Chocolate Week TM_IN_CHOCDIN_FI_001

Who says you can’t have chocolate for dinner? I don’t mean devouring half a dozen Twix bars and counting it as a meal. Polishing off an entire carton of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream by yourself doesn’t count either. I’m talking about using chocolate as an element in a savory dish. Yes, chocolate playing the role of something besides sweet.

When we think about chocolate, we almost always think of desserts. But chocolate, in its raw form, is anything but sweet. And utilizing it as a savory ingredient is anything but new. Over 2,000 years ago, before it was ever combined with sugar to make the confection we’re most familiar with today, the Aztecs and Mayans consumed chocolate in the form of a thick, bitter drink. Cacao beans were fermented, roasted, and then mixed with water and spices to make xocoatl, from which chocolate originally got its name. Chocolate has been, and can be, more than just a candy or dessert.

Incorporating chocolate into your dinner meal isn’t as challenging as you’d imagine. Plenty of savory foods have a natural affinity for cocoa-based flavors. Consider the classic pairing of chocolate with spices and chilies in a Mexican mole sauce. Or take gamey meats like lamb and venison, which marry well with cocoa-driven richness. Often times, the bitter notes in dark chocolate work to highlight hidden flavors and assert depth in a dish that was otherwise missing it.
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Thanksgiving TM_TK_ALLVEG_FI_001

When my sister was 14 years old, she stopped eating meat. We were always a household that was big on vegetables, so it wasn’t too much of a hardship, but when meat-centric holidays like Thanksgiving rolled around, it was a little bit more of a challenge.

One year, my mom sprang for a tofu roast that was pressed into the shape of a turkey. Other years, we did fanciful things with sautéed mushrooms, roasted acorn squash, and toasted nuts.

Eventually, my sister returned to the poultry-eating fold, but over those years I learned a lot about making main dishes that were both suitably celebratory and free from meat.
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The Larder TM_TL_HEIRL_FI_001

There is no better late summer treat than a ripe, juicy, misshapen heirloom tomato. When they’re in season, I eat them at every meal. In the morning, I scramble eggs and top them with cubes of tomato. For lunch, I cut tomatoes into thick wedges and stack them on top of sturdy slices of mayonnaise-spread toast. Come dinnertime, I make tomato salads, pasta sauces, spicy salsa frescas, and even cocktails.

This week, I’ve pulled together some of my very favorite tomato-centric dishes for a full-on tomato supper. MORE

The Whole Chicken Project TM_WC_BEERC_FI_001

For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in the same apartment in Center City Philadelphia. It has many admirable qualities, including good neighbors, giant closets, and a dreamy location. The one thing it does not have is any outdoor space. This means that when summer rolls around, I have two options when it comes to making classic grilled dishes. I can borrow access to a Weber or I can find a way to fake it in my kitchen. MORE

Bookshelf

Mac Attack

Creative twists on a crowd-pleasing classic

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I was 12 years old when I learned that macaroni and cheese didn’t have to come from a box. Until that point, mac and cheese was something that my mom bought occasionally and tucked away for those evenings when my sister and I were home with a babysitter. It was cheaper than a pizza and even a 15 year old with basic cooking skills could make it. We never had mac and cheese made from scratch because my mom could not bear to sit down to a meal that starred a dish made solely of noodles and cheese.

Then one night, an old friend of my parents’ came to visit, with four of her six children in tow. After a quick glance at our pantry, Lusana began to make a colossal batch of homemade macaroni and cheese to feed the kids. I watched in fascination as she made a creamy sauce, poured it over broken spaghetti noodles (it was what we had) and baked it until it bubbled and browned. A single bite and I was forever sold. MORE

The Larder TM_TL_BECHA_FI_001

So many of my foundational food lessons came from family members. My grandma Bunny taught me about meringues, while my other grandmother showed me how to shove slivers of garlic into roast beef to enhance the flavor. My mom is responsible for my everyday food knowledge (along with my basic canning skills) and my dad shared everything he knew about fried eggs, pancakes, waffles and the art of the chocolate chip cookie.

I wish I could tell you that I learned to make béchamel and cheese sauces from an aunt or a kindly neighbor, but sadly, the truth is that all the credit for that particular skillset goes to Rachael Ray, circa 2002. MORE

Viva La Vegan

Alfredo: A Love Affair

A vegan version of the pasta classic that's just as rich as the original.

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Vegan alfredoI fell in love with Alfredo at age 11. After dithering painfully over dozens of options at an Italian restaurant, my mother wisely commanded: “Order the Alfredo. You’ll like it.”

I obeyed, but I was skeptical. At that age, I recoiled from any new food. The fettuccini part was, of course, safe and familiar, but slathered in a cream-based white sauce instead of the usual red, it became suspect. When my plate arrived, I encrusted it with Parmesan, praying that a thick coating of cheese might make it more like the pasta dishes already part of my small repertoire. But, after a single bite of those buttery, peppery noodles, I never looked beyond the word “Alfredo” on any menu again. I didn’t care what gnocchi was or how to pronounce “pasta fagioli.” In the realm of Italian American cuisine, I had found my soul mate.

And our bond was bliss until I became a vegan eight months ago.  MORE