Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
Olive oil has become such a routine presence in our everyday lives that we often forget it’s there. Not only is it so commonplace, but standard issue extra virgin olive oils often taste like little aside from a nominal olive-y overture. But when is the last time you tasted an olive oil that you could actually savor, an oil whose taste you enjoyed purely for the joy of tasting the oil and the bread with nothing else? An olive oil whose strength of flavors burst through the liquid over your tongue and made you stop and think about where it came from? What kind of olives produced such flavorful oil? How was it made? What makes this oil lighter or darker than others? Why does it taste like olive oil?
Grab yourself some simple, high quality bread, hunt down an olive oil of interesting provenance (an unremarkable aisle in fluorescent-lit Fresh Grocer doesn’t count) and taste away. Try to find an olive oil other than an Italian variety, and forget about cold-pressed extra virgin. Some high-end kitchen stores (not Williams-Sonoma) such as LeRoux Kitchen in Portland, ME, Portsmouth, NH, and Martha's Vineyard, have olive oil tasting sections where you can taste oils from places as disparate as Portugal and Syria. See if you can find one of these shops, or just seek out an interesting-looking oil on your own. I'd also be psyched if someone wanted to organize a tasting . . . hint hint.Tweet
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Unsurprisingly, Jeff is asked to pack his knives, leaving Team Euro intact, just barely. This reality show loss is going to stick with him for a decade? You need to get over it, or you'll just seem pathetic. I have no idea what's going on with next week's preview, and I only see Eric Ripert occupying the guest judge spot. I guess a little mystery never hurt.
The 4 winning chefs, Carla, Jamie, Hosea, and Leah, are in the top this week. Someone seriously needs to send Toby Young back to England. His comments are so inane that they make Padma actually look like she knows what she's talking about. Carla finally gets a win, or a "touchdown," as she says, and takes Super Bowl tickets as her prize. That's a hell of a lot better than the cookbook they handed out a few weeks ago. With Carla's first win comes Stefan's first time in the bottom, but he handles himself with surprising humility. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Jeff, who thinks that because his dish was more complicated, he should win automatically.
Jamie takes on Camille, who I don't even remember, and despite a lack of confidence in her dish, she wins her round thanks to the audience vote. Jeff and Josie go into a battle of Miami-inspired ceviches, and the all-star wins all 10 points against Jeff, although the judges seem to enjoy both dishes. The final duel is between Fabio and Spike, so there should be more than enough charisma to go around. After a healthy round of trash-talking, Spike wins the judges' votes, but Fabio grabs the audience points, which is enough to lead the season 5 contestants to victory. Unlike the past few weeks, no one botched their dishes badly, so the elimination is actually up in the air for once.
After the longest commercial break in history (8 minutes, seriously?), we get some riveting shots of the contestants getting ready in the morning. This is why we don't need super-sized episodes every single week. But actually, they have spent so little time actually cooking this week that I'm getting pissed off. This should be exciting, though. The chefs cook live head to head for 20 minutes, with the judges scores counting for 7 points and random audience tasters' scores counting for 3. Once Nikki says "chicken liver, " I know Leah has this round in the bag, and she proves me right with a 7-3 win. It looks like Hosea is making a corn dog with fish, and I didn't realized that Seattle was so characterized by Asian cuisine, but he crushes Miguel. The battle between Carla and Andrew, turns out to be a bit of a flop, and Carla grabs the win with her flavorful gumbo. Stefan seems positive that he'll slaughter Andrea, but Andrea takes all 10 points, hopefully bringing Stefan's ego down a notch. At least he admits that he's a douchebag, though. A douchebag with self-awareness is just so much better.
So the current contestants each face off against past contestants, with each duo cooking the regional cuisine of an NFL team. Stefan, as the winner, gets to select his team and opponent, and he quickly picks Andrea, probably because she was eliminated twice on her season. Carla is excited to compete against Andrew, one of her favorites, and I'm sure that section of the kitchen will be FULL of energy, maybe a little too much. I don't really understand why Jamie is freaking out about cooking a dish inspired by her hometown of San Francisco, but she better get her shit together quickly.
