Friday, February 8, 2013

New Website!

Check out Penn Appétit's brand-new website here:

We will be archiving this Blogger site and continue posting blog posts on the new website. All our original posts will be on the new site as well!

Thanks for being such a great reading audience, and keep checking us out at the new site!


Schokoladnaya kartoshka: The Humble Russian Dessert

     The subject line of the email from the editor of Penn Appetit read simply “Dessert Competition Saturday!” Relishing any opportunity to bake, I didn’t need any further convincing to enter the contest. Reading on, I discovered the judging criteria to be taste, appearance, and creativity. Although I wasn’t hoping or even trying to win, I’m a naturally competitive person (insert Wharton joke here) and so thought that my creativity could help differentiate me from the others. Namely, I was certain that if I made a Russian dessert, there would be little chance that anyone else would think to make the same thing.

Schokoladnaya kartoshka. Photo courtesy of Penn Gastronomy Club 
      I tried to think of my favorite Russian sweet that my mom and grandmother had baked me. The scharlotka, an apple cake, came to mind, as did the Napoleon, the Russian version a creamier and moister variation of the French classic. But these two desserts, although beloved by me, seemed to be too ‘classic’ and not quite interesting enough for the competition. I thought back to the almost dozen summers I spent living with my grandparents in their home in Russia. When I accompanied my grandmother on her weekly grocery shopping excursions, we would walk all around the city visiting various different shops - the butcher, the open-air vegetable market, a vendor selling canned goods, the fish store, and finally the bakery. At the bakery she would buy us a couple loaves of the traditional dense black rye bread, and if I was lucky, she would also buy me a sweet treat or two. Whenever she succumbed to my begging and pleading, my first choice would always be the schokoladnaya kartoshka, or chocolate potato.

     This dense, rich, and intensely chocolaty pastry doesn’t have any potato in it but is shaped to look like one, with nuts poking out to look like its sprouts. The walk home always seemed excruciating long, as I couldn’t wait to dig into my dessert. Sitting in my grandmother’s tiny kitchen, in between sips of black tea, I would enjoy spoonfuls of the moist chocolate ‘potato.’ I haven’t eaten this uniquely Russian dish for years, since the last time I was in Russia was more than 4 years ago. I decided the dessert competition would be the perfect opportunity, or excuse, to attempt to recreate my favorite childhood dessert.

     Following a few internet searches, I found that the ‘potato’ was made rather simply: chocolate icing mixed with cake crumbs. Excited that I stood a fairly good chance of accurately recreating this childhood memory, I bought the necessary ingredients and set about baking. Although I ALWAYS bake my cakes from scratch, since the recipe called merely for cake crumbs, I decided to use a store-bought package of yellow sponge cake mix. I wanted the ‘potato’ to have an intense chocolate flavor, so I added a quarter cup of cacao powder to the cake mix before baking. Next, I made the chocolate icing, mixing first equal parts creamed butter and condensed milk. Finally, I added a few ounces of melted bittersweet chocolate and a couple of teaspoons of vanilla extract and mixed it all together to form the icing. Once the cake had baked and cooled, I crumbled it to form crumbs and combined it with the icing. To sculpt the finished ‘potatoes,’ I rolled several tablespoons of the cake crumb-icing mixture into balls, dusted them with cacao powder, and rolled them in chopped pecans. Finally, I was ready to taste my creations to see if they lived up to my expectations.

     Although not as dense and rich as I had remembered, my recreation of the schokoladnaya kartoshka was still satisfying, every mouthful moist and flavorful. The taste and feel of the dessert made me think back to all of those summers I spent with my grandmother, helping her on her weekly grocery expeditions. Now, I can’t wait until she comes and stays with my family again later this year, so I can share my version of this dessert with her.
My grandmother in her kitchen in Russia.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Food and Crafts: Clover Market

What happens when three food-obsessed girls show up to a craft show? We start and end at the food, of course.

Last Sunday, a few Penn-Appetit-ers decided to check out the winter Clover Market at the 23rd Street Armory. Usually, it is an open-air spring and fall market held in Ardmore, PA, but this winter market was a special treat. There were DIY workshops and about 55 talented vendors selling beautiful works of art, cool antiques, handmade items, and vintage finds….

And there were food trucks. Six, to be exact.

Pitruco’s, Lucky Old Souls, Yumtown USA, Sweet Box Cupcakes, and Rival Brothers were all lined up outside along Ranstead Street. First thing we did? Rival Brothers coffee. A necessity after our cold walk, right? The French Press in-a-cup was our choice and it was delicious. The coolest part was that you got to make it yourself, in a disposable cup.

