“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands and then eat just one of the pieces.” – Judith Viorst (American author and journalist)
I entered Houston Hall last weekend in need of a study break and with a craving for something sweet. Penn Gastronomy’s Chocolate Festival fit the ticket, hailing chocolatiers, bakers, and sweet extraordinaires from throughout Philadelphia. There were plenty of samples to go around and many tasty treats available for purchase. After attending the Los Angeles Luxury Chocolate Salon a couple years ago (which, by the way, I would highly recommend checking out for the sheer experience of so much sugar concentrated in one location), I’ve developed a method to approaching such fairs—start from one point and snake your way around. While PGC’s version was smaller, the strategy still applied as I circled the Hall of Flags trying each vendor’s offerings.
Sazon Restaurant, for instance, served five varieties of hot chocolate from their extensive twenty-type hot chocolate menu, including the aptly named “El Orgasmo” (dark chocolate infused with peanut butter, Kahlua and fresh banana) and hot-chocolate-for-the-purist “El Cacique” (water based 85% Dominican and Venezuelan gran cru cacao with a touch of Madagascan vanilla). Sazon also brought a vast assortment of truffles, fudgy cacao brownies, shortbread cookies, and jars of their signature hot chocolate mix. Buttercream had a wide selection of their always-popular cupcakes, including red velvet (my #1 pick in Philadelphia), chocolate with Nutella buttercream, and the “Turtle” (yellow cake frosted with caramel buttercream, drizzled with chocolate and caramel, and dusted with pecans). John and Kira’s provided tastings of their Valrhona chocolate Urban Garden Bars (“Mighty Mint” and “Rosemary Orange”), which use ingredients from four urban gardens in Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and sold gift boxes packed with toffee, fruit squares, or hand painted chocolate bees and ladybugs.
The fair also proved to be great exposure for new businesses. Kitchen at Penn, a delivery service specializing in home cooked fare that opened their doors a little over a month ago, dished out cups of creamy banana bread pudding and rich chocolate brownies. Boba Bros. had samples on hand of their milk tea filled with miniature tapioca balls (something new to me, as I’m used to larger marble-sized boba). The company is partnering with T-Bowl (the rice bowl version of Gia Pronto’s customizable salads), which debuted this week and features Boba Bros. on their drink menu. In addition to the countless opportunities to get your sweet tooth fix, Penn Gastronomy also hosted a raffle and a poetry contest (themed around the festival’s namesake… chocolate!). The lucky winners received gift cards to businesses like Scoop de Ville and Penn Chocolate Tours.
With my sweet tooth satisfied, my wallet lighter, and my arms laden with delicious desserts, I left on a happy sugar high and hoped that PGC’s Chocolate Festival would become an annual event.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands and then eat just one of the pieces.” – Judith Viorst (American author and journalist)
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Let’s take a walk through Northern Liberties – it’s just ten stops on Market-Frankford and it’s more than worth the trouble.
First, and foremost, I must give credit to my excellent culinary guide, Jamie from City Food Tours. I had heard good things about NoLibs for months, but never managed to actually go before I went on the Taste of Northern Liberties tour.
Prior to this, I had never gone on a food tour in Philly or anywhere. In fact, I was a bit skeptical – there are numerous CHOW boards knocking the saps who pay for tours and offering suggestions for DIY-ing tours in any city. My expectations were neutral, but after actually going on the tour, I am a hearty endorser. Think of it has having a really enthusiastic and knowledgeable friend take you on a tour of their favorite neighborhood. The food is delicious, but only a taste; however, there is nothing like a taste to leave you wanting more.
I had a great time on the tour and I recommend it if you want to see a lot of NoLibs in one afternoon, but I realize some of you are self-starters and will want to explore the neighborhood on your own. Below are my suggestions, all of which are sampled on the tour (except PYT).
PYT – Although the tour does not sample this burger joint, it is a must-stop. It’s situated in the Piazza at Schmidt’s, which is a good place to start your exploration of NoLibs. Slide into a booth at PYT and try one of their “adult shakes,” like the “Cookie Monster” – vanilla ice cream, oreos, vanilla vodka and irish cream.
