Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Stewed rhubarb with cornmeal biscuits

It feels like forever since I've seen something new at the farmers' market. I stopped being as diligent about my weekly visits because I can barely get through my sweet potatoes anymore and I'm up to my ears in onions.

For the past couple of weeks, though, I've been hurrying over to the market at opening time and I have been rewarded for my punctuality. First, it was asparagus. This week, rhubarb! I bought two bunches, knowing that it will disappear far too quickly.

So many recipes require pairing rhubarb with another fruit in a pie, cobbler or crisp but I like it enough on its own. I decided to do a sort of rhubarb shortcake by putting together a couple of recipes and buying vanilla ice cream.

The fruit component is simple stewed rhubarb. I didn't have buttermilk so I needed to find a cream-based biscuit. I stumbled upon a pear cobbler on that has a cornmeal biscuit topping that is made with cream and butter. I have some great blue cornmeal that I brought back from the Santa Fe farmers' market so I was eager to try the recipe.

Simple Stewed Rhubarb (courtesy of


  • 6 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water


In large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally for about 15 min or until slightly thickened and rhubarb is in threads. Let cool.

Cornmeal Biscuits (adapted from

I am modifying my instructions for the biscuits here because I had some trouble adapting them from the original recipe to be cooked separately on the pan. The cooking times might need further adjustment.

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup stone-ground cornmeal (medium grind)
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whisk flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in large bowl. Add chilled butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cream; stir just until moistened.

Gather dough together; form into 8-inch-long log. Cut log crosswise into eight 1-inch-thick rounds. Sprinkle rounds with coarse sugar and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place a sheet of foil over the biscuits and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover the biscuits and bake for 10-15 more minutes or until they appear golden and cracked.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Marigold Kitchen

The name Marigold Kitchen is just right for this 74-year-old restaurant on 45th Street. The restaurant is essentially a house—and chef/owner Rob Halpern even lives there, on the third floor—and the warm yellow walls suggest comfort and simplicity.

Chef Halpern invited us back into the kitchen, first demonstrating how he plates his "Beets in Many Forms and Textures" ($9). Just this one plate, which Chef Halpern admitted he personally does not do on a normal dinner hour, consisted of beet powder, a roasted and deep-fried beet, dehydrated grapefruit, beet greens wrapped in pickled rhubarb, beet sorbet, rhubarb gel, rhubarb shaved ice, a beet jelly, a walnut jelly, a dehydrated beet chip, goat cheese and yogurt dressing, sweet soy dressing, and beet-horseradish bubbles.

"A lot of our food is fleeting," Chef Halpern explained as he sat us in the empty dining room to sample the dish (they weren't open yet). Before the bubbles could deflate, we had tried a smidgeon of each component, paying special attention to the sorbet with goat cheese and yogurt. The tinge of sweetness in the savory sorbet, rounded out by the creamy, tangy dressing proved a sublime pairing—one that we could only enhance with a subsequent nibble on the crunchy beet chip.

Chef Halpern didn't always cook like this, and neither did his family; he grew up as a "latchkey kid," venturing to Wawa or cooking pasta most nights with his sister. This lack of culinary tradition, he said, explains why his food tends to be avant garde. Though he flinches at the term "molecular gastronomy" to describe his cuisine, he wants to create dishes that are whimsical and special. "I really like tring to make foods that aren't accessible to the home cook," he said.

Chef Halpern counts Nuno Mendes of The Loft, Grant Achatz of Alinea, Kevin Binkley of Binkley's, and Rob Evans of Hugo's as his biggest influences; he interned with the latter three before returning to his native Philadelphia and buying Marigold Kitchen in 2009. This is the latest permutation of the same location: the restaurant was Marigold Tea Room, Marigold Dining Room, and at one point, an Ethiopian restaurant.

Since reopening in September, the restaurant has kept up with the location's tradition. Their April menu offers a "Medley of Spring Baby Lettuces" ($8) garnished with a marigold. I much preferred the flower's visual/thematic addition over its flavor, but my tastebuds were impressed with how Chef Halpern drew out the red clover's lemony tones with his citrus vinaigrette.

Marigold's dining style is in tune with the small plates trend, and Chef Halpern prefers to serve his 11-course tasting menu ($85) over anything else. In fact, he is trying to bring down the price point in order to make the menu more accessible to more customers; plans are in the works for different menus with four ($45), five ($55), and six ($65) courses. But he won't abandon the original 11-course idea; he still wants to "feed people a ridiculously large amount of plates," even if they're not listed on the menu. He envisions all kinds of mini-courses between the larger ones to give customers the complete Marigold experience.