Another week, another super-sized episode, and the last thing I want to hear about is Leah and Hosea's relationship. You made a mistake, we get it, so please give it a rest already. I love how Top Chef always gets right into the action with the Quickfire, and it's something Super Bowl inspired, but I don't really get it. All the chefs are writing their names on a chalk board and being assigned food groups, but they all end up having to incorporate whole grain oats into their dishes. Carla is noticeably excited, even though immunity has been abolished, because, like OMG, she eats oatmeal four times a week. The challenge seems to drive Jeff to insanity, as he beats some poultry with a frying pan in the corner. He maintains enough sanity, however, to prepare another trio of dishes. Stefan prepares a banana mousse, but he decides to garnish the plate with a whole Rose. Last time I checked this was still Top Chef and not Top Florist, but nice try. Fabio, Jeff, and distracted Leah bring up the rear, and Carla, Jamie, and Stefan lead the pack, with Stefan taking the win, his fifth back to back victory. It must have been the rose. The chefs enter the holding area and find personalized football jerseys, leading up to their elimination challenge, Top Chef Bowl, and their opposition, former all-star contestants burst through a poster in the kitchen. I mean it's more like the Top Chef B-Team, and I don't really get why the current contestants are so starstruck.
What is it? Also known as Blue Ginger, it is used extensively in Indonesian, Malaysian and Indian cuisine.
Where'a it from? There are two varieties of galangal: greater (laos) galangal is native to Java, and lesser (kencur) galangal, used less commonly is found on the south east coast of China.
Is it an imposter of ginger? Greater galangal is a creamy-colored rhizome with a gingery, camphorous bouquet, while lesser galangal is orange in color and is hotter and more pungent. It is used either as a whole root or powder.
Is it a “Defisher”? Galangal is effective in neutralizing the salty fish taste and is therefore used most frequently in fish and shell-fish recipes. Its flavor is tempered best by garlic, ginger, chili, lemon or tamarind.
What are its health benefits? Galangal cures gas!
Spice up your life: For centuries, a tonic of galangal and lemon juice has been used in south-east Asia as an aphrodisiac- move over chocolate covered strawberries!
Will it burn my mouth off? Yes! 5/10 on my mouth-burning scale
Recipe Idea: Add it in coconut milk for a Thai soup!
Where can I buy it? Indonesian Groceries on 16th-17th and Morris, Asian Grocery complex on 11th and Market, and Reading Terminal
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
I was puzzling over what to cook for myself and a couple friends - I wanted something vaguely Italian, but nothing too heavy and nothing too complicated. So I decided to go for risotto. Wait a minute, you say - but wait. Contrary to popular belief, risotto is NOT (at least not always or necessarily) in a cream sauce. It is just the starch released from the rice that creates the creamy texture. And risotto is far from complicated. Like any one-dish meal, it is scary how simple it is.
I had no recipe in mind when I dropped into Fresh Grocer to scour the produce section. I had glanced at a few options and so had in mind the general technique, plus I knew from experience common ingredients, but this was still an experiment. So I came away with two shallots, two yellow squash, a few handfuls of cremini mushrooms (way cheaper to get the loose than the packaged), and a bunch of kale. (Leafy greens? Why yes!) I also grabbed the backbones of the dish: arborio rice and vegetable broth.
Onwards, to the kitchen we go!
Basically, here's what you do:
1. Put some olive oil in a large pot, preferably wide bottom but it doesn't really matter. Don't skimp on this. Seriously.
2. Chop up some garlic, I used 3 cloves, but it's up to your taste.
3. Chop up the shallots (you can use any kind of onion), put it in with the olive oil and garlic, and turn on your stove. This is really just to get the oil flavored so don't worry if your onions aren't cooked.
4. WASH and chop all your veggies. If you use a leafy green like kale, I recommend cutting or ripping it up into bite size pieces because the high fiber content makes it stringy and hard to bite through if you have big pieces.
5. Put all your veggies into the pot with the oil, garlic, and onion family member. Don't worry if there's water. Remember, we're making rice here. Rice <3 water. I also added some pepper, "italian seasoning mix" (something I would not have done had I been in my own kitchen), and a bit of oregano. The seasoning choices are completely up to you. Experiment! But think about your veggies and make sure they'll go well.