North Bowl – You wouldn’t think that a bowling alley would land a spot on a food tour… but this place is kitschy and clean. On the tour, you get to sample tater tots and two local beers at this bowling alley. Try the Yards on tap. I can’t wait to come back and actually bowl.
A Full Plate – This restaurant holds a dear place in my heart because it is the closest thing I have found to the “real thing.” Growing up in Alabama with two parents from New Orleans, I came to know good southern food: biscuits, hush puppies, jambalaya, pulled pork BBQ. I have been very disappointed with the versions of those foods in Philly, because, let’s be honest… who wants to consume food that is that bad for you, if it’s not the best thing you’ve ever tasted? Hence, my affection for A Full Plate – they it make it worth it. AFP does it right with their jambalaya. Great depth of flavor, spice and mouth feel just like the real thing. Their hush puppies are the best I’ve had in Philly – though a little on the sweet side. The tour stops here and gives you a taste of friend green tomato, mac n’ cheese and hush puppies – but I recommend you swing by and try the full menu.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in NoLibs that I missed? Tell me about it in the comments!
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Last Saturday afternoon, instead of heading to our usual, conveniently located lunch spot, a friend and I ventured down Walnut Street past Supreme Shop n Bag to Manakeesh Café and Bakery at 44th Street.
We were surprised to find the small restaurant to be warm and comfortable, bustling with a sizable lunch crowd. The Lebanese fusion café featured a polished, well-furnished interior with welcoming yellow walls and artfully piled pastries and cakes on display. The restaurant was filled with Lebanese locals as well as many academic types, young professionals, and families.
Looking around the restaurant, we saw that most of the attendees were eating flatbread topped with meat or other mixtures. These flatbreads are called, not surprisingly, manakeesh. This dough is commonly topped with cheese or ground meat and folded into sandwiches. It can also be topped with zaatar, Middle Eastern herbs, and olive oil and served as a breakfast food. Manakeesh Café serves their flatbreads with many topping choices, including honey, nutella, labneh, a yogurt cheese spread, egg and cheese, and a variety of Halal meat.
As we waited for our orders, we watched the cook throw pull the flatbreads in and out of the brick oven. The busy restaurant staff lost my friend's order. Fortunately, the pleasant, courteous staff brought us free baklava to apologize for our wait. The baklava and manakeesh were well worth the wait. I reveled in the warm, soft flatbread mixed with the tangy ground lamb and beef mixture of my kafta order. My vegetarian friend also agreed that his hot cheese flatbread was delicious.
I enjoyed the café so much that I decided to return on a weekday morning. I found the atmosphere to be quite different. While the same pleasant staff members remained, the bustling restaurant’s environment had changed to a peaceful one, ideal for studying and quiet conversation. I was once again struck by how amiable the staff was as I watched one waitress pridefully adjust the empty tables’ tabletop decorations to just the right positions.
I was overwhelmed by the vast, diverse selection of pastries and sweets available. I asked the woman behind the counter for a breakfast pastry that wasn’t too sweet and a small coffee. She handed me Kanafe, sweet cheese baked into a mild white sweet bread with pistachios and a clear, sweet syrup poured over it. While I found the soft, cheese pastry cake a bit too rich for so early in the morning, I made plans to return for another at a better time of day and left contently sipping my coffee.
Manakeesh Cafe and Bakery
4420 Walnut St
Philadelphia PA 19104
Monday, March 28, 2011
This Spring Break, I traversed the east coast from Boston to Philadelphia to Florida and back again. Along the way I enjoyed more than a few good meals, treats, and desserts. These were the best:
Universal Studios: Orlando, Florida
Being a Harry Potter fan, I was anxious to try this JK Rowling-approved, Three Broomsticks-inspired concoction. I'm happy to report that it lived up to expectations. Essentially, it's a butterscotch-syrup flavored soda, but the best part of the drink is the sweetened foam topping. You can choose to buy it frozen (which I preferred) or not. I also bought Ton-Tongue Toffee from the Honeyduke's replica shop--which was adorable, although the prices are (of course) astronomical.
2. Gorgonzola pizza with pears, arugula and balsamic vinaigrette
La Luce: Orlando, Florida
Perhaps the best pizza I've ever had (Jersey shore loyalty to Mack & Manco's notwithstanding). The melted gorgonzola contrasted perfectly with the thinly sliced pears (arranged like pepperoni) over the cheese and the acidic vinaigrette.