Our last "course" was lamb in a yellow curry with a samosa and tamarind bubbles. The curry was more subtle than spicy, delicate enough to follow the flavors of the beets and salad. Framed on two corners by cooked carrots, zucchini, and small onions, the dish's colors stood out as much as its tastes. Chef Halpern followed this last course with small goblets of homemade orange soda and mini gingersnap ice cream sandwiches.

Marigold is worth the short walk a few blocks west of campus for both the blending of flavors and the feeling of coming home. In a few short months, Chef Halpern has recreated this space so it fits right in with West Philadelphia and still showcases his flair for innovative cuisine.

photos by Michael Chien

Thursday, April 22, 2010

My friend and I stumbled upon Sakura at 1038 Race St. during our last adventure in Chinatown. Sakura is a apparently chain restaurant in Shanghai, so we decided to try it out. We were pleasantly surprised. Sakura serves a blend of Chinese and Japanese cuisine. They're definitely more upscale compared to typical "whole-in-the-wall" establishments. The interior is pretty classy, and the overall ambience is tranquil but lively at the same time. The food was excellent and very fresh. I personally found the Chinese food more authentic than typical takeout places. We ordered an order of spicy wontons and juicy pork buns as appetizers (that could easily pass for a meal). At $4.95, the soup dumplings are definitely pricier than other places, but I have yet to find better soup dumplings elsewhere in Chinatown. The spicy wontons were covered in a sesame sauce, which was different but tasty. My friend went for the mapo tofu, and I went for the bento box, which came with a salad with ginger dressing that had bits of fresh mango it in. I wanted to bottle that dressing and bring it home. Overall, Sakuza was worth the trip. I'll have to go back sometime and get more soup dumplings.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moroccan Culinary Delights: Part II

So here I am again, with the second installment of mouth-watering Moroccan foods.


The meat question might seem tricky in Morocco where the great majority of the population is Muslim and therefore doesn't eat pork. However, you will be surprised at the various tasty alternatives - chicken, beef, veal, lamb, mutton and seafood feature regularly on the table in all kinds of tantalizing dishes. Brochettes, or grilled pieces of meat on metal sticks, are an extremely popular fast food, usually served with salad and fries or with grilled vegetables. Whole chickens roasting on a rotating spit can be found anywhere, and Moroccans have perfected the technique to ensure that all parts of the chicken stay succulent on the inside, with a crispy layer of skin on top. Meat is a prized addition to tajines (clay pot stews with various ingredients) and couscous dishes, with the addition of potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, or squash, among others. And of course there's kalia. This mixture of cooked meat and eggs is a very popular cheap street food, usually served on bread as a sandwich or cooked with veggies in a tajine.

Some of the more unusual meat dishes include roast sheep's heads (which I never got to try) and snail soup, sold by street vendors in the evenings and sending out a pungent aroma not advised for delicate stomachs. Usually, only locals crowd at the stalls and eat the snail broth from small bowls provided by the vendor. If you still feel like having a warm bowl of comfort, head over to the restaurants offering harira - a thick tomato-based soup, which can include chickpeas, lentils, noodles and possibly a little meat. Traditionally, it is served with hard-boiled eggs eaten on the side with salt and cumin.


Moroccan mint tea is not simply a drink - it is a cultural marker in itself, and the ritual of tea-drinking involves several important points. A traditional tea-drinking set consists of a tray, several small glasses, a shiny teapot with a curved spout for easy pouring, and a special cover for the pot to keep the tea warm. The first cup of tea is never drunk - Moroccans pour it back into the teapot to mix and oxidize the drink, bringing out its flavor - sometimes more than once. Afterwards, the tea is poured from high up to add oxygen bubbles to each glass. Typically, tea is very sweet (for western standards), and if it has been prepared without sugar, a Moroccan can add one to two tablespoons to their glass - or alternatively, several sugar cubes. If you'd like your tea slightly sweet, you have to specially ask for it, or request sugar on the side. To go with tea, Moroccans have invented an immense variety of tempting cookies made with almond paste, olive oil, ground nuts, honey or sesame seeds.

- Zhana Sandeva

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bithday-Worthy Desserts from the Confines of a College Dorm Room: Cheesecake Edition

In high school, my birthday present to all my friends was always some form of over the top, decadent dessert that didn't necessarily exist yet. I would ask them to dream up whatever elaborate concoction they desired and then scourer cookbooks and the internet and use a generous dose of ingenuity to put together everything from a Starbuck's pumpkin spice latte in cake form to a coffee cookie dough giant ice cream sandwich cake. To all my college friends, I'm sorry but without the time, space, or a kitchen full of gadgets to rival Foodnetwork that I had in high school I've been pretty limited to brownies, cookies, and the occasional cupcake when it comes to supplying the sweets for various celebrations.

