Saturday, February 28, 2009

Fruits Montage

"Potato?"
photo by Jonathan Coveney

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Blog Lovin' - Blackberry Dumplings

Blog: eat make read

This Brooklyn blogger features creative combinations and beautifully presented food. This blackberry dumpling recipe is no exception!




Note: Click here to see the original post
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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Brown Betty Petite

Cupcakes are a small delight and Brown Betty Petite serves some of the best cupcakes in city of Philadelphia. Located at 269 South 20th Street, it is within easy walking distance of Rittenhouse Square Park.

Brown Betty Petite is an offshoot of Brown Betty Dessert Boutique in Old CIty
click logo to visit Brown Betty's official website

Tucked into a small storefront, this small boutique is hard to find, but once you find it, you’ll want to remember it and come back for seconds. The cupcakes are creative and delicious. Brown Betty has your garden variety cupcakes, like chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, but they also have nine unique varieties of pound cake. The pound cakes range from an almond pound cake to a vanilla pound cake filled with lemon curd and topped with buttercream frosting.

The storefront is a satellite of the main Brown Betty Bakery. The cupcakes themselves are excellent, sitting between the size of a cupcake from your average cupcake tin and a coffee house muffin. Brown Betty Petite offers 15 different cupcake flavors in total; some are daily attractions, while others are only available a few days a week. You’ll have to make a visit on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday in order to pick up my favorite cupcake, The Carrot Patch, a carrot cake with cream cheese icing.

It might be frustrating to get there and find it’s not the right day for your favorite flavor, don’t fret too much - find a new favorite. And if 15 different cupcake flavors staring back at you with their frosting swirl would be overwhelming, don't despair, as they'll usually have eight to ten flavors available each day, baked fresh and trucked in from their main bakery in the Northern Liberties.

So if you are around Rittenhouse Square, between 12 and 7 pm Tuesday through Saturday, stop by and let a Brown Betty cupcake brighten your day. You can’t go wrong with one of the many delicious varieties of pound cake either. Check out the bakery’s nifty website (Brownbettydesserts.com) for more ordering and location information.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Live Blogging - Top Chef Season 5: Episode 14

11:00
Although she may not win tonight, Carla is the clear audience favorite, earning 65% of the popular vote. With no separation between Stefan and Carla, Padma anticlimactically names Hosea the winner. He was far from my favorite, but he was easily the best performer tonight, so he fully deserved his victory. So that's that; season five has come to a close. It was one of my favorite seasons so far, and I hope whoever's reading this enjoyed it too. Maybe I'll be back next season!

10:53
At judges' table, the judges reiterate their dinner comments about Carla's dishes, praising her first two and coming down on the others. It seems that Carla might have listened to Casey a little too much tonight, spoiling her chance at victory. Hosea's only misstep tonight was a mediocre second dish, but his other three wowed the judges, which may be enough to propel him to victory. Like Carla, Stefan's comments are a bit of a mixed bag, with a popular alligator soup and the judges' favorite dish of the night in his squab. His carpaccio and dessert, however, aren't as impressive. Following the evaluations, Stefan reveals a bit of a heart beneath his stone cold exterior, comforting a clearly distraught Carla, who the judges declare out of the running. Tonight, I think that Hosea was more consistent that Stefan, and he should come away the winner. Padma sneaks in her best comment in weeks, offering "it was pedestrian, at best," when commenting on Stefan's dessert.

10:42
Understandably, there seem to be nerves all around in the kitchen, and they only increase for Hosea when he sees the line-up of judges tonight, including Rocco DiSpirito, Hubert Keller, and our very own Fabio. All three appetizers seem to go over well, with Hosea possibly earning top marks for his blackened red fish. Two of the first dishes include raw fish, Hosea's and Stefan's, and two include fennel, Carla's and Hosea's. Carla definitely wins this round, as the judges express minor qualms with both of the male contestants' dishes. If she took round one, Carla loses the second course battle, as her reworked meat and potatoes falls flat, while Stefan's squab and Hosea's scallop soar. Prior to the third round, Carla overcooks her blue cheese souflees, what could prove to be a fatal error, forcing her to send out an incomplete plate. Again, Hosea seems to be number one in the final round with his venison, with Stefan's dessert platter and Carla's apple tart following, in that order. At this point, Hosea looks like the front runner, but the judges have made some strange choices this season, so I wouldn't say anything is definitive just yet.

10:23
So that was an super-sized commercial break (7 minutes), and this isn't even a super-sized episode! Tom surprises the chefs by unveiling three traditional New Orleans ingredients, crab, red fish, and alligator, and telling the chefs that they'll each have to prepare an additional appetizer with one of the ingredients. They each grab a slice of king cake, and Hosea finds the lucky baby, meaning that he chooses his ingredient (red fish) and assigns the other two, giving Carla the crab and Stefan the alligator, surprise, surprise. The kitchen preparation is definitely hectic, but thankfully, no major drama goes down, meaning that the outcome will be all about the food tonight.

10:09
It's finally here! Tonight the Top Chef judges will crown one of the final three, Stefan, Hosea, and Carla. the season five winner. The season recap highlights the exciting season that most recently saw the departure of Fabio. Before we get into the action, I just want to align myself with Carla, as I have all season. Not only has she cooked consistently delicious food, but she has also been a delight on screen, charming, funny, and sincere. Pre-challenge, there's definitely some bad blood brewing between Stefan and Hosea, which could allow Carla to slip right through to the win, but anything could happen tonight. Tom and Padma present the challenge: cook a three course meal of the chef's choice at the famous Commander's Palace restaurant for a table of twelve distinguished food experts. Each chef will get the aid of a finalist from a previous season as a sous-chef, so Hosea gets Richard, Stefan takes Marcel, and Carla is paired with Casey. The prep at the Audobon tea room is chaotic from the start, as Hosea and Stefan battle for foie gras.

Weird Food at Trader Joe's

click here to visit the official Trader Joe's website

Often times the highlight of my weekend is a trip to Trader Joe’s, just browsing through their aisles of amazing food products. Every week I find something new and exciting - and no matter how unlikely the food combinations, it's always delicious! Here’s a list of some of the interesting food I’ve found at Trader Joe’s. If you’re the adventurous type, keep your eyes peeled for these items the next time you’re there!

-Dark Chocolate-Covered Chili Mangoes - This is a really fascinating combination of flavors - dried mangoes dusted (generously) with chilli powder, and then dunked in dark chocolate. This requires some really adventurous taste buds!
-Spicy and Tangy Almonds - Made with Tabasco and lemon - mind blowing!
-"Wasabi Wow!" Snack Mix - Wow! Is a very appropriate adjective.
-Mexican Hot Cocoa Cookies - These decadent treats are just the perfect combination of the spicy cinnamon and sinful dark chocolate. Unfortunately, I think this was only for the holidays…
-Japanese Sticky Rice Snacks - Gotta love seaweed!
-Ginger Almost Cashew Granola – lowfat!!
-Gorgonzola Pita Crackers
-Smoked Chicken Apple Chardonnay Sausage - Everyone likes a little wine.
-Organic Maple Agave Syrup
-Peanut Butter with Flaxseeds - Omega 3’s with your PB & J?
-Teriyaki Turkey Jerkey

The list is really endless . . . you’ll have to check it out yourselves to get the real experience of the incredibleness that is Trader Joe's!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vegan Stir-Fry Salad Wrap

I'm going to challenge the common belief that meat is the soul and substance of a wrap. And I'm not going to take the easy way out by relying on cheese. Here, I propose a delicious, filling, vegan alternative. I call it the stir-fry salad wrap.