3. Hazelnut cannoli
Mike's Pastry: Boston, Massachusetts
Cannolis are one of my favorite desserts, so while visiting a friend in Boston, it was imperative that we make a trip to the North End, the Italian district, where the streets are lined with Italian restaurants and bakery shops. Mike's Pastry has more varieties of cannoli than I've ever encountered in one place (including dark chocolate, pistachio, chocolate chip and Italian cream). The hazelnut flavor wasn't overpowering--but I think it could have been stronger. Still, Mike's does cannolis right: crunchy shell, homemade filling, that careful dusting of powdered sugar. Even better, the woman behind the counter gave my friend an extra cannoli for free just because she'd accidentally taken the wrong flavor out of the display.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
• Meal Ticket talks with the Boba Bros, Penn students Benjamin Shyong and Arthur Kuan, whose bubble teas will be sold at TBowl, a new restaurant taking the place of Taglio at 3716 Spruce
• The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on the snobby attitude of Capogiro employees, the popular gelato and coffee spot at 3925 Walnut
• Yo-Reka, the yogurt parfait place at the Shoppes at 1920 Commons, is now Salad Your Way after breakfast, but the folks at Under the Button are not impressed
• The politics of food: Famous food journalist Mark Bittman details six trends in American food that we can feel good about - The New York Times
Saturday, March 26, 2011
What: Hear from a distinguished food retail and branding panel and enjoy refreshments compliments of Biba
Who: Penn Gastronomy Club and Penn Fashion Week
Where: Huntsman Hall 245
When: Wednesday, March 30, 6 pm
What: A Talk with Jared Diamond on the Role of Water in the Collapse of Civilizations
Who: Philomathean Society
Where: Irvine Auditorium
When: Wednesday April 6, 7pm
Cost: Free; reserve a ticket here.
What: Festival Latino Latin American Food Exhibition
Who: Wharton Latino and Puerto Rican Undergraduate Student Association
Where: ARCH Lobby
When: Friday, April 1, 5-7pm
What: A battle for the title of Iron Chef. The competitors are given a surprise ingredient which they must use to cook an appetizer, entree, and dessert.
Who: Japan Student Association
Where: King's Court Dining Hall
When: Saturday, April 2, 5:30-7:30pm
Cost: $8 on the walk, $10 at the door.
What: Visions of Chocolate, a night of desserts and performances from Pennyo, Counterparts and Simply Chaos and others to support the fight against domestic violence. Win prizes from Biba Wine & Cheese, Sangkee Noodle House, Sugarphilly, Saturn Hair Salon, and Baby Blues BBQ.
Who: Sigma Psi Zeta and Asian Pacific Student Coalition
Where: Rodin Rooftop
When: Thursday, March 31, 7-9pm
Cost: $6 on the walk, $8 at the door. Proceeds go to Lutheran Settlement House.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Photos by Nicole Woon. Pictured, from top to bottom: carne asada topped with onions, cilantro and salsa from Dow Chow Tacos; fish and chips from Brophy Brothers Seafood Restaurant and Clam Bar; chocolate royal (almond sponge cake, crunchy hazelnut feuilletine layer, chocolate mousse) from Renaud's Patisserie & Bistro.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Around this time of year food choices on campus can start to feel a little limited, but sometimes all you have to do is walk a few blocks further to find a unique and tasty West Philly eatery. Marrakesh Express is definitely one of those places. Situated just off campus, Marrakesh Express is easily one of the best places around to find delicious, authentic Moroccan food. If you're looking for a new favorite place to eat this may just be it. It's like Hummus but better! (No offense to Hummus).
I have only had the pleasure of eating at Marrakesh Express once but I definitely will be back sometime in the near future. The food is tasty and reasonably priced (everything is around $10 and under) and the management couldn't be more friendly (Brahim, the owner, is really helpful if you're having trouble deciding what to order).