6. Measure out 1 cup of rice and dump it in. This amount of rice made a dish that served 3 hungry girls (we play hockey, we don't eat like wusses).
7. Most risotto recipes, especially the pretentious ones, will tell you your broth should be hot. Whatever. For 1 cup of rice I used 3 cups of room temperature vegetable broth.
8. Stir it up a little, cover it maybe, or don't, but if you don't you might have to add more liquid later on. Make sure your heat is on low because you want it to be simmering. Barely. Boil is bad.
9. Once in a while, stir. When it gets towards the end (when the liquid starts to really disappear) taste your rice. Is it al dente (this is the goal)? Is it hard? Use your judgment as to when it will be done and if you will need more liquid. You shouldn't have to add more than a half cup extra liquid especially if you are using moist veggies.
10. When it is done - that is, the rice is al dente, perfectly cooked, a bit creamy, and the liquid is basically gone, give it a good go 'round with your stirring utensil, which will help loosen it up and cream-ify it a bit.
11. It'll be hot, but taste-test. Needs some salt? Add it in.
12. Dish it out and enjoy! We added parmesan onto our bowls for another flavor, but you can totally do it without cheese if you so choose.
Literally the hardest part of making risotto is waiting for it to be done. Don't let anyone scare you out of this dish. It's ridiculously easy and all your friends will be super impressed. What, don't you want to be the next Food Network Star?
Monday, January 26, 2009
I was walking out of Chipotle this evening with my vegetarian Fajita Burrito bowl in tow when I overheard two girls talking behind me.
“So I was in Greek Lady and it was totally empty.”
“Yeah – apparently Chipotle is taking all their business.”
“But they’re not even the same thing!”
“I know, I thought it would have been just Qdoba but apparently they’re stealing everyone’s business.”
So, kids, support your locally-owned businesses and go back to frequenting Greek Lady once in a while. You really don’t want them to disappear altogether – no one wants to be completely reliant on Chipotle for their nutritional and culinary requirements, no matter how delicious it is. The novelty of Chipotle will wear off soon, I promise you, and you will once again be left with the same old dilemma of where to eat on campus. Gyro or burrito? Not burritos, again…
And the saddest part of this story is that I've already been to Chipotle twice in the last week and a half, and not at all to Greek Lady.
You may not realize it just yet, but as the semester gets into full swing your schedule and workload are probably picking up a lot of speed. To help, try to add a little magnesium to your weekly food intake. Known as the anti-stress mineral, magnesium fights depression, boosts energy, helps burn fat, maintains good cholesterol levels, aids digestion, and keeps teeth strong and healthy.
Where can you find magnesium? Eat nuts, seeds, sunflower seeds, soybeans, seaweed (kelp), and molasses. Also try black beans (one cup contains about 120 milligrams) and cooked spinach (an awesome 157 mg a cup!). 310-410 mg of magnesium a day is the running recommendation for young adults.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Restaurant Week starts tonight! Check out the details for it and some other exciting food events coming up soon.
Center City Restaurant Week
Where: Restaurants all over Philadelphia
When: January 25 - 30 and February 1 - 6
What: Discounted, three-course dinner menus at some of the city's most popular restaurants. Click here to see participating restaurants and menus.
How Much: $35 per person, not including drinks, tax, and gratuity.
Restaurant Week Lunchtime Classes at La Cucina
Where: La Cucina, in Reading Terminal Market, 12th St. and Arch St.
When: January 26 - 30, 12:00 pm each day
What: Daily, hour-long cooking classes taught by chefs from restaurants participating in Restaurant Week. Call (215) 922-1170 for more information.
"I'll Eat All of You" - Sendak and Food Gallery Talk
Where: The Rosenbach Museum and Library, 2008 Delancey Place
When: Wednesday, February 18th, 6:00 pm
What: A discussion of the role of food and eating in children's author Maurice Sendak's work, including how he uses food to express love, power, and desire. Space is limited; click here to RSVP.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Although you're feeling refreshed after a month-long hiatus from exams, the inevitable craving for a caffeine jolt is bound to resurface before you realize it. Even if you're fortunate enough to consider yourself stress-free and well-rested, who would turn down a hot cup of joe as the winter chill could mean frostbite and hypothermia from a mere walk across campus?