After perusing the various goods of the crafters inside, it was time for lunch. Decisions had to be made. Did we want classic, but amazing Pitruco’s pizza? Or something a little different, like the gourmet, local organic food from Yumtown?

Two of us went for burgers from Lucky Old Souls. I got a grass-fed beef burger from Rineer Family Farms. Interestingly, it was cooked medium well, but it was still cooked to perfection. Caramelized onions and their special-of-the-day sweet potatoes added a touch of sweetness to the deal, while the sharp cheddar provided just the extra punch it needed. My friend chose the vegan veggie burger that was made from scratch. It had a really soft texture but was delicious, especially with the caramelized onions on top.

Our other friend chose to get the “The Joy” – a beer-braised pulled pork sandwich from Yumtown. The pork was tender and flavorful, especially with the added punch of house pickled jalapenos, aioli, red vinegar slaw, and a splash of BBQ sauce on top.

All in all, it was quite a successful trip, with cool crafts and even cooler food.

--Marisa Denker

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

CHOW NOW: Pumpkin Pancakes at Sabrina's

Located just on the outskirt of campus, Sabrina’s Café is fairly well known among Penn students for good reason. However, if you haven’t frequented Sabrina’s this winter, hurry now to try their pumpkin pancakes before this extra sweet brunch special goes out of season!

For my friends and me, pumpkin flavored anything is guaranteed to please. But Sabrina’s didn’t stop there. Rather, the pancakes were topped with Nutella, fluffy ricotta, white and milk chocolate chips, toasted walnuts, fresh berries, and a generous “sprinkle” (more like blanket) of powdered sugar and cinnamon. If the description doesn’t say it on its own, this was quite the extravagant and delicious indulgence – well worth the Saturday morning trek against forceful winds in freezing temperatures. The pancakes soft and the chocolate chips melted, this dish brought back nostalgia for the comforts of winter break in the best way possible. If you are an avid pumpkin lover like us, you have to CHOW NOW on these pancakes!

Chocolate Coconut Cake

Most times I've eaten cake in my life, I've been disappointed. There are so many desserts I can appreciate even when they aren't great. Take cookies. Although I would certainly prefer a phenomenal, straight from the oven Jacques Torres style cookie, I still enjoy the occasional Oreo. Cake is a different story. Bad (even mediocre) cake sucks... it just sucks. The texture is just so important yet difficult to perfect that any old slice of cake from a local grocery store is guaranteed to disappoint.

Mediocre cakes are just about the frosting. The cake itself is nothing more than an excuse to eat the frosting. I do not tolerate cakes made from box mixes, from terrible grocery store bakeries, and from anywhere else that produces cakes that may as well be frosted bread. You shouldn't either! Take a stand. Make a real cake.

I made this cake for my father's birthday over break and it rekindled my love for the classic birthday treat. The cake is so very chocolatey and the coconut filling, although it barely tasted like coconut, was excellent. The entire cake does not make for the prettiest of pictures, but trust me, as everyone who tasted it would also said: it's unbelievable.

Rich Chocolate Cake with Coconut Filling and Ganache
From Food52

Serves 10 to 12

18 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, divided, chopped
2/3 cups shortening
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
1 1/2 cup strong black coffee
3 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
1 cup heavy cream

1. Set out the cream cheese to soften. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease a 10-12 cup bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder.
3. In a small saucepan, melt 8 ounces of the chocolate with the shortening. Set aside to cool slightly.
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese with 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/3 cup sugar and the coconut. Set aside.
5. In a large mixing bowl, combine cooled chocolate mixture, 3 eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and coffee.
6. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cake flour, soda and salt.
7. Combine dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just incorporated.
8. Pour half of the chocolate cake mixture in to the bundt pan. Top that with the coconut/cream cheese mixture and then top that with the remaining cake mixture.
9. Bake on the center rack of a 350 degree oven for 45-65 minutes or until tester comes out clean.
10. Cool the cake in the bundt pan on a wire rack for 10 mintues. Invert the cake on a serving plate to cool further.
11. While cake is cooling, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Remove from heat and whisk in 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool.
12. Once the cake has cooled, drizzle or pour (depending on how much icing you want) the ganache on to the cake.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bloggers' Bites: Brunch at Russet

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appétit's blog staff. On Saturday, January 26, Penn Appétit bloggers trudged through the snow for a lively brunch at Russet.

