickly so keep an close eye if you attempt this.
  10. Slice each in half on a bias and serve with a side salad or soup. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Music for Nothing? That's Called Stealing

There is a great store up the street from my apartment called Mango.  They sell this adorable "Philly Girl" shirt, one that can be bought elsewhere around the city but locally it is a Mango exclusive.  Imagine a man or woman who go into Mango and informing, not asking, but informing the staff that they needed the shirt yet have no funds in their budget for the shirt.  It's okay though because when people saw them wearing the shirt would know that it was from Mango. The person wearing would even keep some business cards from Mango handy to give out.

Sounds inappropriate, right?  It is something that I deal with multiple times a year as a full-time musician.  What is even more amazing is that these requests for free services always come from groups that have members whose yearly income is double what I make as an independent artist.

I am not sure if a monetary value can be put on the training I have had.  A couple hundred thousand dollars of higher education followed by years of performing six days a week in and around New Orleans honing my craft.  Add to that a few hours a day I currently spend practicing, composing or arranging new material.  Then there is the maintenance on equipment, upkeep on my physical appearance (you gotta look good if you want to get hired), hours - I mean hours - on the phone booking new venues, meeting with potential brides and grooms to help plan their big day, plus dealing with hotels, township offices (if the performance is outside and a variance is needed), the list goes on and on.

Did I mention that in order to stay competitive and be able to put bids in for jobs that I need to have the same liability insurance coverage that a caterer or general contractor has?  Places like the Highlands Historical in Ft Washington won't hire me without it, and it isn't cheap.

A study from 2015 found that the average yearly income of a full-time musician in the United States is around $20K.  I mentioned earlier that, in my experience, those looking for free music are wealthier than I am and always white.  When talking to older musicians I am told that $100/man was considered a fair paying gig in the early 1960's.  Why then am I fighting to get $150/man in 2017?  And remember: $150/man doesn't include what I need to put aside for my insurance.  And taxes.  Don't forget the tax man.  As I said: I am a full-time musician.  That also means Uncle Sam gets about 23% of what you are paying me.  Suddenly a $100 gig becomes $77, which becomes $50 or less once I take care of the insurance bill.  I need gas to get to the venue and that brings us down to $40.  Am I performing downtown?  If so: parking garages are about $25 or $30 for a weekend night, right?  So at the end of the night I may have $15.  $15 for three or four hours of work.

Why then, time and time again, am I approached with "Our group is hiring a few musicians to entertain but we don't have music in our budget"?  If this is the case then (1) you aren't hiring musicians at all and (2) you should focus on what actually is in your budget. 

When I am asked for something for free from people who make more in one week that I make in one month is insulting and borders on indentured servitude. What is amazing to me is that when I am asked to perform for groups from lower income areas (ie: West Parkside Business Assoc, various community groups in Germantown, Mt. Aity, etc) my price is never questioned and a generous tip is almost always included. Why does this issue seem to be native to Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia's “Garden District”?

Don't think I don't do "freebie" gigs.  I donate my time and talent to a number of good causes.  There are a few children's charities that I contribute a silent auction item of a performance in your home, and many time I will perform for free at the auction itself. Occasionally my band mates join me and the auction item becomes a jazz trio for a house party, etc.  It always comes back around in the end.  A child gets medical bills paid and you get some great music in your house.  But asking musicians to play for nothing more than "business card placement" is despicable.

I am a firm believer that live music makes any event more memorable.  If you feel the same and don't "have it in your budget" then ask your members/friends/neighbors for help.  If you have 25 members and they each contribute $20 then you have $500 for music, which - in 2017 - is a fair price for a duo to entertain for 3 or 4 hours.

Music for nothing?  That's called stealing.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Whole Wheat 3 Cheese White Pizza with Roasted Peppers & Arugula Pesto


for the pesto
2 cups arugula
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 clove of garlic

for the roasted peppers
2 red bell peppers, seeded and taken apart

for the pizza
1 1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour
2 teaspoons honey
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon yeast
8 oz skim mozzarella, grated
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
3/4 cup crumbled feta
Penzy's "Tuscan Sunset" herb blend
Penzy's "Dried Aleppo Pepper Flakes"

  1. In a bread machine set to the "dough" setting, combine the water, flours, honey, salt, oil and yeast.  As the saying goes: Set it and forget it.
  2. Plan to do the rest of these steps once your dough has finished.  Keep the dough in the bread machine until you are ready to use it.
  3. Combine all the pesto ingredients into your "Magic Bullet" and pulse until combines.  Place in fridge until you need to use it.
  4. Turn on your broiler and put the rack about 3 inches from it.  Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.  Lay out your peppers, skin side up, and broil for 13 minutes, rotating halfway.  Remove from oven and - using tongs - pile the peppers in the center of the foil and then close the foil to make a pouch.  Let the peppers sit and steam for ten minutes.  Then open foil.  Once they are cool peel off the charred skin and then slice the peppers into thin strips.  Put aside.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
  6. On a floured surface plop your dough out and, using flour coated hands, work the dough into a 10 inch round.  Then place the round on a greased 12-inch-round "crisper tray" and with those floured hands work the dough out into a 12-inch round.
  7. Top the pizza with the mozzarella, feta, parm and the two Penzy's herbs.  Bake for about 15-18 minutes, rotating it halfway and pulling it out before anything burns.  Place pizza on cooling rack so the bottom stays crispy.
  8. While pizza is cooling put your pesto into a bread bag (or pastry bag if you is fancy).  If using a bread bag: once you have loaded it up cut the corner off so there is tiny hole to squirt out the pesto.  If using a pastry bag use the smallest tip.
  9. Place the peppers and squirt the pesto on your pizza.  I like doing a lattice of horizontal red and vertical green (see picture above).
  10. ENJOY!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Eggs Pontchartrain