Well, worth the trek downtown to 21st and Chestnut is Philly's latest indie coffee shop, which opened its doors in November: Caffeination. If the witty name isn't enough of a draw, consider owner Mitchell Cohen's impressive brewing experience; a Vice President of EB Games for more than 15 years, he is also a graduate of the American Barista and Coffee School of Portland, Oregon, and spent time scouring the world to choose what he considers "the perfect roast" to offer his customers. Cohen settled on Yirgacheffe from Ethiopia, from which he roasts a full line of cold and hot coffee and espresso drinks.
With an extensive range of syrups ranging from blueberry to butterscotch, including sugar-free flavors like almond and pumpkin not to be found at chains like Starbucks or even at the uber-refined La Colombe, Caffeination brews something for everyone. A favorite is the inventive "candy bar latte" made with chocolate and caramel. Some of the cold offerings, like the variety of frappucinos, are even made with real ice cream. Decadence aside, Caffeination is also stocked with breakfast and lunch edibles like fresh-baked muffins and bagels, sandwiches and paninis on a wide range of bread, veggie wraps, and salads. Always on hand, too, are coffee shop standards like chewy cookies, cakes and pies, which are tasty but nothing special.
Seeking a caffeine rush but not a java fan? Caffeination was designed entirely around the concept of caffeine, so Cohen also sells a slew of tea-based beverages including the Red Tea Espresso (the world's first, he proudly explains). And expanding even further beyond the offerings of a conventional coffee shop, Caffeination has display cases lined with all manner of caffeinated products from mints and gum to lollipops and chocolate coffee beans to soap and lip balm.
True to its calling, Caffeination's ambience is warm and inviting with ample room for laptop users (WiFi is free) and people watchers alike. The baristas are friendly and patient as you browse the impressive list of offerings, and the prices are definitely reasonable, especially in comparison to nearby coffee spots around Rittenhouse square. With its great location, expansive menu, comfortable vibe and imaginative twist on the coffee shop concept, Caffeination should be your destination the next time your numb fingers or slackened brain cells call for stimulation.Tweet
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tom comes down harshly on both Carla and Radhika, but my prayers are answered, and Carla survives another week. As she would say, thank the Lord! I liked her, but she was always kind of a lightweight, and we're getting closer and closer to the end, so the judges want to get down to only potential winners. Next week, all-stars from past seasons return to help in the kitchen, and it looks like Jamie heads for a breakdown. Should be another fiery one!
After the tumultuous kitchen service, the chefs all bond in the waiting area over the various deficiencies of the kitchens. Somehow the Sunset Lounge takes the win, really only because of Fabio's service and Stefan's desserts. The judges still manage to take a swipe at Leah's cod, declaring it the worst dish of the night. Stephen Starr gives his seal of approval to Radhika's restaurant, though. Carla's good attitude stays with her in the face of a beat down from Tom. She seems to be on the chopping block, but Radhika's abysmal service may be Carla's saving grace, at least that's what I'm hoping for. On another note, Toby Young gets more grating every week. Please come back from your honeymoon Gail; we need you!
Ok, I just saw that Leah's restaurant is called Sunset Lounge. That sounds more like a Phoenix strip joint than an upscale New York restaurant, but the space is actually well decorated. The judges try Radhika's restaurant, whose Sandscrit name I won't even try to spell out, first, and while they seem to enjoy the soup, lamb shank, and flat bread, they equate the cous cous to "dish water" and give tepid feedback on the snapper. Carla's "hot mess, train wreck" desserts fail miserably, but at least there's a sizeable crowd present. Let's just say that Radhika's hostess duties are almost as pathetic, as she spends more time moping in the kitchen than greeting people. Luckily, Fabio more than makes up for her lackluster performance, employing his Italian charm to full effect. The amuse-buche falls flat, and the next two dishes (a sashimi and a coconut soup) only improve marginally. Hosea's short ribs are the easy highlight, especially when paired with Leah's undercooked cod. The bigger problem may be her horrible attitude, which sucks all the life out of her teammates in the kitchen. Stefan's inventive desserts take top honors, which ensures his safety for another week. While it's definitely a tossup for the win, I think that Radhika's team may squeak out the victory thanks to a more consistent menu.