Ingredients:
1 tortilla wrap of your choice (suggestion: soft whole wheat)
A handful of salad greens (suggestion: organic baby spring mix)
Sliced mushrooms (suggestion: baby bella)
Cubed firm tofu
Cherry tomatoes
Choice of veggies (suggestion: sliced bell peppers, julienned carrots, edamame, peas, sliced onion)
Cooking oil (suggestion: olive oil)
Salt and pepper
Soy sauce
Vinegar

Directions:
As the name of this recipe would suggest, there are three main components to this meal: the stir-fry, the salad, and the wrap. The wrap and the salad are self-explanatory. The stir-fry requires cooking.

Heat a tablespoon of your cooking oil in the bottom of a saucepan. Once it's hot, throw in the tofu and the mushrooms, and let them sit for about a minute. If you're going to use sliced onions, also put those in. After a minute, put in the rest of your veggies, with the exception of the cherry tomatoes. As everything is cooking, season with soy sauce, salt, and pepper.

In this process, if the bottom of the pan is too hot, the oil will burn away too quickly. It is helpful to add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan and then cover it for a few minutes, letting everything simmer. There should only be enough water to cover the bottom of the pan; if you drown your veggies, they will come out soggy.

The cherry tomatoes should be cooked separately. Slice them into halves or thirds. Again, heat a small amount (about 1/2 tablespoon) of cooking oil in a pan. When the oil is hot, drop the tomatoes in. They should start sizzling immediately. Drizzle with equal amounts of soy sauce and vinegar, and mix them a little so the taste is evenly dispersed. When they start to appear darker and less firm, remove from heat.

Heat the tortilla wrap briefly (30-45 seconds in a microwave will do) so that it is soft. Cover the middle section with your salad greens, and then add your cooked stir-fry and cherry tomatoes. Roll up and enjoy.

---

This wrap will leave you feeling satisfied because of the variety of textures and tastes that comprise it. I personally think the tofu and mushroom are crucial in adding substance. The flavor comes mostly from the soy sauce and pepper, but the tomatoes will add a surprising and delightful zest.

This recipe is really fun to experiment with! Try different combinations of vegetables, different spices, etc. If you're a meat-eater, feel free to add grilled chicken, fish, or sausages. One of my favorite variants is to use just tofu and edamame, and then season them with soy sauce and a sprinkling of dried seaweed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

In Defense of Brussels Sprouts

Growing up, I always associated brussels sprouts with repulsive, tasteless, overcooked mini-green cabbages that were force-fed to all the naughty little children deserving of the most severe punishments. These soggy blobs epitomized grossness and represented everything that the Cookie Monster did not. So when I decided to taste brussels sprouts for the first time last year, a daring endeavor on my behalf, I was pleasantly surprised that they were not only tolerable, but . . . dare I say it . . . actually quite delicious. I now eat them regularly, sometimes as a side dish but often just as a snack.

brussels sprouts are very healthy and, despite what many may think, can be delicious as well
photo by Dana Robinson

After the taste of brussels sprouts corroded my long-regarded impression, I decided to research whether they were actually as healthy as I previously assumed. I found that these cruciferous vegetables, sharing the same family as cabbage, collared greens, and broccoli, lived up to their mighty reputation. They are infused with countless cancer-fighting agents. With more Vitamin C than oranges, these sprouts help sustain your immune system, and the Vitamin A nurtures healthy, glowing skin. Brussels Sprouts also contain an ample supply of fiber and protein, which curb your hunger and keeps you satiated for extended periods of time. They are also believed to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, and defend the body against infection.

With all these health benefits, why have we all created such a strong aversion to this vegetable? Part of the reason is due to the unpleasant sulfur odor that is released when overcooked. Also, many people don’t like the taste of plain, over-boiled brussels sprouts. Since overcooking these veggies detracts some of the Vitamin C and other vital nutrients anyways, other cooking methods should be utilized to bring out the savory flavor of the sprouts. By cutting them into halves, spreading them over a greased foiled tray, adding a touch of oil (PAM spray works as well) with some sprinkled salt and pepper, these brussels sprouts can be roasted in the oven at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes for a crispy, tasty treat. They can also be cut up, flavored, and stir-fried with your favorite vegetable and/or protein combination (like chicken or tofu).

The time has come to give brussels sprouts another chance; don’t let your childhood reluctance control your palate. Why instill your trust in a garbage-dwelling monster puppet anyway? Take the plunge. Taste a brussels sprout and you may also find yourself addicted to this super-nutritious vegetable.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Upcoming Food Events

Flower-Inspired Food Tour
Where: All over Philadelphia, beginning at DiBruno Bros, 1730 Chestnut St.
When: March 2 - 7, 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
What: A unique food tour inspired by the concurrent Philadelphia Flower Show, featuring hand-crafted treats and botanical delights. Click here to reserve a spot.
How Much: $39 per person

All About Sushi, Part 1
Where: Reading Terminal Market, 12th St. and Arch St.
When: February 27, 5:45 - 7:30 pm
What: Love sushi? Learn from both history and technique from Philly's "Queen of Sushi," Madame Saito. Call (215) 922-1170 to RSVP.
How Much: $55 per person

Free Cooking Demonstration with Erin O'Shea of Marigold Kitchen
Where: Foster's Urban Homeware, 399 Market St.
When: February 28, 2:00 pm
What: A cooking demonstration from chef Erin O'Shea of West Philly's own Marigold Kitchen.
How Much: Free!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Bacon

crispy, salty, fatty, smoky, yummy
photo by Elizabeth Cunningham

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Blog Lovin' - Someone Please Deep Fry Me a Tootsie Roll

Blog: This is Why You're Fat

This blog features submissions of photos of foods that are so unhealthy that looking at the images may cause a heart attack. The foods featured take gluttony to a whole new level. That would be the covered-in-cheese-and-baked-into-a-hot-dog-pie level. I would still try a deep fried tootsie roll, though.


Note: Click here to see the original post.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Le Bec Fin: The Right to Refined Taste


photo from Le Bec Fin's website

It was my last stop of Restaurant Week, having previously been greeted at Lacroix by a charming yet disappointing Monkfish. Subsequently, I decided to explore what wonders lay in the fruit of a culinary marriage between Steven Starr and renowned Chef Morimoto. Despite a succulent White Fish carpaccio and oysters that my friend and I rapidly devoured (flouting the trademark warning to savor slowly), my elation was quickly thwarted by the non-presence of a certain Steven Seagal-looking, sushi-chopping, galactic blazer-wearing Iron Chef. So onto Le Bec Fin, it was.

Arms crossed, brows furrowed, and heads tilted at a 45 degree angle, my friend Nicole and I stared intently at the 6’’x 12’’ framed picture of the bird hanging on the bathroom wall of the restaurant. We had just finished our meal and in the spirit of French culture, it was now time to discuss the Arts.

“See! A “Bec Fin” is a species of bird,” Nicole said.

I grimaced. “Hmmm…well, I’m pretty sure Mélanie said something about French royal snobs in class”, I replied.
We simultaneously turned our heads counter-clockwise as if to gain another angle and thus (miraculously) more insight into the origins of this poor little bird. As French majors, fresh off spending a year abroad in Science-Po and the Sorbonne, nothing could get by us.

