Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shortcut Cookies

I absolutely love this time of year because it means I can spend hours in the kitchen baking and filling the air with warm, cinnamon-y smells. I haven't baked much at all this semester mostly because I'm lacking basic baking essentials, so I was overjoyed when I found this really easy recipe for cranberry white chocolate cookies from a blog called Enlightened Cooking.

Some people would call this cheating. I call it getting the most out of your resources. I bought cookie dough and white chocolate chips from FroGro (UnCommon market also makes a healthier cookie dough without trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, or other artificial ingredients). I used cinnamon I already had, and I took cranberries from Commons. The process literally takes ten minutes. Put everything into a plastic bag, smush together, form into balls, and bake. I've already made these three times in the last few weeks. It makes my room smell nice and homey. 

These cookies are a huge crowd pleaser. People were really impressed, and they had no idea that I only spent ten minutes putting it all together. Definitely give them a try!  To find the recipe simply go to the url below.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Winter Break

Dear Penn Appetit Blog Readers,

We at the Penn Appetit Blog would like to thank you all for your readership and great comments.  Everyone on the blog staff loves writing about food and its great to know that other people like what we have to say!  However, with exams and vacation just around the corner, things on the blog will be slowing down.  We will still be uploading periodically, so please check back every once in a while.  The regular blog schedule will start up again in mid-January.

Co-Blog Editor

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Breakfast for Snack

As academics in a Food & Culture class, everyone (including our professor) took the food for the last day of class seriously. We each made our own suggestion, voted on them, and then would continuously discuss the menu. For a month. The verdict happened to be breakfast for snack. There were pop tarts, cinnamon rolls, rugelah, homemade pumpkin bread, homemade gingerbread cupcakes, bagels with cream cheese, orange juice, chips and guacamole, Nutella and bread, and sliced pineapple, mango, strawberries, and kumquat.

Have you heard of that last word? I certainly had not before yesterday. Kumquats look like this:

The flavor is very tangy, quite like a grapefruit. Come to think of it, kumquats are like very little grapefruits with a few differences. First of all, you eat the whole thing. That means the outer peel as well! Second, although the inside is very bitter, the peel is relatively sweet. Third, they are not found everywhere. They started growing in China, then moved through most of the world up to Florida, Louisiana, and California. However, they are still difficult to find. I tried looking for them at Fresh Grocer and, to my dismay, they were nowhere to be found.

So next time you are at a more diverse grocery store browse around the fruit section. You might find a surprise!

Root: 1 Sauvignon Blanc

I have to say, I am fairly new to wine drinking, so attempting a wine review may be a little over ambitious, but I am going to give it a shot. I recently tried a Sauvignon Blanc from Chilean wine producer Root: 1. They proudly claim that all of their grapes are grown from original ungrafted root systems. Being unexperienced as I am, I can't say I would know the difference. A bottle runs about $13 and is a screw cap, excellent for me, because I am cork screw handicapped.
The wine itself is a crisp and clean white, with a citrus flavor. It has very fruity, almost flowery in scent. It is tart and almost sweet, but not very acidic tasting, which, I understand is characteristic of Sauvignon Blanc. The Root: 1 website suggests pairing the wine with chicken Caesar salad, grilled fish, seafood and even creamy pasta dishes. I enjoy the wine alone and with food. The wine is a great deal, so I would really suggest checking it out.

Photo from  Root:1 website,

WIMB: A Photo Introduction

I've talked a lot about the worms in my basement and thought you might be interested in seeing them in action. Here are some pictures to give you an idea of how the system works.
This is the bin with the lid removed. It is elevated on bricks and wood and the top layer in the bin is shredded newspaper.
A close-up of the bin's contents; this week the worms are eating kale, onion skins, apple peels and parsley.
A worm with some good-lookin' compost.
The list posted on our fridge of "yes" and "no" foods for the worms. I have had to modify it a little bit since the beginning of the year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Top Chef Season 6: Episode 14 [Finale] Live Blogging

So here we are, the Top Chef Season 6 finale. It's been a long season for sure, with some breaks between weeks and that weird reunion/dinner special. For their final challenge, Kevin and the brothers Voltaggio have to create a three course meal: a first course in which all of the chefs will use the same ingredients, a completely open second course, and a dessert for the third course. The top three draw knives to get their sous chefs for the last meal; Kevin gets Preeti and Ash, Bryan gets Ashley and Jen, and Michael grabs Jesse and Eli. Kevin definitely got the short end of the stick on that one, and he certainly puts Preeti in her place by relegating her with simple vegetable chopping, which she still seems to be struggling with. Bryan's team definitely looks to be gelling the best, and that may just give him the edge he needs in what may be the closest finale ever, at least on paper.