Now Leah and Hosea still have to work together in the aftermath of their regrettable hook-up. Hosea seems much more shaken up than Leah, but honestly, neither one seems too repentant. Radhika's team's Where's Waldo search for lamb shanks ends with Jeff finally making himself useful and uncovering a box seemingly out of thin air. In their six hour time limit, the teams have to decorate the virtually bare spaces and prep their menus. Leah and Hosea need to stop complaining about the cheating. I know working on the line with each other is awkward, but restaurant wars is far more intriguing than their junior high love affair. Carla says that she's scared, because both of her desserts have run into road bumps, and I'm afraid too, because she needs to stay and keep me amused. Get that baklava together! The servers walk in, and they look like an army of black-suited zombies, so I'm sure that will help the ambience. Of course, Fabio's running the front, and although that should give his team some confidence, I'm not sure that they could serve "monkey-ass in clam shells," although I'm sure the judges would praise that dish's originality.
Before we get back to the show, I'm excited to let you know that the February 25th season finale will be coming to us from New Orleans with guest judge Emeril Lagasse. BAM! We get a little game of school yard pick-em to decide teams, and Leah chooses Hosea first and Stefan last, although I'm sure his ego is just fine. The teams head to Pier 1 for an with a $5,000 budget, so they'll be able to buy a whole lot of candles, which I'm pretty sure all that that store is good for. Both teams have a few issues ironing out the kinks, as the chefs struggle for leadership, or in Radhika's case, non-leadership positions. Uh-oh, say goodbye to the girlfriend back home Hosea, because that's definitely some making out I see going on.
The episode starts with Hosea talking about missing his girlfriend, which given the previews of his flirtations with Leah, might be ominous foreshadowing. Here comes the quickfire, and Philadelphia's own Stephen Starr is the guest judge! The chefs must prepare a tasting for Mr. Starr, who will choose the winners. Instead of immunity, the top two will be the leaders of the teams for this week's restaurant wars. They try to feign excitement, but we all know that they'd rather have immunity at this point. Leah's description of her tempura-ed something is definitely a mouthful, but Starr seems to enjoy it. For some reason three quarters of the judges went in a seafood direction, but amazingly Jamie refrains from feeding her scallop obsession and opts instead for some Chilean Sea Bass. Radhika's Indian-Middle Eastern (surprise of the century) and Leah's Asian concepts win through, but it will be way more interesting to see if the other chefs play along.
Well, hand eaters rejoice – there ARE places in the world where not only is it acceptable but encouraged. I spent the last semester in Jordan where I got used to eating with my fingers, and not just finger food. Whether it was dipping bread into olive oil or hummus, pulling chicken or lamb meat off the bone, or rolling rice balls while eating the traditional dish mansaf (rice and lamb served with a yogurt sauce that is used as the glue to create the rice ball, which incorporates all the components of the dish).
I don’t know what it is but there’s something about pulling a steaming hot chicken breast apart with your fingers that makes eating so much more satisfying. Maybe it’s because you’re closer to the food by actually putting the effort into making it edible, or because you like the taste of your fingers, or simply because it’s always fun to get your hands dirty…and make your mother angry.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
This dish has a great, refreshing combination of flavors and is super easy to make if you have an ice cream maker. It's still possible without one (that's how I made it), but be prepared to be on your toes for at least 5 hours. I conveniently delegated most of the stirring duty to my sister, so things worked out pretty well.
1 1/2 cups non-fat milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
8 oz sugar
5 ripe bananas
2-3 cups of fresh strawberries
1-1 1/2 tbsp of ginger (depending on how strong you want it to be)
Mash strawberries and bananas in a freezer-friendly bowl (make sure to get rid of any large lumps as they will interfere with the freezing process). Add milk, cream, ginger, and sugar, and mix very well (use an electric blender if possible). Freeze for thirty minutes, then stir vigorously. Return to freezer, stirring every hour until the ice cream has set. (Depending on the quality of your freezer, the process might require several hours or a night of setting.)
This recipe serves 8 and goes great with fresh fruit. Enjoy!