That said, I'm always looking for a way to push the limit in terms of just how gourmet a dessert I can supply without having to locate difficult or expensive ingredients or remedy the fact that despite my legacy the only baking implements I've invested in are a cookie sheet and a muffin tin. I wish I could take credit for the recipe that just might be the best solution to this conundrum but to be honest I found it while browsing the blogs linked from Penn Appetit looking for inspiration for a friend's birthday this past weekend.

The recipe (and the pictures in this post) for mini cookies and cream cheesecakes can be found here -- see! only seven ingredients required and bakes in under half an hour (of course, don't forget about chilling time as hot cheesecake is not exactly appetizing).

Despite what the directions indicate, these can be made without an electric mixer if one has the right determination and a willingness to substitute baking for a trip to the gym that day.

The results were spectacular and convenient. Unlike a full-sized cake, these are easy to serve and don't even require sitting down to eat. The crowd (including the birthday girl) was so impressed I'm almost ashamed of how easy these were to make. But on the off chance someone reading this blog is inspired to make them for a party and I happen to be at said party and get to partake, I think it's worth the risk!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Penn Appetit Launch Party

What: Penn Appetit Launch Party
When: Monday April 19 @ 8pm
Where: Bodek Lounge
Description: Come celebrate Penn Appetit's new Spring Issue! Free food from Bon Appetit catering, Cream & Sugar, and Metropolitan Bakery will be served. Also, make sure to get coupons for ice cream cones!
Price: Free!

For more information, see the Facebook invite here:!/event.php?eid=109847452369177&ref=ts

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nana's Matzoh Brie


Growing up, I've had different matzoh bries and for the most part they've been tasty, even though they are quite simple. My Savta's, however, is notably crunchy and exceptionally delicious. She made this and her pink applesauce for my brother and me when we would visit her and my Saba in New Jersey. However, my recent favorite is my Nana's matzah brie, which tiptoes the line between crispy and moist. During Passover this year, since the only form of grain I could effectively eat was matzoh, I called up my Nana and asked her for her recipe and she was, of course, more than delighted to give it to me.

Nana's Matzoh Brie

Note: Use one egg for every two pieces of matzoh

1. Soak matzoh in hot water for one minute (at which point it should be mildly soft)
2. Beat egg(s), add a little milk (1-2 oz.) and pour into a bowl
3. Take matzoh out of water, break into 2-3 inch long and wide pieces, put into bowl containing egg(s) and milk.
4. Mix the matzoh with the egg(s), making sure every piece is covered everywhere. (If the pieces break and become smaller, that's fine though -- it's why the pieces were big in the first place.)
5. Melt butter (I use about a tablespoon's worth) in a frying pan.
6. Move egg-covered matzoh from bowl to pan and fry on medium--keep turning the matzoh.
7. Cook until golden brown, but I encourage you (once the egg covering is fully cooked) to try pieces as you cook the matzoh brie so you can gauge how much moistness and crunchiness you like in your fried matzoh.
8. Serve, add salt and/or pepper as desired.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Procrastination Tart

Procrastination and mushy, bordering on inedible, apples have led me to bake this:

I used this recipe from but originally by Alice Waters, who gives due credit to Jacques Pepin. So basically it's a Jacques Pepin tart.

Hours spent pouring over text about American 1950s attitudes toward middle class marriage has left me drained, and faltering on words. So instead, I offer up photographs of my tart baking exploits.

That being said I would like to add that the key to a good tart crust is in always having cold ingredients, even if that means chilling the dough in between steps. Be sure the water is ice cold and the butter is chilled. I even chill the dough in the fridge once rolled and put in the pie shell. I’ve found it makes all the difference in a flakey, light crust.

Ina Garten, whom I love with much of my heart, makes an apricot glaze for her tarts. She melts apricot jam and drizzles it over the tart before putting it in the oven. Inspired by this concept, but lacking apricot jam, I used raspberry jam instead. I added a glob of butter, in true Ina fashion, to the melted raspberry jam as well. I thought this was the needed touch and advise dribbling any melted jam when making this tart.

Also, on a more general note, one way to tell when a tart is done is by looking at the bubbles. Fast, quick bubbles indicate that it’s not quite done but slow, larger bubbles mean that the tart is done and ready to be pulled out of the oven.
As with pies, however hard this may be, I think it is important to let the tart rest before serving. This allows the liquids to turn syrupy rather than be runny.