It turns out something could. The literal translation of a “bec fin” is a fine beak. Idiomatically and colloquially speaking it describes a person of refined or discriminating taste. When I walked into George Perrier’s Le Bec Fin, the ambiance was conspicuously meant to convey such a message. The décor of the restaurant is akin to that of a traditional French tea house. With its ruby stained carpets, rich mahogany furniture, and gold accents on the ceiling, it brings to mind Parisian staples La Durée (home of legendary macaroons) and Angelina’s (acclaimed for its ultra-rich chocolat chaud). The lush display of pastries alludes to the decadence of Versailles, or simply put, Sofia Copolla’s rendition of Marie Antoinette - mouthwatering enough for me. Most importantly the restaurant manages to reconcile the collective appreciation of fine dining with the intimate feel of a private supper.

In terms of the meal, I can only comment on what I had, but I will try to exhaust the recollection of my five senses so to give you a more wholesome feel of the food on and beyond my plate. For the appetizer, I ordered the Mushroom Ravioli which arrived in a petite-sized miso soup-type bowl. Nicole and another friend Steven ordered the Goat Cheese Tart. The ravioli was as it should be; tender, rich, and flavorful. Served in an ivory sauce of cream and mushroom and seasoned to perfection (no extra salt and pepper needed), the Mushroom Ravioli provided the adequate whetting of appetite. Our forks made successive clinks onto our plates as we eagerly awaited the next course.

For my entrée, I ordered the Sautéed Scallops served on a bed of lentils in a beurre noisette (brown butter) sauce. Despite my resistance towards lentils, I found the earthy texture from the legume and supple consistency of the shellfish to be a graceful combination. I’ve had good scallops in Philadelphia but I must say that these ones--tender, not over done and perfectly seared--wowed my taste buds. I did try some of the Salmon Confit in saffron sauce that another dining partner, Brandon, ordered and although I was impressed, I was happier with my pick. The Hanger Steak in the Sauce Bordelaise however, is something I might have considered trying judging by the looks of it (not to mention that it was the most fragrant of all of our dishes). Unfortunately, all I know is that it’s served with pommes purées and looks hella good.

For desert, I opted for the Crème Brûlée which succeeded in achieving its bronzed caramelization and not-so-rich custard, but failed in being presented to me at above room temperature (that’s just how I like it). Honestly speaking, I was pleased enough with it not to even remember what my friends ordered.

Altogether I give Le Bec Fin a thumbs up and can fully certify that the hype is justified. Some other features that I thought were pretty neat about the restaurant are its 5 course lunch taster, its “legendary” patisserie (desert cart), the private dining option in the Mezzanine Garden Room, and its inexpensive happy hour at the Bar Lyonnais. So if you want to invest in good food, even if it only carries you a couple of hours, Le Bec Fin is a fine place to tweak your beak.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Live Blogging - Top Chef Season 5: Episode 13

11:15
Carla wins yet again! She's on a Stefan-esque winning streak, and she grabs a car in the process, but unlike Stefan, her humility and grace remain fully intact. Because of Carla's win, Jeff will not progress to the finale, but he definitely did himself proud tonight. Hosea claims the next spot in next week's finale, leaving Team Euro to face off. Padma asks Fabio to pack his knives, and his good spirit doesn't waver, as he threatens Stefan's life if he doesn't take the top prize. The finale looks to be a one challenge, three dish affair, leaving more room for drama in the kitchen, where Stefan and Hosea get into a heated argument. Who will be season 5's Top Chef? Come back next week, and we'll find out!

11:05
Padma comes to the chefs' suite and unsurprisingly asks all of them to accompany her to judges' table. The judges heap praise on Jeff, declaring his cocktail the best of the night. They are less kind on Fabio, though, pulling buckets of criticism out of left field. Stefan's cockiness has reached a new height tonight, and the judges' acclaim for his grits-gumbo combo don't help. When Tom criticizes his attitude in the kitchen, though he gets something to think about. They don't have a bad thing to say about any of Carla's items, so she should be back next week, thankfully. They seem almost as excited with Hosea's meal, possibly setting up a face-off with Carla for the victory tonight. It looks like Team Euro will definitely lose at least one member tonight, and my bet is on Fabio. Stefan's consistency should prove too much to conquer, and his only undoing could be his increasingly sour attitude.

10:52
The guest begin to arrive, all clad in masks, which remind Fabio of a porno. I wasn't exactly thinking that, but ok... All of Jeff's dishes, including his cucumber mojito, receive high marks, and Stefan's food is popular with the judges, as it is more often than not. The good reviews keep coming with Fabio and Carla's meals, which gets the best feedback so far. Hosea claims that his gumbo is the most authentic of all ten meals tonight, and he may be right, because Emeril claims that it "captures the spirit of New Orleans." With all five chefs doing so well, it's tough to pick who will get the boot tonight. I don't think Jeff did well enough to get the win, but I have no idea who else will join him on the sidelines.

10:40
The chefs use the kitchen back at Delmonico, and Carla gets in over her head right of the bat by deciding to shuck a hundred oysters. Everything else seems to be going smoothly over the five hour preparation time. Maybe it's going a little too smoothly for Stefan, who opts for prepared sausage over his own variety and complements his cooking with a couple of smoke breaks. Tom has doubts about the creole-ness of Fabio's dishes and the authenticity of Hosea's roux, but he reserves ultimate judgment until he tastes the final products. Preparation finishes up at a stately art museum, where somehow Carla still has 2/3 of her oysters left to shuck with only an hour left. Each chef is provided with a bartender who will whip up the cocktails that they concocted. Gail is finally back, and Carla seems almost as excited as I am, throwing out a "Love you girl!" Seriously, Gail's presence was sorely missed, especially with her revolting replacement, Toby Young.

10:23
Back from the break, and Emeril quickly names Jeff the winner. Padma confirms my suspicions that, in order to reach the final three, Jeff must win the elimination challenge; if not, he goes home again. The chefs don't get into the elimination challenge yet, because they have a full night ahead of them, checking into a gorgeous suite and feasting at Emeril's restaurant Delmonico. The next morning, the contestants head to Mardi Gras World, a huge warehouse of floats and memorabilia. Their challenge is to create two dishes, one of which must be in the creole style, and a cocktail for the company's masquerade ball. If Jeff wins the challenge, two chefs will be eliminated, but if he loses, he and one of the other four will go home. The winner of the challenge will also take home a brand new Toyota. This might be the most high-stakes challenge of the season so far, and everyone seems to be on a relatively level playing field, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

10:13
Here we are, the first part of the two-part finale, and the final four chefs reunite at the New Orleans airport, actually five if you count Fabio's new mohawk. The action gets started quickly, as Padma, Tom, and guest judge Emeril Lagasse, introduce the first quickfire, but the final four aren't cooking. Instead, the last three eliminated chefs, Jamie, Jeff, and Leah, compete to join the elimination challenge, where they may have a chance to join the final 3, probably if they win that challenge. They have to prepare a dish using one of the Big Easy's signature ingredients: crawfish. I'm never a huge fan of these second chance opportunities on reality shows. I feel like if you're eliminated, you deserved it, so there's no reason to rejoin people who never messed up as badly. The most amusing part of the challenge is not the cooking but the live crawfish crawling all over the tables. All of the chefs receive similar feedback, and unsurprisingly, the winner won't be released after the break.