Monday, January 19, 2009
It is a great sign of the economic fortitude of the Penn community that outposts of relatively high-end eateries such as Naked Chocolate Café and Capogiro are rapidly appearing and joining the likes of Metropolitan Bakery. However I personally have always enjoyed taking a walk downtown to get to these gems – a $5 cup of gelato was a welcome treat after the lengthy journey. I am glad that Penn’s real estate ventures are supporting local businesses, but all this does is create even more of a Penn bubble. As a senior, I already have too many friends who can count on one hand the number of times they have been to Center City other than Freshman Orientation. We are students in a vibrant, diverse, up-and-coming city with hundreds of culinary attractions – most of which are not located within 5 blocks of College Hall. Penn students should be out in Philadelphia exploring the city and discovering places that don’t have it in their budget to open establishments on Penn’s campus. Penn doesn’t need to bring Philadelphia restaurants to its students. We’re already here. Let us discover them for ourselves.Tweet
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
It seems like the idea of "honoring your protein" won out tonight, and Ariane was forced to pack her knives. Although she messed up tonight, she has definitely performed better than some of her competition on past challenges, so I'm not sure about this decision. Next week, restaurant wars returns, but the bigger story looks like Hosea and Leah's blossoming relationship, which promises more drama in and out of the kitchen.
As expected, Team Chicken takes top honors, and Dave Barber declares all three team members winners tonight. The other two teams head in for the judges' beat-down, and Padma, Toby, and Tom have hardly anything nice to say. From Radhika's dubious contribution to Ariane's inability to tie the roast, everything is an issue tonight, and I think that judges' table gave hardly any indication of who will be going home. The judges finally reach a consensus that Team Lamb delivered the worst meal, but they still question Radhika's effort in the kitchen. It seems like she, Ariane, and Leah are the candidates for elimination, but they all had different problems tonight.
The fresh produce in the kitchens is definitely a far cry from anything I've seen at Commons, and the chefs definitely have everything they need to produce delicious menus. Team Lamb relegates Leah to a simple tomato salad and dessert. That better be one damn good tomato salad, because she is not pulling her weight, regardless of whether or not it was her choice. Overall, the kitchen prep is pretty devoid of drama, but we learn that Ariane doesn't even know how to tie a roast, so Leah steps in. There we go Leah, baby steps. At first glance, all the food looks absolutely delicious, and I would happily dive in. While Team Chicken is generally well-received, Team Lamb falls flat in virtually every aspect of their dish, which Tom says "doesn't honor the protein." I thought they would be the least favorite, but Team Pig definitely gives them a run for their money with less than complementary feedback. Thankfully, Carla redeems herself for last week's misstep with a solid tart, but the other teams are less lucky. It's definitely up in the air as to who goes tonight, but I wouldn't be surprised if Leah were asked to pack her knives.
Team Chicken (Jamie, Stefan, and Carla) definitely features some of the show's biggest personalities, and unsurprisingly, fireworks erupt between the last remaining member of Team Rainbow and half of the Euro Duo. Jamie has a point, though, and she and Carla should probably have a little more control of the menu, because Stefan has immunity and less to lose. The chefs are taken out of their Whole Foods comfort zone and transported to Dave Barber's Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, where they will get their ingredients directly from the source. The serene setting seems to calm the tensions on Team Chicken, but further drama looms after the break.
Ok, back from winter break and back to blogging. Just because I haven't been writing about it doesn't mean I haven't been keeping up, but it's been at random times, usually Tivo-ed, and I wasn't always near a computer. Last week was a doozy, as both Melissa and Eugene said goodbye thanks to new judge Toby Young, a British restaurant critic, who replaced Gail, as she headed into married life. Thank God my beloved Carla escaped elimination, because I don't know what I'd do without her commentary. This episode wastes no time getting into the quickfire, probably because no one really missed either of last week's eliminated chefs. I know I don't. The chefs have to use a variety of canned and/or processed food items to create a "gourmet" meal, at least as gourmet as they can. Once again, Jeff goes for a trio of items. If the judges are jumping on Jamie for her scallop obsession, they better call out Jeff's love of all things three ASAP. Stefan narrowly edges Hosea and Jeff for the win with his soup and grilled cheese combo. The chefs are divided into three teams of three: lamb, chicken, and pig, and their elimination challenge is to create a seasonal meal around their protein. It sure sounds simple, but as this show proves again and again, it rarely is.