So as this gem of a paper is due Wednesday, I leave you with this post and hope for more procrastination and possibly baked goods to come.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Moroccan Culinary Highlights: Part 1

During my enormously long English spring break, I spent two and a half weeks traveling around the Kingdom of Morocco, a must-see destination if you are looking for culinary adventures, yet are still hesitant to completely stray away from western-style cooking. A former French colony, Morocco shows numerous European influences in all areas of public life, and its cuisine is no exception. French patisseries and Moroccan coffee houses stand side by side, baguettes vie with flatbreads for popularity, and glasses of mint tea and coke frequently share the table. Here, I will share with you some of the undoubted highlights of my Moroccan food experiences.

The high tourist season in Morocco (March-April) luckily corresponds with the high orange season. The shiny little globes are everywhere in the streets, and you can buy them fresh from the peddler (where they still have their leaves on), or, if you don't feel like peeling, find a juice stand where they will squeeze a glass of liquidy-pulpy goodness right in front of your eyes. Moroccan oranges at the peak of ripeness are so succulent and sweet that they provide a refreshing fruity experience without any sugar or other additives. A popular dessert is orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon, which lends them an earthy flavor brilliantly complementing their juicy freshness.

Bread in Morocco was like nothing I had ever seen before. The warm climate allows people to grow various types of grain, and as a result you can find bread made from wheat, corn, or semolina, among others. A typical loaf of Moroccan bread is circular and flat, with a golden brown crust, fluffy or grainy inside (depending on the type of flour) and a sprinkling of coarse flour on the bottom and sides. You can find this basic bread anywhere, and it tastes so good that you can enjoy it any time of day by itself, or with simple accompaniments: honey, olive oil, or jam. I had the chance to try jasmine honey in Morocco - and it didn't end there. I devoured it.

Other types of bread include semolina flatbread pancakes coated in oil and baked on a hot stove, which make a perfect light breakfast with orange juice. Rghaif (my personal favorite!) is another type of pancake, whose layered texture reminded me of a Turkish gozlema. It is sold on the streets, spread with honey or chocolate and rolled up. My second encounter with it featured an immensely delicious filing of honey and peanut oil, which had the very same flavor as peanut butter, yet without the heaviness and grease, and made a perfect combo with the flaky pancake. Rghaif can also be used in main dishes as a substitute for starchy foods (pasta, potatoes or couscous) - one day I had delicious cooked chicken, placed over a thick layer of rghaif pancakes peeled apart into small pieces and seasoned, with chicken stock sauce on the side.

To be continued...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Passover Cookies Good Enough to Eat All Year Long

Passover is finally over…yet somehow I haven’t been craving bread, pasta and other forbidden foods all that much. Perhaps it’s because I made (and ate) enough KFP (Kosher for Passover) cookies, as my friend Julie calls them, to last me the eight days. Not only did I bake dessert as a Passover meal supplement, but also as a substitute for the home-cooked treats I missed out on, as I did not go home for the Seders this year.
My Grandma Bea is the source of the following cookie recipe that I am sharing with you. They’re her “healthy,” one-bowl, so-easy-even-my-ten-year-old-brother-can-make-them cookies that she serves me on Passover and year-round.
Grandma Bea’s Almond Cookies:
2 egg whites
1/3 c. sugar
2 c. slivered almonds
Vanilla (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet with non-stick spray. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Drop mixture on the baking dish by the tablespoonful, leaving a half-inch between each cookie. Bake for 20 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned. Enjoy. 
Article and photo by Hilary Gerstein

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mega Scones

The scone seems somewhat less indulgent than the muffin or croissant, or at least that’s how I justify eating it. It is my first thought on particularly sunny mornings. Something about the combination of scone and coffee seems impossibly delectable. The flakiness of the scone can only be washed down with the rich boldness of your dark brew. Further, to me, scones go hand in hand with Easter. Last Easter, for a picnic brunch on Twin Peaks, I made lemon poppy seed scones. I glazed them with a vanilla lemon icing and found the results perfectly tender and sweet. Lemon zest is always the key to a good poppy seed scone. 

This Easter, I attempted this recipe from I have been eyeing it for some time. The presentation alone is reason enough to give this recipe a try. My roommates looked at the finished result with perplexity. Is it an extra long granola bar? Well, actually, it’s a Mega Scone. Yes, the name is a little extreme for what the product actually is, but I was happy with the taste and thought it a good alternative to an all white flour, butter, refined sugar concoction. 