The boys are just hanging out in their suite, probably their only down time all weekend, and they get the best surprise ever: moms! Only two are there, though, because, of course, there are brothers in this year's competition, REMEMBER? Well that little party ends quickly, when Tom meets the chefs on their way into the kitchen and surprise, surprise, adds a fourth course, a dish inspired by each contestant's favorite childhood memory, to the meal, which is only three hours away. We get a little surprise when Kevin reveals that he was accepted to MIT (!!!), but he turned it down to be a chef. Wow, who would have guessed? The dish that all of the contestants seem to be having the most trouble with is the mystery box dish, which has to include rock fish. I feel a little better about Kevin's complete misfortune being stuck with Preeti when he praises Ash's help in the kitchen. He basically has one real sous chef and one oversized child trying to imitate what a chef does. As dinner service nears, the music gets super intense; the producers must be trying to warn us that something big is about to happen. No, really?

Well they certainly didn't skimp on the the big names around the final table tonight, but clearly the only ones that matter are Stephen Starr and my future BFF Gail Simmons. For their first childhood inspired course, Kevin whips up a take on fried chicken with squash casserole, Bryan offers a modern interpretation of tuna noodle casserole with sardines and breadcrumbs, and Michael presents a cream of dehydrated broccoli with shrimp. Kevin certainly wins round one, but all of the chefs earn at least some praise from the panel. Umm, WTF, the moms only get to stay for the first course? What's up with that Bravo? Well, here comes the mystery box dish. All of the chefs combined the squash, meyer leon, and rock fish. Here, Michael probably takes the win, but all of the chefs were able to combine these seemingly incongruous ingredients beautifully. Kevin sticks to his favorite meat, pork, for the final round; Bryan tackles venison, and Michael goes for squab. Now, it's Bryan's turn, as his dish earns unanimous praise. Kevin gets a medium reception, and Michael stumbles a bit. As the cheftestants take turns introducing their desserts, all I can see is chocolate, chocolate, chocolate. Kevin pairs his with bacon and babana; Michael forms it into a cake with caramel, and Bryan whips up a dulce de leche cheesecake with fig sorbet. Following that whirlwind meal, it's really hard to say who's going to come out on top. All of the men had high points and misfires, but if one really stood out, it's Bryan. Whether or not that will determine tonight's decision remains to be seen.

Final judges' table here we come. Bryan steps into the fire pit first, and although the judges come down on his mystery box dish, they praise his venison as his best showing of the night. Although the judges seem disappointed in pork fanatic Kevin's main course, his first dish earns raves once again. Michael, finally, gets criticism for his dessert, which he readily admits to overcooking, but he definitely had the judges' favorite mystery box interpretation. Basically, we didn't learn anything new from judges' table. At all. I stand by my statement that this is easily the most closely matched finale ever, and without question, the right three men are standing together at the end. For the first time I can remember, I really don't have any idea who will be grabbing the victory after the break.

First of all, reunion next Wednesday. I unfortunately won't be able to blog it, but I'll certainly be tuning in for a rerun, hopefully to see some major Robin bashing. Padma knocks Kevin out first, setting up the ULTIMATE brother showdown between Bryan and Michael for the title. Thankfully, Kevin's lovely mom is there to comfort him, and he was really awesome all season. This year's winner of Top Chef, with a $100,000 prize furnished by the Glad family of products is.....Michael! Although I think Bryan was better overall tonight, Michael was on the cutting edge and at the top all season, and he had a spark that his more reserved older brother didn't necessarily show. I can't say this was my favorite season ever, but those final three, even final four with Jen, were all fantastic chefs, and their performances all seasons certainly made it a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to blog for Penn Appetit! Until next season...

What is Tapioca, anyways?