Everything here is made with love, from the appetizers such as zaalouk (eggplant sauteed with garlic and tomato) and homemade hummus to platters such as the shawarma (chicken slow roasted with special seasoning) and lamb ketban (lamb marinated overnight in Moroccan herbs). When you walk into the restaurant your mouth will start to water as you smell the fragrant herbs and spices that characterize the authentic dishes served here. Their website also boasts that they only use all natural ingredients. Not to mention: those who keep halal will be glad to know that they use only halal meat.
It is really hard to find even one bad word to say about Marrakesh Express so if you're looking for a new experience head over to check them out.
4407 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
This past week, I experimented with another recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MtAoFC), after having tried the Boeuf Bourguignon recipe previously. This time, I chose to prepare the Rôti de Porc Poêlé or Casserole-roasted Pork. I recently acquired an enameled cast iron casserole and an induction stove and was eager to put these to good use immediately. So here was how it went.
This recipe required preparation over the course of two days – a regular theme across many of the French recipes in the book. To start with, I marinated a 3-pound boneless pork loin with the Marinade Sèche -- a paste made with chopped shallots and garlic, crushed dried bay leaf, Jamaican allspice, ground pepper and salt. The pork loin that I bought came in a rather slender cut so I halved it after rubbing on the spiced marinade and trussed the pieces to form a heftier portion. It then went into a well-sealed Ziploc bag and was left in the refrigerator for a day.
The actual cooking began the next day first with drying the marinated loin and browning all the sides with pork lard (this came as a candlewax-like block of fat) in the casserole. My initial thought about the lard was, “Wow, this is the ultimate saturated fatty sin!” But staying true to the MtAoFC recipe, all heart health-related reservations must be suppressed for the time being. Learning from my previous browning disaster, I limited the burning oil spillage with the heavy lid of the casserole and therefore the amount of cleaning required later. After this step, the loin was set aside and I browned some diced onion, carrots, and the herb bouquet (parsley sprigs, bay leaf, and fresh thyme). Next, I replaced the pork loin together with the vegetables and the whole casserole went into the preheated oven at 325 degrees for just under 2 hours.
While waiting during this time, I prepared some small potatoes and baby white onions (these are so delicious). The potatoes were boiled for a few minutes and then browned slightly in vegetable oil together with the peeled white onions. These were added into the casserole roughly halfway through the baking of the casserole. With a bulb baster, I also basted the loin with the cooking juices every half hour or so. The wonderful aroma from the contents every time I did this basting was irresistible! When the meat was done, I de-glazed the casserole with some white wine and brown stock to prepare a drizzling sauce. The whole cooking session was fairly straightforward and thankfully, I didn’t end up with a huge mess in the kitchen at all. To this end, I considered this to be a mini success.
But the proof of the roast had to be in the tasting. And my oh my…let’s just say there were no leftovers.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
As my Alternate Spring Break group and I discovered, there is a reason why people rarely choose to visit Florida City when they vacation in Florida. The "city" of about 8,000 is lacking in beaches, night clubs and amusement parks. However, Florida City does have one redeeming factor- Robert is Here... Fruit Stand (yes, that is its name). The stand, which is more like a large shed, serves decadently tropical fruit smoothies, is stocked to the brim with a plethora of unusual fruits and even has a feeding area for an assortment of farm animals out back.
We had a lot of fun trying unusual fruits, like starfruit, which when cut creates a star shape, kumquats, small sour orange citruses that you pop in your mouth peel and all and the suspicious "chocolate pudding fruit" which is only ready to eat once it begins oozing black juice. Yum?
Would you like tomatoes, sea sponges ... or a baby goat?
I purchased a canestel, an orangish-yellow fruit that vaguely resembled a persimmon. As a lover of anything pudding, I couldn't resist the description "tastes like a sweet and creamy custard."
However, once I took my first bite of the incredibly squishy fruit, I realized its nickname, "egg fruit," was much more deserved. It was the exact texture and taste of a boiled egg yolk, just a bit sweeter. Interesting, but not something I could bring myself to eat every day.
I could, however, see myself drinking a canestel milkshake, which are apparently quite popular. So, if you ever have a spare canestel lying around, stick it in a blender with some milk, ice cream and perhaps a banana for a tropically unique drink!