Leslie Robledo: As a newcomer to Philly, the idea of trying a new restaurant was so exciting! I was down from the moment I heard of the opportunity and it was even better when I met the people I was going to spend the time at the restaurant with me. They were all as excited and anxious as I was which made the experience even more great. With decor that made you feel like you were at a close friend's house for brunch, the setting had a comforting intimacy that allowed everyone at the table to be sociable and full of smiles. Eyes widened as the food came out. The presentation was cute, not too extravagant and in no time there were satisfied taste buds all around. The time at Russett was nice. I met new people, ate good food, and ventured into the city. Something I recommend to everyone new and old to Philly!

Kristen Duda: Hailing from a small suburb outside of Philadelphia, I have not been exposed to the most exotic or interesting foods that one can find so easily in the city. Therefore, my experience at Russet in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood was extremely refreshing! The restaurant's atmosphere was quiet and warm, and every item on the menu seemed to have something I did not recognize in it, which I love.

I tried the wild mushroom sformato (which I had to Google in order to know what I was ordering). It was similar to a soufflé but less airy, and its earthly mushroom flavor was nicely counterbalanced with a parmesan cheese crisp, fine nuts, and something pickled on top. Needless to say, our trip to Russet was one I would love to repeat!

Nicole Woon: Upon entering Russet, I felt as if I had walked into someone's home. While warm and cozy, the interior still managed to be open and spacious. Hence, it was the perfect setting for our group of nine! After perusing the small menu, I knew my choice would be easy: I elected for the duck confit croque madame.

Out came a neatly-cut sandwich topped with a dripping sunny side up egg, flanked by a pile of lightly-dressed greens. Much to my surprise, one of the sandwich triangles had a duck leg--bone and all--comfortably sticking out the side: a statement piece, for sure. The sandwich was a touch dry; perhaps a fruity compote or jam would have made the meal more moist and added a new dimension of flavor? The cheese also did not have as much of a pronounced flavor as I would have liked. Regardless, this spin on the classic French sandwich was something I had not seen before and am glad I had the opportunity to try.

More treats from that bloggers enjoyed at brunch:

Sunday, February 3, 2013

News Feed: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

• New to University City: Café Renata replaces Café Clave at 43rd and Locust streets, offers Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare

• Quakers: 34th Street interviews '05 Penn grad and HubBub coffee truck owner Drew Crockett, reflects on the food truck business and his Penn years

• Penn dining: Bon Appétit brings local brands to campus, including Rival Brothers coffee, Talula's Table, and Brown Betty Dessert Boutique

• $100 raw bar platter at Butcher & Singer? $100 cheesesteak at Barclay Prime? Eater has the round up of the most expensive dishes in Philly

• Mark your calendars! East Passyunk Restaurant Week is Sunday, Feb. 24-Sat. March 2

• PLCB: Corbett unveils proposal for liquor store privatization in PA

• Social media: Foursquare crunches over 3 million check-ins in its "Best of" Philly restaurants and nightlife

• Food biz: Online restaurant reservations site OpenTable to acquire mobile food app Foodspotting for $10 million

Friday, February 1, 2013

A Taste of Turkey

After returning to sunny West Philadelphia and working on adjusting back from a semester abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, I’ve started to become reflective. What about my experience in Turkey was so profoundly different from life at Penn? It could have been the language – Turkish is unlike any language I’ve ever studied, and is definitely hard to get a grip on (don’t worry though; I managed to work out the most important words - names of foods, fruits, vegetables, etc. and became proficient in ordering in restaurants). Was it life on two continents? (Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia, and is divided by a narrow body of water called the Bosporus Straight that connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea.) Was it the traffic? No, alas, it was the food.
With influences from the Mediterranean diet, Middle Eastern cuisine, European tastes and some uniquely Turkish delicacies, Turkish culture is obsessed with food, and much of their culture is defined by their dishes. Turkish cuisine boasts a heavy emphasis on meat, fish, bread, olive oil, and sugary, nutty delights, and is sprinkled with distinctive spices and tastes from near and far.
Today I am bringing you a classical Turkish dessert: muhallebi, or milk pudding. I found a wonderful pudding establishment in the heart of Sultanahmet, the historical district of Istanbul. After exploring the jaw dropping beauty of the Harem of the old Ottoman sultans and ogling their jewels in the treasury of the Topkapi Palace, I stopped for a quick break at a cafe that had the most beautiful and exotic looking puddings lining the windows. Hoşgeldiniz, or Welcome to Turkey!

Top layer: Dark chocolate pudding with garnish  Bottom layer: Classic Turkish milk pudding
Top layer: Pistachio pudding with garnish
 Bottom layer: Dark chocolate pudding

Top layer: Fruit pudding with orange zest and figs, and garnished with ground walnuts, pistachios, coconut, and sprinkles. Bottom layer: Milk chocolate pudding
I found a recipe here for classic muhallebi - try it on your own or get yourself a plane ticket to Istanbul!
If you are interested in an easy but excellent pudding recipe (not Turkish), I would highly recommend checking out this one.