Tapioca: most of us have consumed it at one point or another without thinking twice about its origin. I remember eating tapioca pudding as a child thinking that those little gel balls were the seeds of a tapioca plant. I spent a great deal of my life living in tapioca ignorance. That all changed when I started drinking boba (or bubble tea) drinks three years ago. Boba is a tea-based drink that is often served with large, tapioca balls at the bottom of the glass. At this point in my life, I consider myself a boba connoisseur, and rightly so, I think, as I have consumed a lot over the years and sell boba straws and tapioca pearls online.

My relationship with boba prompted me to learn more about tapioca, the crux of the drink. Tapioca is actually the starch of the cassava root, a starchy tuber native to South America. Most of us encounter tapioca in the form of pearls, which are little balls of starch. Tapioca flour, the amorphous form, is often used widely as a thickening agent. It is especially valued because it does not denature at subzero temperatures.

We really don't use tapioca for more than pudding in the US. However, tapioca is used in a wide variety of applications internationally. In Brazil, for example, tapioca is made into a dessert by simmering pearls with sweetened wine. In Southeast Asia, it is made into crackers and bread.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Masterpiece--Granola

Of all the multi-layer cakes and multi-course meals I've made over the years of my culinary obsession, I am most proud of my granola. Now, I don't mean to brag, but I have never met a single person who hasn't told me that my granola is hands down the world's greatest granola. But that is not saying nearly enough. People who don't like granola, who are far too manly to ever profess a taste for something that is too often associated with vegan tree-huggers (hi Dad), wax poetically about this granola and sneak down into the kitchen at night not for cookies or ice cream, but my granola. My kitchen-phobe little brothers, who spend only enough time in this room to eat without lingering for fear of being put to work, find reasons to mill about as soon as the sweet spiced scent of baking granola reaches their room. This granola has been shipped all over the country and the world to feed dedicated fans. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be this granola. And now I am sharing my secret (non)recipe with you.

The (non)recipe
I apologize for not having exact ratios or measurements, these will depend not only on how much granola you are making, but also certain taste preferences. Also, I just don't ever write it down myself.

1. Cook over medium heat equal parts maple syrup and peanut butter (use nuttela if you're feeling extra sweet!). The amounts here will range from 1/2-2 cups depending on the amount of oats and how (sinfully) sweet you want the final product to be.
2. When the nut butter is completely melted remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
3. Whisk in about 2-3 egg whites for a "normal" sized batch (anywhere from 3-5 cups of oats)
4. Whisk in you're desired amounts of allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Again, personal preference will determine the amounts.
5. Pour over a mixture of oats (3-5 cups) and any nuts you want to use - I've always used pecans. The mixture you make should be enough to coat the oats and nuts completely with out having any extra liquid at the bottom of the bowl.
6. Spread mixture out on a greased baking sheet.
7. Bake in 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes, flipping the granola about 15 minutes in (pull the sheet out of the oven and do your best to roughly turn over all the major chunks).
8. After half an hour, add an assortment of dried fruit and bake for about 10 more minutes.
9. Let cool and enjoy!

There are variations on this granola - mixing up the nuts, fruit, spices or even sweetening base. However, this version is my favorite.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Photo by Maggie Edkins

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sang Kee Noodle House at the Sheraton

My friend and I went to Sang Kee’s opening at the Sheraton last week. Reservations were limited, but if you were fortunate enough to get in, you had access to any dish on the menu (under $20) basically for free.  All you had to pay was tip. Obviously, I could not turn down an offer like this. Honestly, when do college kids ever turn down free food?

I should begin with a disclaimer. I am Chinese, so that means I’ve eaten mostly Chinese food my entire life. My parents were immigrants, so we always ate Chinese food at home and whenever we went out. I’ve had a lot of exposure to real, authentic (and very fake) Chinese cuisine, so I’m a tad picky when it comes to Chinese food.  

Anyway, our overall experience was enjoyable, though in my opinion, Sangkee is more westernized than other Chinese restaurants. Normally, before you even order at a Chinese restaurant, your table is served a pot of tea. I had to request tea, which came in the form of a tea bag and a thermos of hot water. I thought it was fine, but my parents would definitely not approve.

We ordered the steamed juicy pork buns, house pan-fried noodles, and pork with noodle soup. The noodles were okay. I’ve had better.  I enjoyed the soup. It had a strong, salty flavor. The noodles were the same kind as the pan-fried ones. Sangkee is not known for their pan-fried noodles, so I would order something else instead. The sauce was rather bland and lacked any kind of character. I would bank on the steamed juicy pork buns, which were better than the ones I had last month in NYC Chinatown. The skin was steamed to perfection and had an “al dente” bite to it. The buns really were juicy, and they didn’t use too much vinegar as flavoring. I’ve had juicy pork buns where the juice was basically vinegar. If you’re looking for an appetizer, skip the spring rolls you can find at any food truck and go straight for the steamed juicy pork buns!