Monday, March 21, 2011
To be honest, I was shocked when the food blogs proclaimed that "cupcakes were out" and "pie was in." I mean, seriously? Who'd ever choose ooey gooey pie over deliciously moist cake? But to be more magnanimous, why does one even need to choose? I mean, can't we all just get along? If we all accepted everyone else's sweets preferences, we'd soon realize that we'd be able to save more of our favorites for ourselves!
That said, I am, and will always be, a cupcake lover. The individually portioned nature of cupcakes makes them truly convenient to eat. Plus, the combination of moist cake with creamy frosting makes for delectably mesmerizing bites. Unfortunately, not all cupcakes are created equal.
In this day and age of "supersizing," cupcakes are often way too big, becoming too overwhelming for one person to eat by himself or herself without feeling completely dominated -- and, well, sick. Also, the frosting to cake ratio needs to be spot on. Otherwise, you're eating gobs of buttercream with very little cake (and rarely the other way around).
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, are the consistencies of the cake and the frosting. When I eat cupcakes, I look for ones where the cake is moist without being too dense. Unless the cake is angel food cake (which is almost never used for cupcakes, especially since it would collapse under the weight of the frosting), it should not be too light and fluffy.
For instance, I found the cupcakes at Brown Betty to be generally very dry. Except for the pineapple (which was seasonal), all of the ones I've ever tried (and I even gave the place a second chance -- which almost never happens) have not been up to par in terms of moistness. While some folks have alluded to the use of pound cake as the foundation for some of Brown Betty's cupcakes (which would make them drier by nature), I find this choice somewhat reprehensible. If I wanted pound cake, I'd ask for pound cake.
In most cases, drier cake can often be hidden or masked by good frosting. For me, good frosting is one made of smooth and creamy buttercream that isn't too sweet. There should be a balance of butter and sugar, such that the frosting could potentially be eaten (though not in spoonfuls) on its own.
Personally, I can't stand whipped cream frosting. Not only does it malfunction at room temperature, the lightness of it does nothing to balance out the weight of the cake. For example, I found the frosting on the cupcakes at Flying Monkey to be almost inedible. While I wasn't able to confirm whether the frosting was indeed whipped cream, it was way too light for my preferences, and ultimately left a bad taste in my mouth. (Thankfully, their bars and brownies are much better!)
Considering that I was spoiled by the likes of Sprinkles in Beverly Hills (whose cupcakes I have to admit *are* slightly larger than I'd like), Vanilla Bake Shop in Santa Monica (who has regular filled *and* mini filled cupcakes), and SusieCakes in Brentwood (whose cupcakes are perfect in their simplicity), I wasn't sure whether I'd find cupcakes worthy of my cupcake connoisseur taste buds here in Philly. Thankfully, I was wrong!
In recent times, I was lucky enough to have a friend bring me cupcakes from Pamcakes -- only two short blocks away from me on 20th and Pine. While the cake in the Cookies 'n Cream was slightly dry (most probably due to the Oreo crumbs), it was offset by the whipped frosting hidden in the middle -- a lovely surprise! On the other hand, the Triple Chocolate Threat was absolutely decadent in every way, from the moist cake to the creamy frosting to the chunks of chocolate embedded within the cake. While additional elements are certainly not necessary to making good cupcakes, they add textural contrasts which can ultimately enhance a phenomenal cake-frosting combination.
Not only did the cupcakes from Pamcakes offer great flavor and texture in their cake and frosting, they were also perfectly sized, making it more likely that I'd eat more than one and less likely that I'd feel guilty about it. Time to save my pennies.
404 S 20th St
Sunday, March 20, 2011
• The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that TBowl, a new restaurant featuring rice bowls and bubble tea created by Penn students, will replace Taglio at 3716 Spruce St.
• Penn Gastronomy Club's (PGC) Food Musing blog offers some thoughts on La Fontana, an Italian BYO popular with Penn students
• PGC's Food Musing also offers a brinner (the combination of breakfast and dinner) recipe for breakfast pizza
• The politics of food: First Lady Michelle Obama is writing a book about the White House garden and healthy eating - The Washington Post
Saturday, March 19, 2011
In the age of YouTube, anyone with a camera can become an internet sensation. With millions of videos out there sometimes it helps to have someone search through the trash and find some gems. My friend is always good at finding great videos and so I've decided to share some of them with you.