Many mornings when one of us walk the dog the other one makes breakfast.  This morning while Wifey was out with the Pupster I came up with this idea.  I don't know why calling it Pontchartrain popped into my head but I couldn't shake it.  As Wifey aptly put it, "It's a beautiful lumpy mess... Just like that entire region."  This ended up being incredibly easy and may end up one of my favorite morning recipes.

serves 2

1 English muffin, halved and toasted and topped with your favorite spread/jam/etc
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning (or more if you love it)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 red or golden potato (larger than a golf ball, smaller than a tennis ball), quarter-inch dice
2 large eggs
Crystal Hot Sauce

  1. Heat a 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and after a few minutes of pre-heating add the butter and oil.  Swirl it around.
  2. Toss the potato with the creole seasoning and garlic.
  3. Add the potato mixture to the skillet - spreading out to a single layer - and turn up the heat.  After a couple minutes stir the potatoes and again spread to a single layer and cover for a few more minutes.
  4. Once the potatoes are looking crispy separate them into two piles.  Increase heat to medium high.  Crack an egg onto each pile. Cover and after one minute turn heat off and let sit (still covered) for about 5-7 min until eggs are cooked and yolk still runny.
  5. Each potato egg pile should easily be picked up with a thin spatula and plated with half an English muffin.
  6. Add a squirt of hot sauce and ENJOY!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Chicko Pinto Salad


It's getting warmer so finding hearty side for dinner that doesn't involve turning the oven on is always a good idea.  I woke up craving my Mom's "3 Bean Salad" to have with our veggie burgers.  I combined a few different recipes that I have done in the past and then added my own twist with the Feta.  Full disclosure:  After a few months of disappointing "jalapeno heat" I didn't taste test the one I brought home today.  It ended up being a little spicier than expected - but not too spicy that the salad couldn't be enjoyed.  I found some left-over Feta from something I made over the weekend and realized that adding it would balance out the heat.

1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 ribs celery, chopped to size of beans
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped to size of beans
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped to size of beans
1/2 of a red onion, diced
juice of half a lime
4 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 jalapeno, diced
1/3 cup crumbled Feta cheese

  1. Mix everything in a bowl then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Let it sit in the fridge for, at least, 4 hours.
  3. Give the salad a good stir and add more salt and pepper or lime juice, if needed, before serving.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Quick Dip #1: White Bean & Garlic


We love dips!  Any kind of dip.  Red, green, white, taupe, purple - if you dip something in it: bring it on!  We especially love the ones that can be made in under 5 minutes.  Homemade hummus is great - and not hard at all to make - but I end up spending 15 minutes wrestling with a half-empty jar of Tahini plus I get oily fingerprints EVERYWHERE.  So I am always on the lookout for quick and flavorful dips - with minimal cleanup.  A snack so fast you can start and finish it during a commercial break during the game.

Many weeks either my wife or myself will cut up A LOT of veggies and put them in a large Tupperware container in the fridge.  Having "dippers" pre-prepared encourages us to make a quick dip and skip the chips and Cheez-Its.

QUICK DIP:  WHITE BEAN & GARLIC

1 15 oz can Cannellini Bean, drained and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, chopped or not chopped - it's going into a food processor regardless
juice of half a lemon (or more to taste)
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 or more teaspoons of whatever fresh herb you have on hand, finely chopped*
3 tablespoons water (or more)
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of white pepper

  1. For this I used 1 teaspoon each of fresh sage and fresh summer savory.  Chop your herbs now!
  2. Put all ingredients into a food processor and WHIP it up.
  3. If it is too thick for your taste add another tablespoon of water and WHIP it again.
  4. Serve with a platter of cut veggies or pita or tortillas.
You can also use this as a spread on a baguette and then top with freshly grilled veggies for a great summery open-faced style sandwich.

Try this using roasted garlic!

* I like using two different herbs.  One teaspoon of each.  It really doesn't matter what the combo.  Experiment.  You'd be surprised that there is no wrong combination.  Mint and dill never bonded so gracefully!



VARIATION #1: Rosemary-Roasted Garlic White Bean Dip

Use four or five cloves of roasted garlic, a tablespoon of fresh (minced) rosemary and a few tablespoons of grated parmesan.  This variation is NOT vegan.