Cheesy Art

Cheese puffs are usually not considered to be a very high class snack, but as Jason of Eclectic Asylum Art shows, you can put those orange fingers to good artistic use. I must say, though, that he's better with cheese puffs than I am with charcoal, and for that I am very jealous.







Click here if you can't see the video above, or to check out more of his work.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Acai Energy Bowl

I used to frequent a cafe in Santa Monica that has an amazing Acai Bowl. The recipe is so simple that I decided I should start making it home so then I could enjoy it whenever I wanted - and could make as many as I wanted! Acai is a berry full of anti-oxidants so not only is this energy bowl very filling, it is also a great healthy breakfast or afternoon treat...

Ingredients:
2 packs of Original Sambazon Acai smoothie packs (found in the freezer section)
1 large banana
1/2 - 1 cup frozen strawberries
Splash of apple juice
Granola (my favorite for this recipe is Nature's Path Hemp granola for the perfect crunch!)
Fresh strawberries
Chocolate chips (optional--to sweeten the deal)

Directions:
Blend the smoothie packs, 2/3 of the banana, frozen strawberries, and apple juice until smooth. Pour the smoothie into bowl and top with granola, the remaining banana, and slices of fresh strawberries (and maybe chocolate chips). Enjoy!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Do you want flies with that?

The FDA doesn't mind that there are, on average, “10 or more fly eggs per 100 grams [the equivalent of a small juice glass] or five or more fly eggs and one or more maggots”in your tomato juice. In fact, in small quantities, this foreign matter is acceptable and unavoidable. Check out this article to see what else you are eating. Just as a warning, this may spoil your appetite.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Restaurant Week Retrospective

Residents of Philadelphia eagerly await “Restaurant Week” each season, where participating restaurants offer a minimum of 3 courses for only $35. With over 100 restaurants to choose from, a week just is not enough time and fortunately, many restaurants decided to participate in a de facto “Restaurant 2-Week”, extending their special menu for another week. Having heard about a new, amazing modern-Israeli restaurant, Zahav, I knew restaurant week would be an excellent time to check it out. But being new to Philadelphia this year, I also wanted to try somewhere more established. One of my friend’s favorite restaurants in the city is Alma de Cuba and she suggested I go there since it is on the expensive side, and restaurant week provides a cost-effective prix fixe. Sounded like a perfect plan to me!

I went to Alma de Cuba first, where the special menu offered a limited 3-course meal: 1 appetizer (out of 3), 1 entrée (out of 3), and 1 dessert (out of 2). I chose the Hamachi ceviche for my first course, which was a generous portion of fresh, sliced yellow tail plated with red onion, lime juice, and a tangy sesame-soy vinaigrette. For my main course I had the delicious house specialty Vaca Frita which means “Fried Cow.” The twice-cooked crispy skirt steak is a Cuban specialty that came with rice, black beans, and delectable tomato-based sauce with an avocado crème. The dish was perfectly prepared and very filling! For dessert, not being a tapioca fan, I chose a spiced-sponge cake with dolce de leche, with a crème anglaise frosting and candied pecans. The cake was moist and flavorful and the pecans added a nice “crunch” to the dessert. My friend ordered the same exact 3 items, since the others had zero appeal to either of us, so I unfortunately can only comment on these dishes. But despite the limited menu choices, Alma de Cuba offered some of its staple dishes in full-sized portions, and all were delicious. The décor of the restaurant was fairly minimal, low lighting with a white-red color scheme, lending to a relaxed but upscale setting. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the food and the experience at Alma de Cuba.

Zahav was completely booked for the first “round” of restaurant week, but the hostess called me back to let me know that they were going to extend the special menu—I was so excited! Zahav is a modern-Israeli restaurant on St. James place, which is near 2nd and Chestnut. While farther than I would normally venture for dinner—although still not terribly far—it was 100 percent worth it. Zahav offered an amazing special menu: hummus and laffa and a collection of 8 salads for the table, a choice of 2 appetizers (out of 10), choice of 1 entrée (out of 6), and a choice of 1 dessert (out of 3). The menu was very extensive and I went with an adventurous friend who also wanted to try everything, so we had the waiter advise us on what to order. The waiter was extremely helpful and chose the perfect menu for us…

We started with the hummus, which I can honestly say was the best hummus I have ever eaten, and it came with laffa, which is similar to pita bread and cooked in a wood-burning oven. The selection of eight salads included delicious baba ghanoush, seasoned carrots, tabouleh, and spiced chickpeas. For the second course, I loved the fried cauliflower and the Maluach (a crispy, twice-baked flatbread that's layered with French butter), which was accompanied with a fresh, chunky tomato sauce. The crispy haloumi--a cypriotic sheep’s milk cheese--was served with pine nuts and a date puree and was my friend’s favorite dish. For the third course, we chose the house made Merguez, which is a lamb skewer that came with traditional cous cous and a spicy sauce, and the Sabra, which was a perfectly seasoned and cooked chicken, sliced and served with onions and Israeli cous cous, which we learned is made with larger grains than standard cous cous.

The waiter suggested that my friend and I both order the Cashew Baklava for dessert, because it is that good. We should have listened. The lemon-poppy upside down cake, with a cucumber sorbet was wonderful and refreshing, but the baklava was out of this world. The baklava was not too salty and not too sweet, full of flavor and paired with a delicious white chocolate ice cream and a berry compote.

Every dish at Zahav was prepared with the freshest ingredients, with dynamic combinations and flavors. The restaurant is spacious and has a lovely, relaxed décor. I would recommend this place to anyone looking to go out with good group of friends, so that you can try as many dishes as you can! While Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food is not generally my favorite, Zahav was one of the best dining experiences—from start to finish—that I have ever had in Philadelphia, and I plan to go back as soon as possible.

Upcoming Food Events

Hands-On Knife Skills Class
Where: Reading Terminal Market, 12th St. and Arch St.
When: February 21, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
What: Learn the proper handling and care of these essential chef's tools in a hands-on class. Call (215) 922-1170 to RSVP.
How Much: $55 per person

Free Cooking Demonstration with Mitch Prensky of Supper
Where: Foster's Urban Homeware, 399 Market St.
When: February 21, 2:00 pm
What: A cooking demonstration from Supper's chef Mitch Prensky, showing off his upscale, modern American cuisine.
How Much: Free!


"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, February 14, 2009

Coffee Beans

freshly roasted coffee beans in Costa Rica
photo by Kendall Haupt

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Blog Lovin' - Chocolate Truffle...Cake!

Blog: Bakerella

This Sweet Heart Cake might look like a box of chocolates, but each detail is actually made from cake. Don't believe me? The truffles are red velvet cake balls. I would usually be disappointed (maybe even angry) if someone presented me with faux chocolates, but this cake is adorable and delicious enough to be a sweet surprise! Check out this blog for more baking artistry!