This first one is called Epic Meal Time- Chili Four Loko. Epic Meal Time videos are just what they say they are, truly epic meals, usually involving massive amounts of meat and some form of liquor. The guys making the food mix some of the most fatty foods together (one of their favorite foods being bacon), making seriously heart-stopping creations.
And, if you like that one they also have plenty of other videos including fast food sushi, meatball deathstar (a GIGANTIC meatball), and Thanksgiving, just to name a few.
Fast food sushi:
Friday, March 18, 2011
The kitchen at Le Bec-Fin is hot - the hottest in the city, one of the line cooks tell me, having reached 130 degrees last July. The kitchen is cramped - renovations this summer will open up what is currently barely enough room for the servers to pick up dishes handed over by cooks confined behind a prep line that creates a tight hallway to work in. And the kitchen smells, not of fois gras or rosemary essence or the browned butter that coats each piece of meat before being plated, of cigar smoke.
Chef Georges Perrier, who at 68 no longer slices, dices or plates at lightning speed, is smoking a cigar. Smoking a cigar and releasing a tirade of obscenities at the staff. He yells with such sincere disgust that I'm left cowering and hoping he'll forget I'm there; but the moving target of his anger - now it's Geno, the nineteen year old cold-prep cook who warned me that he would be fired (nominally, of course) before the end of the night; then a sluggish server; then a dishwasher to "clean zis shit up!" - barely bat an eye. They're used to him. And there are enough stories ("all the stories true," the new head Chef, Nicholas Elmi tells me) they could have been used to him before they even started working there. The only thing Chef Georges Perrier is more famous for than his attitude is his food.
And, oh the food! The first day of my spring break I spent nine hours (until I just couldn't stand up any longer!) in the kitchen at Le Bec-Fin. How was it? Exhausting. Hey! When was the last time you were on your feet, on your game and in the heat for that long!? I don't know if I could be there six days a week like so many of the amazing people I met. But as a once-in-a-lifetime experience it was so worth it.
Upstairs in the predominantly-female, Katy Perry-soundtracked, much cooler, and all around sweeter pastry kitchen a mere mention that I had never tried the coffee cake earned me a slice and less than perfect strawberry macaroons were left to me to dispose of.
Back down amidst the frantic hustle and bustle of the main kitchen, all the twenty-something guys working the line offered up tastes of everything they made (even rabbit loin stuffed with shrimp paste!) as side dishes to the bucket of fries meant to sustain me and give me a chance to taste the many sauces. Before the dinner rush, 24-year-old Moses (my stand-in big brother all day) set me up with a plate of turkey meatloaf and mashed potatoes, like only Le Bec-Fin can make.
Over the course of nine hours I learned that everyone smokes out back, that drama abounds when Moses can only afford enough five hour energy for the back of the house, and a whole new supply of curse words. Sometimes, it's hard to remember that on the other side of the swinging doors is a dinning room full of people on their best behavior. But ultimately, it's the guys in the back who are responsible for the food worth paying for -- and they know it. Out back in the ally, to catch my breath for a moment, I see 24-year-old Tyler desperately banging on the doors of other restaurant kitchens that let out back here. Inside, they've run out of spinach, but at Le Bec-Fin, you can never let the guest know that you ran out. Because, as Moses reminds me gesturing at my tape recorder, "people somewhere are talking about us."
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Gnocchi is one of those dishes that you’re not sure of when you first hear of it, but once you try it, you fall in love. It is defined as Italian dumplings, which doesn’t sound bad, but also doesn’t sound particularly enticing. In fact, the description could be a little mysterious. When you think of dumplings, you might think of Chinese dumplings. Well, gnocchi are not like Chinese dumplings: they have no filling and they are much much smaller. They have some similarities to the dumplings in the traditional country dish chicken and dumplings in that they are small and have no filling. But in my opinion, gnocchi are much better. Yet I qualify that not all gnocchi are delicious. Some are too chewy: the consistency is sticky and doughy. I have tried many gnocchi dishes before and have been disappointed. So beware of trying just any. But there is one place whose gnocchi I can guarantee will not disappoint: Jane in New York City. Jane makes a toasted ricotta gnocchi that is going to be the last meal I am going to want before I die. Jane’s gnocchi is tender. It melts in your mouth so that you barely have to chew it. Since it is toasted though, it has a crisp outside, the perfect complement to the softness of the inner dough. Like the best part on a grilled cheese sandwich, it is golden, not burnt. Finally, bathing in a cream sauce and made of a mild cheese, Jane’s ricotta gnocchi is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. I could eat a whole plate, which says a lot for a person who always brings half of her meal home from restaurants.Tweet
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Penn Chocolate Festival
What: Come to sample and buy chocolates from some of the city's best chocolatiers!
