When Irene Came To Town (Home Cookin’ In Philadelphia)

August 2011

I went to Philly for fun, friends and family.  Irene went to Philly to create a pleasant breeze, cut the humidity, clean the streets, cancel transportation plans and bring us together for a night at the home front.  I am sincerely sorry for those who were really negatively affected by the hurricane, but for Philly, the buzz was mostly hurricane hype, a few cancelled plans, a rearranged bus trip and one more day in the city.

With all that Hurricane Hype (the name of my band if I ever form one?!?), our plan was to play it safe and play at home.  While the gents prepared for a flood, I prepared food.

Local heirloom tomatoes, spinach, fresh mozzarella and olive oil with roasted garlic to start.

Then came the heavy hitter:

A Shepherd’s Pie

1 lb responsibly sourced ground lamb meat
3-4 carrots
4-5 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 red onion, chopped
2-3 stalks of celery
1 red pepper
1 container of mushrooms
4-5 cloves of garlic
Lots of butter!
grated mozzarella cheese

Boil the potatoes with a few cloves of garlic until mashable.  Once soft enough, drain any excess water.  Add 2-3 Tablespoons of butter and a dash of salt.  Mash, mash, mash.  Set aside.

In a large pan, sauté the onions until translucent.  Add more garlic, the peppers, and mushrooms, stirring until browned.

Add the ground lamb, and continue to stir.

Add the remaining vegetables and stir until browned.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Butter a 9×13 pan.   Pour the contents of the stir fry into the pan.  Add a layer of mozzarella cheese.  Dollop the mashed potatoes on top and then smooth over the cheese layer.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 20-25 minutes, until the potatoes are slightly browned and crisp.

Serve to the Hurricane party.

Brian’s First Brussel Sprouts

Remove the stalk from the brussel sprouts and cut in halves.  Boil until brighter green and softer.

Melt 2-3 Tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add chopped fresh ginger and garlic.  Once crisp, add the slivered almonds and stir to combine and season.

Phil would have earned the “Junior Meteorologist” merit badge had he been a boyscout (and had that been a possible badge?).  He had every possible update alerting us via his phone, internet feeds and the occasional real life reportage from the breezy window.  At one point, he wanted to fill the tub with water.  At another point, he wanted to seek shelter in the tub in case of a tornado.

Then I set the table.

And he finally ignored the hurricane hype for a bit.

There was still plenty of hurricane hangin’ to be had, so we brewed some coffee, and I assembled the dessert.  I was quite pleased I was able to bake away from my kitchen.  I’d like to thank the Philly Whole Foods for the thorough collection of its bulk foods aisle.  Listen Pittsburgh Whole Foods, I’m talking cocoa and cacao nibs by the pound!

Cherry Sauce

½ cup red wine
½ cup water
¼ cup turbinado sugar
1 quart fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half
1 cup blackberries (from the Fairmount Farmers Market)


Combine the wine, water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until more syrupy.

Remove from heat, and allow to cool.

Add the fruit.

Flourless Chocolate Cake
Yield: Makes one 8-inch cake


4 ounces fine-quality 70% dark chocolate
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
3 large organic eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
A handful of walnuts, chopped


Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan.

In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth.

Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture.

Add eggs and whisk well.

Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Add the walnuts and a few spoonfuls of the cherry blackberry compote.

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust.

Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes

Serve with organic vanilla bean ice cream, a drizzle of the compote, cacao nibs, chopped walnuts and a smile.

While we digested, Brian read us his greatest literary endeavor- the collection of poems he wrote as a child.  The book really needs to be published!!!!

I laughed, I cried, I experienced deep fear and foreboding.  I mostly laughed.

The next morning we emerged from our hurricane stupors to a pleasant breeze, lovely light, quiet streets…and bubbles!

Despite the many changes in plans, due to what turned out mainly to be a rainy weekend, I crossed a lot off my Philly to do list.  More on those activities to come!

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