Note: Click here to see the original post.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sweets for the Sweet - A Valentine's Day Recipe

Need a fuss-free, low-cost recipe to dazzle your partner on Valentine's Day? Here's a quick-bake recipe for this romantic weekend.

photo by Andy Tan
Ingredients:
1 packet double chocolate brownie mix
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 banana (sliced)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup whole walnuts
1 can whipped chocolate frosting
1 pint strawberries (halved)
2 dark chocolate squares
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons icing sugar

Directions:
Pre-heat the oven at 325 degrees. Blend the water, oil and egg, then add the brownie mix and the chopped walnuts. Fill an 8-inch springform pan with half of the mixture, and layer it with banana slices. Top up with the rest of the mix into the pan. Bake for 45 minutes and allow the brownie to cool completely.

Once cooled, set the brownie on a cakestand or tray. Spread the frosting evenly over the brownie. Dust the surface with cocoa powder. Decorate with strawberries, icing, and whole walnuts, and grated dark chocolate over the center.

Tinto: Basque in the City

logo from Tinto's official website

Chef Jose Garces has had a good year. With a slew of nationally acclaimed eateries (four in Philly, one in Chicago) he is considered by many as the “Latin” Emeril Lagasse. After receiving rave reviews for his first venture, the tapas bar Amada, in 2005, Garces followed up with Basque-inspired wine bar Tinto two years later. Despite initial expectations of it being nothing more than a dubious sequel, Tinto soon became one of the most highly anticipated restaurant openings of 2007. Now, nearly two years later, it still maintains much of that anticipation.

My sisters and I made reservations for a Wednesday night. Tucked away on 20th Street, not far from the bustle of Rittenhouse Square, Tinto is easily missed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. The restaurant was dimly lit and unusually crowded for a Wednesday night (granted, it was Restaurant Week), filled with couples on dates and groups of dressed down execs. We had heard good things about Tinto; local restaurant blogs raved about it as one of the top Restaurant Week “musts”. The ambiance, courtesy of designer Jun Aizaki from the firm Crème, cites the natural elements of a rustic Spanish wine cellar. Sleek wooden lattices line the walls, brimming with bottles, and muted tones of greens, dark browns and yellows are prominent throughout. The small tea lights adorning the tables, bar and walls give the place an undoubtedly calm, if romantic, feel.

Fundamentally a wine bar that offers some of the best Spanish wine selections in the city, Tinto is also known for its innovative tapas dishes, drawing from some of the rich culinary traditions of the Basque country. The Restaurant Week menu offered three courses with a choice of two dishes from the first and second and a choice of one from the third. Most notable from the first course were the Le Moulis Cheese and the Pork Belly Montadito. The Moulis is a firm, cow’s milk cheese produced in a small creamery in the Pyrenees Mountains, its buttery flavor balanced by the earthiness of its natural rind. Tinto’s dish offers it with sides of apple and honey, creating a unique mixture of flavors and textures when combined. The Montadito offered that same distinct mix, merging the tender meat of the Berkshire pork with the sweetness of a honey and apple lacquer.

The second course is the main meat of the dinner so, not surprisingly, it is composed of many meats. Undoubtedly the most memorable were the Pulpo and the Beef Brochette. The Pulpo is a dish of Spanish octopus, boiled and lightly seasoned with salt, piquillo peppers and lemon powder, creating a blend of subtle flavors. The texture may be peculiar to some, but it is certainly not unusual of Spanish fare and to fans of the popular fried calamari. The Brochette concentrated more on dramatic flavors, mingling succulent Hangar steak with cider and sauces of aioli and peanuts. Lastly, the course of deserts offered a choice of Gate Aux Basque or Bananas and Azafrán. The Gate provides a slice of traditional Basque cake with a side of black cherries and pastry cream. The traditional Spanish cake had delicate hints of vanilla and almond, although some tend to find it overly sweet. The Bananas and Azafrán simply offers a typical chocolate cake encircled with caramelized bananas in sweetened saffron cream sauce. I found that the deserts, while appetizing, lacked the intriguing nuances of the first two courses.

It was difficult to find fault with Tinto. At most, the service was simply good, not great, but it is to be expected at one of the most high-profile restaurants in the city. With Tinto, Chef Jose Garces has proven that sequels don't always turn out to be a bad thing. In fact, sometimes, they may even be better than the first effort. So whether you are looking for a place to sip wine with friends on a Friday night or somewhere to have a romantic dinner for two, Tinto is definitely worth the trip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Live Blogging - Top Chef Season 5: Episode 12

11:00
Unsurprisingly, Fabio wins the elimination challenge and with it a bottle of Terlatto wine and a trip to their vineyard in Napa. Carla quickly joins him, equating herself to the slow-starting tortoise who's finally close to taking the lead. Padma and Co. give Leah the axe, leaving Carla as the final female chef in the competition. Next weeks the chefs meet up with Emeril in New Orleans with make-overs galore (Carla's straight hair! Fabio's mohawk!), and Gail is finally back from her extended honeymoon. I certainly can't wait, so until next week, I'll channel Leah and just say "Peace out, bitches!"

10:52
Padma asks the entire gang back to judges' table this week, the last one before they move down to New Orleans. The judges reiterate their comments at dinner, with Stefan, Hosea, and Leah all receiving mixed reviews and Carla and Fabio grabbing all of the praise. With those two sealing their spots in the final four, the other three chefs must all try to avoid elimination. In terms of feedback, Stefan should go home, but he's been too consistent for them to send him home over this, so I think we'll see one of the ex-lovebirds going home after the break.

10:41
Fabio's gimp hand definitely makes his meal preparation a little more difficult, but if he quits he'll be going home for sure, so he really doesn't have an option. I'm kind of disappointed by the lack of drama tonight, and when Tom comes into the kitchen and makes the chefs promise not to embarrass him, I have the sinking feeling that someone will. The dining room looks bizarre, with the judges and diners at one long table that is illuminated like a haunted house. The reaction to Leah's eggs is tepid to say the least. Surprisingly, Stefan fouls out with his overcooked salmon, which will definitely surprise him at judges' table. The mediocre reviews continue with Hosea, and there are problems with virtually every aspect of his shrimp scampi and tomatoes provencal. Fabio hits a homerun all around with his chicken and potatoes, easily taking the top spot with just Carla to go. If he got first place, Carla is a close second, with her peas earning much acclaim.

10:26
These meals all seem relatively simple, and coincidentally each chef has been paired with the meal that they are probably most comfortable with. Hosea gets shrimp scampi; Carla takes squab and peas; Leah picks eggs benedict; Fabio is paired with roast chicken and potatoes, and Stefan definitely feels confident with salmon, yet again. I'm still sure that at least one of them will completely blow their shot at the final four, most likely Leah. The calm episode takes a definite turn for the worse, though when Fabio cuts and breaks his finger. He refuses to go to the hospital and bravely soldiers on. That's the spirit!

10:14
We're down to five, and with only two weeks until the finale, the competition is closer than ever. The chefs have an hour for this week's quickfire, employing molecular gastronomy to create an innovative egg dish. I love eggs, and they're so underrated, so I'm excited to see what they come up with. Carla's interpretation of green eggs and ham looks delicious, and Hosea definitely took a risk with his tempura-fried whole egg. He's in the bottom, though, with Leah and Fabio, who doesn't hold back in letting us know that he's "pissed." Carla and Stefan both continue their hot streaks, and Carla grabs yet another win. The chefs then draw knives, each with the name of a culinary superstar, and they have to prepare the "last supper" for him or her. As the winner, Carla has the opportunity to switch with any of the other contestants, but she sticks with Jacques Pepin, apparently because of their mutual love of peas.

Top Chef Live Blogging Tonight!