Who: Penn Gastronomy Club
Where: Houston Hall, Hall of Flags
When: Sunday March 27, 11am- 3pm
Cupcake Decorating Classes
What: Learn how to make your own unique designs and then enjoy your creations
Who: Cream & Sugar coffee and sweet shop
Where: 4004 Spruce St
When: Sunday, March 20th at 7pm (for ages 15-24)
Monday, March 21st at 7pm (Ladies' Night)
Tuesday, March 22nd at 7pm (Adults & Teens)
Cost: $15 for an individual, discount for groups. To register, e-mail email@example.com.
Food Justice Movie Nights
What: Meet once a month to watch food-related movies, eat snacks and discuss food justice
Who: Urban Nutrition Initiative
Where: The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St
When: Monday March 21, 6pm
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
There’s something gruesome about Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America. Watching it is akin to witnessing a well-lit car-wreck unfold in slow motion—like a lot of reality television, its allure as entertainment lies in the gory, uncomfortable details. In any given episode of Worst Cooks, the viewer is treated to such cringe-worthy, sickening moments as contestant Kat, 37, finding a rotting sardine encased in the stomach of the calamari she’s preparing, its grayish guts squeezed onto the cutting board, or Season Two winner Joshie, 36, accidentally slicing his hand open and bleeding all over his seafood filling.
It seems a straightforward enough premise: divide 16 hapless, hopeless cooks into two teams, assign them culinary mentors, and unleash them on the kitchen. This is a model that Food Network (along with Bravo, TLC and Fox) has perfected: a high-pressure, high-stress foodie race to the finish. These shows (Top Chef, Iron Chef America and especially Chopped) celebrate the ability to perform outrageous feats of gastronomic wizardry in ever-shrinking amounts of time. Unfortunately, this approach comes at the expense of meticulous, deliberate cooking. There’s no drama to be wrung from slow-food, and primetime has no use for patience.
So what’s awry about amateurs’ night in Kitchen Stadium? Here are 16 people who have managed to reach adulthood without conquering that one most fundamental skill of living: feeding themselves. How did this happen? Carlos, 28, blames his mother’s babying. Others say a full-time job or talented partner is the culprit. Some, like Kelsey, 23, have genuine cooking-phobia. Kelsey’s is the product of an incident with a gas grill and several bouts of self-inflicted food poisoning.
In a microwaveable, prepackaged 21st century world, Worst Cooks’ contingent of clumsy, clueless competitors comes as no surprise. The idea that their survival depends on a combination of TV dinners and Big Macs doesn’t faze us. In fact, it seems singularly normal. But seen through clearer eyes (our grandmothers,’ perhaps) the trend encapsulated by Worst Cooks in America is a very strange phenomenon, one unprecedented in all of human history.
Less than a third of Americans cook dinner from scratch regularly, and half of all meals consumed at home are takeout or delivery. 8% of people report that they do not cook at all. Last year, Americans collectively spent more on fast food than they did on education.
There are many reasons for the dilapidated state of the American home kitchen. Is the rise of food competition TV shows among them? It’s a chicken-and-egg kind of question, because it’s also possible that the media are merely reflecting an already present cultural shift. Still, there’s an argument to be made that they do at least perpetuate the problem.
These days, cooking shows that fall into the how-to category are relegated to the morning and early afternoon; they’ve become dinosaurs of the genre, targeted at an older, old-fashioned demographic. Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa is a classic example. Garten spends most episodes at home, fastidiously preparing meals for her working husband. It’s a daily half-hour time warp, with Garten playing the role of 1950s housewife doting on gainfully employed spouse.