Tip: Sangkee is still promoting their grand opening. You can go to the Sangkee website for a 50% off coupon.

Article by Samantha Shen

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday Blog Lovin' - Pancake perfection

Blog: The Pancake Project

If you thought adding Mickey Mouse ears to your flapjacks was the pinnacle of pancake artistry, think again.  Check out this blog, for pancake snails, pigs, and for the NPH fans out there, Dr. Horrible. 

Note: Click here to see the original post.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crazy Cheese

The tale of the Crazy Cheese requires two bits of background information. First, that my family has gone to the Reading Terminal Market every Saturday morning since before I was born. The implications of this could be a whole other post. Secondly, that my mother and I love really pungent cheese. There are two cheese shops that we frequent at the Terminal and the owners and staff of both are always on the lookout for the most unusual, stinky, gooey cheeses for us. Occasionally, this means we get cheese a day or two over their expiration date. For a lot of aged soft cheeses or already-moldy cheeses this just means that they are extra ripe.

So when the owner at our favorite shop said he had some Saint Maure de Touraine that was a little extra aged we jumped at the opportunity. "It's very strong," he warned. But years of eating the weirdest goat, sheep, and cow milk cheese they had to offer left us eager for a new adventure. He gave it to us wrapped up in a plastic container...

We pulled the cheese out as soon as we got home and delicately unwrapped. The smell hit us before we saw it. Now, like I said, I love strong stinky cheese, so to compare this scent to extra strong extra stinky cheese does not do it justice. True, it smelled like cheese. Cheese that had been left to rot in the hot sun on a humid day. Days later, after we had relegated it to the back of the fridge, you could smell the cheese as you approached the kitchen. It looked like a brain. Bluish green and wrinkly. Not the thick, obvious mold of blue cheese, this was more a general sickly tint. On that first day, however, we were undeterred. The cheese had been initially bound in a little box made of little wooden rods (think, lincoln log). The man at the cheese shop had place this entire package inside the plastic wrapping. When we finally released it fully from the wrapping, the crazy cheese came to life. It literally oozed out every crevice of wooden container. It had the consistency of syrup - smelly, off-white, cheesy syrup. We boldly tasted it and nearly gagged. It was difficult to get the stench close enough to your face to even taste but when you did, you were hit with the flavor of something that is not to be consumed.

After a few days stinking up our kitchen we sadly disposed of the cheese and admitted defeat. We had found the cheese too cheesy for us to bear.

**And interesting follow up to this is that when we went back, months later, to retrieve the name of the offending cheese, the owner knew exactly what we were talking about as soon as I told him I was writing about the crazy cheese.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Top Chef Season 6: Episode 13 Recap

So no new episode last week, but tonight is officially part one of the season finale, and we'll be saying goodbye to one more chef before the final showdown next week. The chefs reunite at a Napa Valley train station after an extended break from the competition. The atmosphere isn't exactly 100% friendly, but what do you expect?! A very pregnant Padma hops off the train with guest judge Michael Chiarello and introduces the season's final quickfire, which is to use Napa's signature crop: the grape. But wait, these dishes will have to be prepared on the Napa wine train, and because it's a high stakes quickfire, the winner also gets a new Prius. I'd say that's worth a little motion sickness. The kitchen on the train is huge, but it's long and skinny, making for a lot of awkward passes back and forth. Kevin opts for dessert with a honey and fromage blanc mousse. Michael put together some sort of stuffed grape leaf with grapes all over, and his brother went for a delicate hen. Finally, Jen sauteed some chicken livers (possibly my least favorite food) and clams with grapes in a creamy sauce. Michael's incorporation of the grape in basically every aspect of his dish won Chiarello over, and he walks off with a new car as a result.