As usual, don't miss Tucker's live blog of this week's Top Chef episode, starting at 10 pm tonight!

Who Ever Thought of Bacon and Chocolate?

From chocolate-covered bacon to bacon brownies and even bacon-and-chocolate cupcakes, the latest trendy flavor combination is certainly provocative. Never before have breakfast and dessert been blended with such finesse, such pizzazz, such disregard for custom. Balancing sweet and salty is nothing new, as seen in various ethnic cuisines as well as in your average country fair kettle corn, but this recent combination is nothing short of explosive. Chocolate-covered pretzels? Typical. Pumpkin bacon chocolate chip cookies? Not so much.

mo's bacon bar by vosges combines rich milk chocolate with applewood smoked bacon
photo from vosges' official website

Nevertheless, the curious craze for bacon and chocolate has growth rapidly, in part due to online presence of curious food bloggers, eager to test out new ideas in their own kitchens. Why not try some Bacon and Peanut Butter Truffles? Or how about some Maple-Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies? Better yet, why don't you whip up a batch of Chocolate Bacon Blondies?

Bacon and chocolate have also found their way onto restaurant menus across the country, sneaking into the dessert menu alongside less exciting standbys, like the perennial apple turnover. For example, Animal Restaurant in Los Angeles, which focuses on meat dishes, has introduced the Bacon Chocolate Crunch Bar to much fanfare. Check out a review and some beautiful bacon bar footage here.

Even upscale chocolatier Vosges has hopped on the bacon-and-chocolate bandwagon with Mo’s Bacon Bar, a combination of applewood smoked bacon and deep milk chocolate that promises to make the “lust of salt and sweet coat your tongue,” they claim. Since its introduction, the bar has proved a surprise hit, selling out in 48 hours when released in British chain store Selfridges.

So where do you stand on the bacon and chocolate debate? Delicious . . . or disgusting?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tomato Casserole – A Healthy Alternative to Pizza . . . Really!

The inspiration behind this recipe is twofold. The first is that I love fresh ingredients - using them gives me the feeling all the organs in my body are turning properly, pumping adequately, and are continuously nourished. The second is more gastronomic and less A.P. Bio. I did a semester abroad in Paris last year and while living with a French family, I was often treated to this tomato dish that typifies French home-cuisine: fresh, easily prepared, and using basic ingredients. Upon my return, I tried to recreate this meal and came up with something slightly different, but more to my liking (and to that of my roommate - high praise!). It can be eaten either as an appetizer or as an entrée (whichever you prefer). I call it . . . tomato à la . . . well let’s call it a tomato casserole for now. When I officially name it, I’ll blog the name. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon and herb seasoning (if unavailable, half of a lemon)
Olive oil
Garlic powder
Paprika
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro
2 pounds of fresh plum tomatoes
1 chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)
2 cups of Portobello or shitake mushrooms
1 vacuum sealed package of mozzarella cheese (or 3 egg-sized pieces)
1 baking dish or aluminum disposable pan

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Begin by cleaning the mushrooms with a wet cloth and slicing them into ¼ inch pieces. Place them in a mixing bowl and season with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt, 1 teaspoon of paprika and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder; toss and leave to marinate.

Slice the mozzarella into thin, square-like strips (at least 2x2 inches) and set aside. Slice tomatoes in circular pieces; season with salt, pepper, and lemon & herb dressing (if not available, squeeze lemon over tomatoes) being sure to season both sides.

Coat your baking dish with about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Begin layering your tomatoes (one overlapping the other) along the width of the pan going one row at a time; make sure there is a layer of cheese between each tomato as much as possible. Complete this until the entire pan is covered. Scatter or arrange the mushrooms over the tomatoes as you like. Continue this process on the second tier, evenly distributing the tomatoes, cheese, and mushrooms until all ingredients are used up.

Sprinkle the jalapeno and half of the parsley or cilantro over the casserole, then cook in the oven for about 25 minutes or until mushrooms are visibly browner and the cheese is melted. Garnish with the remaining herbs and serve with saltine crackers or bruschetta (or any grilled toasted pieces of bread seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil). The crunch is essential.

So you see, this casserole is somewhat like a deconstructed pizza . . . just fresher and not as greasy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

A New Generation of Fruit

My mom always says to me, “Don’t forget to eat your fruit!” and I immediately think of all the apples and oranges and bananas I have been neglecting in my daily diet. One day, however, I was in Fresh Grocer browsing when I picked up a pomegranate and wondered to myself, Why don’t I ever eat pomegranates? Possibly because I don’t know, as many people don’t, that pomegranates provide much more nutrition than a simple apple can. They’re loaded with vitamin B5, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidant polyphenols (which can fight cancer). It has also been shown to fight plaque and even lower blood pressure. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a pomegranate a day can add years to your life.

Or, if seeds aren’t your thing, next time consider a bag of lychees instead of grapes. These sweet, shell-covered fruits are a product of East and Southeast Asian countries and have begun to make it into mainstream America. They're loaded with Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium and the always-essential fiber. They are usually sold in bunches or de-shelled in cans.

Looking for an alternative to strawberry milkshakes? Try açaí shakes. The native South American fruit has become widely popular in energy drinks (Vitamin Water, Naked Juices, etc.) and have proved nutritional in a variety of ways. It has a fair amount of antioxidants, protein, Vitamins A and C, and a large amount of iron. Sold mostly in pulp and juice form, açaí drinks are easily accessible now in a variety of supermarkets.

So are you ready to mix up your fruit diet? There’s a whole new generation of exotic fruits out there just waiting to become the next big thing. So stop by Trader Joe’s (2121 Market Street), swing by Whole Foods (2001 Pennsylvania Avenue in Fairmount) or even try Fresh Grocer (4001 Walnut Street) to start exploring today.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Upcoming Food Events

Valentine Weddings
Where: Reading Terminal Market, 12th St. and Arch St.
When: February 14, 11:30 am
What: Watch five food-loving couples get married in the middle of the market, followed by a dessert reception.

"Fork You" Live!
Where: Foster's Urban Homeware, 399 Market St.
When: February 14, 2:00 pm
What: A live filming of the popular podcast, forkyou.tv. Part of Fosher's free cooking demonstration series.
How Much: Free!


"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, February 7, 2009

Ma'amoul

ma'amoul, a traditional middle eastern cookie with a date filling and a secret spice blend in the crust
photo by audrey farber

Friday, February 6, 2009

Friday Blog Lovin'- Cookie Madness

Blog: Cookie Madness

Have a cookie craving you just can’t satisfy? Look no further than Cookie Madness, the website of Austin blogger Anna Ginsberg. Her recipes often involve unusual ingredients, like cayenne pepper in this one for Mexican Chocolate Chunk Cookies. She even ventures into scones, muffins, cheesecake, and the like; Anna’s got all your baked good bases covered.


Note: Click here to see original post.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Thai Chef & Noodle Fusion

I wasn’t impressed by the name when a friend recommended it to me, and I wasn’t impressed by the storefront when she took me there. It looked and sounded like one of those nondescript, standard stock, ethnically-ambiguous Asian places, the kind you go to when your taste buds are feeling lazy and you have an inexplicable, irresistible craving for chicken fried rice. But just like how you can’t judge a book by its cover—the same concept goes for restaurants, especially in Philly.

singapore noodles with tofu
photo from restaurant's official web album

Thai Chef & Noodle Fusion is a relatively recent addition to Philadelphia, having just opened in November 2008. Located on 20th and Chestnut, the restaurant’s humble exterior and modest furnishing are drastic understatements of its culinary accomplishments.