The recipe calls for whole-wheat pastry flour, which I was hesitant to buy but found it made all the difference. The scone was not heavy, or grainy, but instead light and just crumbly enough to qualify as a scone. I have the sense that if whole wheat flour was used, this would be more apt to be a paper weight. The jam that is spread throughout provides the sweetness for a scone that otherwise would be too bland. I thought the icing used to glaze the scone was critical to this effect too. So be sure not to skimp on that step. The rolling of the dough around the jam filling layer also proved a fun task. The dough did tear but nothing a few watered fingers could not patch up.  Be sure not to over mix the dough and a pastry cutter comes in handy if you do not have a food processor on hand. As with all baked goods that desire a fluffy, flakey texture, be sure the butter is chilled – this will allow for all those buttered cubes to produce steam in the oven and create pockets of flaky tenderness. Though Easter has come and gone again, any morning would be a suitable occasion to make these scones.

Also, on an equally happy note, it's spring!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The (not so secret) Secret Bake Sale

I heard about the monthly Secret Bake Sale from the blog. I am going to call the bake sale out on something though, the Secret Bake Sale is that it's not a secret at all.... they have a Facebook group...on which they announced the date, time and place of their bake sale well in advance. This past weekend they were at an art market in Fishtown called Piranha Betty's. I am fairly certain that this was the first bake sale, so maybe it will become more secretive for future sales.
I may be giving them a little bit of a hard time; if they didn't advertise at all, no one would show up. So why make a big deal out of a secret bake sale in Philadelphia... because it is a really fun idea. We're already having an epidemic of flash mobs, which as far as I can tell just means a bunch kids agree to meet at a certain spot on the internet... and then they do and cause general mayhem on South Street. Why not start an epidemic of flash bake sales? Random occurrences of cupcakes can only make a city better.
Hopefully next time the Secret Bake Sale will be in a slightly closer location so I can go and see what it is all about.

- Hannah Cummons

Photo credit:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

My roommate’s pretty cool. Aside from baking her own bread weekly, overseeing a Penn Garden, playing fiddle in her off hours, and knitting away killer glittens, she also makes her own yogurt. Though she says she has yet to perfect the method, she still has managed with success. This week I witnessed the yogurt making in action. The process is fairly straightforward though much depends on creating the ideal temperature and without such conditions, you can be left with a thinner yogurt than desired.

First, you have to heat the milk till bubbles form along the edges. If you have a thermometer, 185 degrees F is what you’re going for. Be sure not to heat it till boiling. The hope is that you want to kill whatever bacteria might compete with the yogurt cultures you will add.

Then you let the milk cool, till you can hold your finger in for ten seconds comfortably. I made my poor roommate hold her finger longer than comfortable for this picture. You ideally want the temperature to be 100 degrees F so that it warms the cultures into a frenzy but not so hot that it kills them. You also want the yogurt to be at room temperature before adding it to the milk.

While this happens, you will also need to sterilize your jar. This can be done simply by putting it in a pot of boiling water. Be sure to sterilize the lid as well. Again, to keep competing bacteria out of the yogurt.

Once the yogurt is stirred into the milk, pour the mixture into the sterilized jar.
Then, you’ll need to incubate it. See the below picture. Much winter wear was used to insulate the baby yogurt. Then put the snuggly wrapped yogurt into a pre-warmed, but not on, oven overnight. The yogurt should sit for at least eight hours. Ideally, after that time, it should have custard-like consistency with a green film on top. I read that the longer you let the yogurt sit, the thicker the yogurt will become.

Once your yogurt has reached its desired consistency, put in the fridge to chill before serving. It should keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.

My roommate wasn’t thrilled with the results.
The yogurt was thin, runny and some bits had clumped. But the taste was definitely there and could be happily enjoyed in a yogurt smoothie.

My roommate advises leaving the yogurt to warm longer than she had for a better texture.

But all in all, homemade yogurt was made and that's pretty cool.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Fed Up Blog

I stopped buying school lunch after sophomore year because it was usually greasy or overpriced. Other than that, I have fond memories of buying school lunch in grade school. I didn't actually like the foot-long hot dogs, but the idea of eating something bigger than you were was quite appealing to a first grader.

School lunch has become THE issue of concern with educators, moms, and even the First Lady herself. Fed Up With School Lunch has recently piqued widespread interest in school lunch reform. "Mrs. Q," the anonymous blogger, has vowed to eat the same food as her students for everyday in 2010 for solidarity. She posts pictures of the food and invites guest bloggers to post about various topics concerned with school lunch. She's speaking up for the kids who have been, at least for as long as I can remember, simply fed up.

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