The dynamic duo of Padma and Michael is back and Padma announces the elimination challenge as catering a "crush" party (that would be crushing grapes) at a local winery. The chefs have to use all local ingredients "except for salt and pepper," and they have to prepare two dishes, one meat and one vegetarian, for a crowd of 150. It seems like the break from competition didn't do much for Jen's psyche; she seems as frazzled as ever while shopping for groceries at a local market that is certainly not Whole Foods. That said, most of the chefs seem confident, as they have pretty much free reign to do whatever they want within the guidelines, so hopefully, we'll see some impressive dishes tonight. With five hours to go, the cheftestants seem totally in the zone, obviously well aware of the importance of tonight's challenge. Michael's egg custard could be a make or break dish, and as he says, "It's all up to the egg at this point."

Well, Michael's egg turns out perfectly, according to him, and preparations reach the end just as the guests and judges arrive. Bryan prepared a goat cheese ravioli and fig-glazed short ribs, both of which lack a little bit of seasoning, according to our esteemed panel. The vegetable pisto with egg and turnip soup with foie gras from Michael certainly comprise the most ambitious menu of the night, and they judges seem to like, but not love, it. Simple as usual, Kevin prepared a beet and carrot salad and a grass-fed brisket and polenta, both of which totally wow the judges, all but securing Kevin his spot in the final three. Last up is Jen, who cooked up a chevre mousse and a braised duck leg with squash. The vegetarian dish is a little salty, but gets a decent reception, and her duck is certainly her standout for the night. It certainly won't be an easy decision tonight, so it will be really interesting to see who the judges put through to the finale.

As expected, Padma summons all four chefs to judges' table, for what should be a tough discussion. Besides his somewhat tough brisket, Kevin earns raves all around. Just as they did when they were sampling his food, the judges come down on Bryan for going a little bit short on seasoning, but they praise the layers of flavors in his dishes. Michael's dishes get a lot more criticism at the table than he did during the judges' tasting. Could he be in danger tonight? Jen admits to her mistake in not grilling the duck as planned, and Tom looks extremely disappointed. Is THAT the face that signifies a knife-packing? With such mixed feedback tonight, it's hard to say what will happen after the break, but I'd say it's between Michael and Jen for the elimination tonight, with slightly higher odds for Jen going home just based on recent disappointments.

Well here we go, who's going home one week short of the finale after such a tough season? The chefs return to the table and wait anxiously as Padma obviously draws out the decision as long as possible. Bryan is the first to seal his spot in the final with a win, and it's especially impressive considering that he was never in the bottom over the course of 26 challenges. In a non-shocker, Jen gets the boot. She excelled all season, but she didn't have the same level of consistently winning food as Kevin or the brothers. So we've got the brother vs. brother showdown that has been looming since episode one, and when you throw Kevin in there it should be a really strong finale. Next week everything wraps up, and there appears to be a formal dinner party with some extra cranky guests. Come back next week, and we'll "watch what happens."

Mushroom Hunting - Don't Try This at Home

It's nearly Winter, a season I eagerly look forward to. Winter marks the beginning of the rainy season in my home state of California. Within a few days of the first rain, countless little white or brown nubs can be seen emerging from the soil. For me, these fleeting little nubs, which eventually become thick-capped mature mushrooms, are hidden treasures, which literally emerge from nothing. They represent the mystery and splendor that nature possesses. I
spend a great deal of the Winter months scouring the landscape for these treasures. Mushroom hunting is a lot like mining for gold. A seemingly barren landscape can contain within it a hidden cache of rare, exquisite mushrooms, but one must look closely to spot them. Walking in the forest is incredibly exciting during this time of year - I'm always on the lookout for a rare mushroom that I've never seen before. I've never eaten any of the mushrooms I've found because of safety reasons; however, many serious and well-trained mycologists view mushroom hunting as a path to culinary mecca. Many scour the wet landscape for mushrooms rarely available in the supermarket and prized for their flavor such as the oyster, matsutake, chantrelle, morelle, and bolete. Needless to say they make a great holiday meal.

Bear in mind that mushroom hunting really is dangerous, even if you are well-trained and experienced. Aside from the notoriously deadly Amanita (death cap) mushrooms, many other mushrooms can cause gastrointestinal distress. So please, if you try this: look at, but don't eat the mushrooms!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Issue 5 of Penn Appetit

Please check out our new magazine, which you can find online here or on campus!

This has been a really fun issue, a few pages longer with some great content and design. Please let us know what you think of it, either in the comments or by emailing us. Thanks for reading!

-Emma, Editor-in-Chief

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