Their menu is extensive—multiple pages, packed front and back with an overwhelming selection of appetizers, specialty entrees, and variations on traditional Thai and pan-Asian dishes. You’ll get your money’s worth with clichéd favorites like drunken noodle, or if you’re feeling adventurous, you can order “Fantasy Duck,” “Jungle Queen,” or a “Winning Alligator” (which is actually alligator—the menu claims that “Customer vote the meat soft tender, better than chicken”).

The kitchen delivers what the menu promises. My seaweed tofu soup was literally just seaweed and tofu in vegetable broth, exactly as described, but it was perfect. This place doesn’t try to win you over with exotic ingredients, revolutionary seasonings, and pretentious displays of food art. The dishes are fundamentally simple—even the “Winning Alligator” is just alligator meat sautéed with a vegetable mix.

bangkok eggplant with chicken
photo from restaurant's official web album

What’s so compelling about the food is that every flavor is multi-dimensional and wonderfully complete. You won’t be shocked by a taste you’ve never experienced before; instead, you will feel your body react to each dish with a deep sense of comfort. I ordered the Wild Ginger, simply a variety of vegetables sautéed with julienned ginger and served with rice. In my experience, ginger is mostly used in Asian dishes to enhance the taste of the primary ingredients, not so much as the focus of a dish. But it was a good call—it gave the sauce an addictive zest, and its sharp taste awakened my taste buds, making me more sensitive to all the delightful nuances of my entrée.

It’s really admirable, how the chef doesn’t try to drown each dish in rich sauces and potent seasonings. Rather, he uses just the right spices and herbs to bring out the natural taste of each ingredient—it really helps you appreciate the wonderful diversity of food. The dishes pack a subtlety and depth of flavor that will appeal to light and heavy palates alike.

Other Observations

Décor
If you focus on the clean linoleum, white tablecloths, and solid wood chairs, it looks like every other decent, mid-range Asian restaurant. But take a look at the walls and the lighting, and you will feel like you are in a twelve-year-old’s bedroom. A vibrant underwater scene—complete with a shark, schools of fish, seahorses, and starfish—covers all four walls, and the lighting fixtures, in various bold colors, look like something you’d find in IKEA. According to the waitress, there is no reasoning behind the choice of wall mural; the manager just thought it would be fun. The overall effect is surprisingly comfortable, and slightly humorous.

Service
Throughout the course of your meal, you might experience some awkward moments or misunderstandings with the service; it kind of felt like they were still figuring out the details of the job--little things, like communicating about special requests, answering questions, getting an ice bucket for wine. That said, however, they were extremely accommodating, helpful, patient, and considerate, and I feel like as far as service goes, in the end it’s the attitude that really makes a difference.

Perks
It’s a BYOB, so if you’re going out for a laid-back dinner with friends, you can bring a bottle to enjoy with your meal. Also, while the prices are already very affordable (almost everything is under $20), they have a daily lunch special that’s a total steal—a three-course meal for under $10. Finally, they are always willing to make variations of their menu offerings to suit individual tastes. As a vegetarian, I found their flexibility to be very convenient.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Live Blogging - Top Chef Season 5: Episode 11

11:00
Wow, I was certainly wrong with that one, and Jamie gets sent packing. I think this is the first elimination this season that I really disagree with, mainly because I don't want to put up with both Hosea and Leah for another week. The preview reveals hardly anything except for an injury to Fabio and a bizarrely lit judges' table. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

10:53
Well, my prediction for the top/bottom divide was correct, but there looked to be a clear distinction between the best and the worst tonight. The judges are full of complements for Stefan, Fabio, and Carla, including Toby Young. As sad as I am for the season to be over, I can't wait to see his departure. Stefan takes his thousandth win of the season, and with it he gets not only Eric Ripert's new cookbook but also a week-long stint shadowing the star chef and a trip with him to South Beach for the Food and Wine Festival. For once, the elimination isn't so obvious, and I'm not at all certain who will get the boot. If I had to pick one out of the sea of atrociousness, I would eliminate Leah, whose attitude has gotten progressively worse and who didn't seem to have a clue how to put together certain elements of her dish.

10:40
Almost as amusing as watching the chefs struggling to decipher these recipes is seeing Ripert keeping such a close eye on them. It's almost as if he's saying, "Don't screw up my kitchen TOO much, you amateurs," but only with his eyes. He is way more hands-on than any other guest judge so far, and it's great to watch him conference with each chef individually in the kitchen. Except for Jamie, that is, because she was so short on time that she couldn't get a plate ready for him. Uh oh, I smell disaster...So the judges taste both the original and the chef's versions back to back, with Fabio up first. His sourdough encrusted red snapper receives generally positive feedback, although the same can't be said for Leah's overcooked fish and tasteless broth. Stefan's lobster comes out next, and it seems to be almost an exact replica of Ripert's dish. Carla struggles for time, and her peers give her a helping hand getting everything plated. She owes them one, because the judges seem generally pleased with her effort. Hosea's monkfish is clearly one of the weaker offerings, almost certainly landing him in the bottom three with Leah and Jamie, whose bass and blanched celery also fail to impress.

10:24
With news of the elimination challenge still conspicuously absent, the six remaining chefs head to Eric Ripert's restaurant, Le Bernardin, for lunch. The food looks delicious, but we're so close to the end, so put them to work! I think that Leah should contain her affections for Eric, though, as we all saw what happened last time she got carried away with a crush, and they've finally stopped talking about that encounter, thank God. When Tom announces that there's one course left on the menu and the music starts up, the challenge must be on its way. The chefs must recreate the six entrees that Ripert served, all of which require a high degree of technical skill. Stefan gets to pick his dish, the baked lobster, but the rest of the chefs pick knives. I'm sure that there will be some disasters, but I can't wait to see who falls apart.

10:12
We're really getting down to the end here, with the finale just three weeks away, and I wouldn't say that there's an outright frontrunner this year, like previous years. Stefan probably has the best track record, but he's had his missteps, so tonight's elimination is definitely up in the air. The quickfire is a fish fillet tournament, and the presence of sardines sends Carla into a British accent for some unspecified reason. I mean sardines are disgusting, so this is kind of hard for me to watch, and Eric Ripert looks similarly disgusted in his evaluations. Jamie and Carla go out first, but Leah soon joins them with a pathetic performance in the next round. Fabio also gets the ax because of some faulty technique. Seriously, this is the longest quickfire ever, and this isn't even a supersized episode! The final round, eel peeling, is at least semi-intriguing, but Stefan dominates Hosea for yet another win.

Happy Intestine Day!

Dear Readers,

We at the Penn Appetit blog have declared today Intestine Day! Read on for two very different accounts of how intestines have come into the lives--and stomachs--of two of our writers. But be warned, some of the pictures and descriptions that follow are not for the squeamish!