-Alexandra Golub

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sunday Brunch at FarmiCia

If I had to pick a favorite meal, brunch would win, hands down. There's something about the lazy weekend morning and the always impossible decision between sweet and savory that gives brunch an appeal neither lunch nor dinner could ever live up to- or maybe it's just the fact that this is the only time cocktails are encouraged at 11 AM. 

In my quest to gastronomically conquer Philadelphia's brunch hotspots, my two companions and I ventured down to FarmiCia, a Philadelphia must, this past Sunday morning. Conceived by the owners of the famed Metropolitan Bakery, this quaint Old City locale has a fresh, "farm-to-table" menu that does not fail to disappoint in quality or variety. 

Walking into FarmiCia, I instantly loved the rustic atmosphere and coziness of the restaurant- several nice touches were an abundance of string lights, a Christmas tree decorated with gorgeous sunflowers, and I was struck by the beauty yet simplicity of having a single green apple as the table centerpiece. 

After settling down and browsing over the menu, we were informed by our server that we had arrived during "Brunch Happy Hour," which meant that all of the drinks were half-price. We couldn't pass up the opportunity, and we ordered a round of the White Peach Sangria. It was chilled, crisp with a hint of peach, and served with the freshest fruit- the perfect way to begin our delectable meal. 

White Peach Sangria

I decided on the Grilled Cheese for my entree, which consisted of Amish cheddar and tomatoes pressed between multi-grain toast and served with a fruit salad. Although the toast was a bit greasy for my taste, I was pleasantly surprised by the large portion of fresh fruit and and that the cheese was thoroughly melted. 

Grilled Cheese with Fruit 
K ordered the Turkey and Avocado Club, which, in my opinion, was the best at the table for getting your money's worth. Split into four sections, it was a double layer of sourdough with heaping portions of both turkey and avocado. Also heaping was their serving of fries, which were amazing- thin, crisp, and perfectly salted. 

Turkey and Avocado Club

A immediately decided on the Quesadilla, which was scrambled eggs, jack cheese, potatoes, and chorizo all wrapped in a large tortilla and served with green chili salsa. She highly enjoyed this mexican-inspired entree, and especially raved about the chorizo, saying that it wasn't too chunky. 

Bittersweet Flourless Chocolate Torte
After polishing off our fabulous orders (literally, there was nothing left on our plates), we of course couldn't leave without something sugary to satisfy our palates. Although I wanted everything on the dessert menu, we all chose our treats fairly quickly. A ordered the Orange Pound Cake, which was paired with a delightful blood orange sorbet, K chose the classic Carrot Cake, made unique with the use of a cream cheese ice cream topping instead of frosting, and I went with the decadent Bittersweet Flourless Chocolate Torte sided with coffee ice cream. Although our server had warned me that even the biggest chocoholics found the torte overwhelming, I didn't think it was too much chocolate at all...guess my sweet tooth is bigger than I thought! 

My first FarmiCia experience went above and beyond expectations, and I would recommend their brunch to anyone. In fact, I am already planning out future visits; I think I'll go with sweet next time and order the Brioche French Toast or Buttermilk Pancakes. I highly encourage everyone to head to FarmiCia in the near future, and to bring along any friends who insist on the greatness of dinner over brunch- they'll be immediate converts for sure! 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Kitchen Confidential

Let's just get this out of the way: I did not make any notable food this week.

I know, I'm sorry. It was a busy week! So, instead of my usual random musings about my food philosophy leading into an awesome recipe with pretty pictures, there will just be random musings.

On the plane ride from Seattle to Philly, I finally read what many consider to be the quintessential book on working as a chef: Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.

Kitchen Confidential completely surprised me. When I think of cooking, I think of the (at absolute minimum) thirty minutes I take to prepare a meal that I have never cooked before (not including cooking time), and for more complex meals, at least an hour, even when I've cooked them hundreds of times before. I love cooking and I've thought of doing it professionally, but this book really opened my eyes. My über careful, extremely slow way of cooking would never cut it in a restaurant.

Kitchen staff must be human robots, churning out hundreds of the same dish in a night as fast as they possibly can. And they often treated like dogs. Before one proves themselves as a capable cook at a restaurant they are worth absolutely nothing to the rest of the kitchen staff. There is, of course, no room for creativity unless one is the head chef and gets to decide the menu, but even then there is almost no improvisation on a day-to-day basis. Even for chefs that get to be creative, the job is even more about management than it is about cooking.

I am very happy I read this book, if only because now I will hopefully stop daydreaming about cooking for a living. Hopefully...

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