Alex
Blog Editor

Life, Death, and Intestines in Jordan

For Eid al-Adha, the holiday which commemorates Isaac's near-sacrifice at the hands of his father, Abraham, it is customary to slaughter a sheep (or two, depending on your wealth). You then donate some of the meat to charity, eat the rest yourself, and let nothing go to waste. This includes the majority of the innards: heart, lung, kidney, liver, brain, stomach, and intestines. Heart, lung, and kidney just taste like meat, mostly. Liver's not my speed, I stay away from brain, but due to certain circumstances I was obliged to eat both stomach and intestine.

extracting intestines to prepare for dinner
photo by audrey farber

Stomach is prepared by boiling several times to clean it, then cut up and sewn into little pouches stuffed with rice, chickpeas, and vegetables, and then cooked. It smells rancid from beginning to end and tastes as bad.

The intestines are a whole different ball game. Having watched them come flopping out of a dead sheep hanging upside down from his feet, then watched the bile and fecal matter be squeezed out of them--including a priceless moment when they encountered a hole in the intestines and squirted out all over the place--then boiled, boiled, and boiled again, and finally stuffed with the same rice mixture as went into the stomach, cooked, and eaten - it was all a bit too much for me.

I ate it, but I had only as much as required by etiquette and was still nauseous several days later. Now I can't eat lamb without flashbacks to the taste and smell of festering digestive organs.

The two upsides are that, first, I have seen an animal slaughtered and I can still eat meat--something very few carnivores can say and second, the entire experience was a reminder that there are cultures in the world today that still appreciate an animal for what it is and what it provides us, utilize the entirety of its edible parts, and let nothing go to waste.

Intestines are Yummy. Really.

Every country has its own official “quirky” food: France has its escargots and frog legs, China has its monkey brains . . . and Korea has its cow intestines. But before you start thinking that Korea is a little too weird for your taste, you should know that there are a lot of countries that frequently use different types of tripe in their cooking--all disguised behind mysterious names we can’t pronounce. Just to name a few: the Spanish Callos dish, the Hungarian Pakal, the Japanese Yakiniku, and even the American Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup.

So why even consider using animal organs in something that’s going in our mouths?

Because it tastes good. No, really, it does. It also feels good. The chewiness of the intestine allows one to savor the sauce slowly oozing out with each bite, which is what makes any intestinal dish heavenly, in my opinion. Of course, the same chewiness is what makes intestines a deal-breaker for some people, but those are the boring people who like the conventional stuff. I assume YOU are up for some adventure if you’re still reading this.

Once the intestines are meticulously cleaned (and it needs to be, for obvious reasons), it is perfectly edible by humans. Getting it cleaned, however, is no easy feat, which is why people rarely prepare this dish at home. One tip for those who do want to give it a shot: rub the intestine layers in flour so that the odor goes away, or else you might not want to go through with your little adventure.

Korean restaurants offer quite a variety of animal tripe dishes that appeal to the general population, two of which I will mention now.

The most popular is the soon-dae: quite literally, a type of Korean sausage that wraps up a mix of vegetables and noodles or sticky rice into a flattened layer of pig intestines. It is most popular among students who have little time and money on their hands but of course, adults love this dish just as much. Soon-dae can be eaten with a salty dipping sauce, cooked in a noodle broth, or stir-fried with vegetables and spicy sauce.

soon-dae, Korean intestine sausage

stir-fried soon-dae

The second is gob-chang: small intestines of either pig or cow. Most restaurants that serve this dish serve dae-chang--large intestines--as well. I personally find it most satisfying when the intestine is served chopped to bite-size pieces seasoned with salt and pepper or a spicy sauce, which we would then personally broil on a pan in front of us and eat as soon as they are ready. For an extra burst of flavor, you can dip the pieces into a spicy or garlic sauce.

broiled gob-chang, Korean small intestine

Another popular choice is the gob-chang jun-gol, which mixes the intestine pieces with vegetables in a spicy (or not spicy, depending on your preferences) casserole.

gob-chang jun-gol, Korean intestine casserole

It isn’t exactly the healthiest food in the world, but it’s a treat worth savoring every once in a while. I myself make it a habit of eating all the different variations of intestinal dishes available every time I go back to Korea for vacation. And if you ever decide to visit Korea, even for reasons other than the intestines, don’t be afraid to try them out because they’re totally worth it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Avocado "Zingers"

The name may be really strange, and perhaps a bit cheesy, but I concocted these little party bites for a New Year’s party, and they were a hit! The recipe is fast, simple and excitingly delicious:

Try this recipe with delicious, ripe avocados. Photo by Frances Hu.

Ingredients:
2 ripe avocados
2 ripe oranges
A few dashes of Tabasco sauce (I used the new garlic variety but you can use any kind you'd like)
Toothpicks

Directions:
Cut avocados and oranges into cubes, and join one piece of each on a toothpick. Put a dash of Tabasco on each duo, and voilà! They’re done. Serve them as soon as you make them so the avocadoes don’t turn a nasty brown.

It seemed like a strange idea at first, but the coolness and creaminess of the avocado, coupled with the citrus of the orange tempered the fiery kick of the Tabasco to create an exotic and tingling combination of flavors on the palate. Try it out!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Starbucks: The Right Way

In times as lean as these, it's hard to believe I'm still a loyal Starbucks fanatic. To those who say "Come on, $3 for a cup of coffee is such a rip-off!" I still say, "Actually, it's $2.73--tax included." In fact, Starbucks' costliness was precisely the reason I asked my friends to solely buy me Starbucks gift cards for Christmas. And armed with several of these cards, I'm ready to resume my habit.

There may be a lot of calories hiding behind the mermaid's smile. Photo by Alice Gao.

But Starbucks is one tricky fella. Of course I knew that a caffe latte every day couldn't be good for you. But like most people I never thought to look up the nutrition facts. Turns out I'd been ingesting 150 cals almost every day.

What's the most caloric Starbucks beverage? A venti Hazelnut Hot Chocolate with whipped cream at a whopping 720 calories. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, that's 36% of your suggested daily intake.

So what if you want to indulge, but not to a ridiculous degree? First, you can stick with coffee . . . and their "tall" size. Starbucks actually carries a "short" size, which holds eight ounces, but I've never heard anyone request it. A tall cup of coffee contains only 5 calories, and a tall Caffe Americano contains only ten. Their variety of teas, including their iced teas, contain between zero and just five.

But personally I don't frequent Starbucks to buy coffee I could brew in my dorm, so I was more interested in the content of their specialty drinks. Cappuccinos are a good way to go, at only 90 calories per tall cup. The Coffee Frappuccino Light has only 90 calories and the Expresso version contains only 80, but make sure you specify that you want the "light" version--their regular counterparts have almost 200 calories.

If you love Starbucks' lattes but want to watch your calorie intake, non-fat milk is the way to go. The skinny lattes ("skinny" specifies the substitution of skim milk) come in Vanilla, Caramel, or Hazelnut and all only contain 90 calories per tall cup.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Upcoming Food Events

Restaurant Week continues until Friday! Here are the details for it and some other upcoming food events.

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.


Sausage-Making Workshop
Where: La Cucina, in Reading Terminal Market, 12th St. and Arch St.
When: February 2, 5:54 - 7:45
What: Learn how to make all kinds of sausage in this interactive class led by master butcher Charles Giunta. Call (215) 922-1170 for reservations.
How Much: $55


Valentines Day Cookies Decorating Demonstration
Where: Foster's Urban Homeware, 399 Market St.
When: February 7, 2:00 pm
What: Right in time for Valentine's Day, learn about cookie decorating from some masters of the craft.
How Much: Free!


"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.

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