If Barefoot Contessa is the past, Worst Cooks in America is the future. Worst Cooks relies on the established tropes of food reality TV, in which cooking is a professional sport, an activity best left to experts and observed from a distance. They drive the point home with panels of haughty connoisseurs, who take dainty tastes and dispense minute judgments. In an interview, Season One champion Rachel, 23, said she was “scared out her mind” at the finale because she was about to be evaluated by “people who eat for a living.”
That so many need to be taught how to cook is beyond disconcerting, it’s abnormal. Society has divorced us from our food and convinced us that the separation is natural, when it is anything but. We don’t know where our food comes from, how to prepare it or how much of it to eat. In a few short decades, we’ve nearly obliterated centuries of culinary tradition, rules and customs that had been carefully preserved and passed on for generations. Instead, we look to nutritionists (with their constantly changing and often shoddily researched recommendations) for guidance, and are bewildered when their advice turns out to be little more than a veiled commercial endorsement.
It’s pretty obvious we’ve been led astray: pollution, obesity, allergies, and food poisoning are all on the upswing, and there are numerous other problems cropping up that are tangentially linked to poor diet. If our surrogate-grandmothers are false idols, whom can we trust to right this growing crisis?
Some of the soundest counsel comes from author Michael Pollan, who preaches never to eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food, and to avoid anything advertised as “healthy,” as that’s usually a surefire means of identifying products that are pumped with hormones, colorings and chemicals.
Worst Cooks in America may actually be a blessing in disguise. It might be just another cooking competition, but it is also the only one that advocates ordinary people taking a stab at dinner, using fresh ingredients and a host of vegetables and fish. And while it is a TV show (and therefore tied to the sedentary lifestyle at the root of the issue,) anything with the potential to motivate Americans to get off the couch and into the kitchen is worth supporting.
Monday, March 14, 2011
I love to cook new and exciting foods, but sometimes I like to come up with a simple recipe using whatever ingredients I can find in my fridge. So with my time over spring break I've come up with a really easy recipe that satisfied my hunger and cleaned out my fridge a little too.
I made this just for myself so feel free to make more if you're cooking for two or more people.
All you need is:
1/4 pound pasta (I used rigatoni but you can use penne or any other pasta of your choice)
6 cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or less if you don't like spice)
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp basil (I used dried because I didn't have fresh but if you have fresh, definitely use it)
a splash of vegetable stock (or chicken stock, whichever you have)
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to cook the garlic and tomatoes
Bring a pot of water to a boil to cook the pasta. While you wait for the water to boil dice the tomatoes and mince the garlic. Then in a pan with olive oil saute the tomatoes and garlic. To the pan, add the red pepper flakes, onion powder, basil, salt, and pepper. Cook them all together as the pasta cooks. Once the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain it and put it in your bowl.
When the tomatoes have started to break down and everything has caramelized a little you can add the vegetable stock which will help create a sauce for the pasta. If you want to make the sauce more tomato-y you can add a can of tomato sauce to the pan instead. After cooking the sauce for a minute or two you can add it to the pasta.
It's really simple and easy, and it tastes good. In just minutes you can have a fresh pasta dish.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
• Honest Tom's Taco Shop, the popular taco food truck that frequents University City, is opening a permanent location this summer at 261 S. 44th Street - Foobooz
• Uwishunu lists 16 new restaurants opening in Philadelphia this Spring
• The Inquirer reports on the mummified food featured in "Secrets of the Silk Road" exhibition at the Penn Museum
• The politics of food: Food safety agencies threatened by House Republicans' budget cuts - Time.com
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Call me a modern-day cavewoman.
Okay, so I don’t go out and hunt and gather my food like the cavemen, and I certainly don’t live in a cave. However, my eating habits mimic those of our Paleolithic ancestors—if a food didn’t exist before the Agricultural Revolution (circa 10,000 years ago), I won’t eat it.
This way of eating goes by many names: the Caveman diet, the Primal diet, the New Evolution diet, and possibly the most well-known, the Paleo diet. The philosophy behind eating like the cavemen is that prior to the Agricultural Revolution, humans were taller, leaner, stronger, and much healthier than their post-agrarian descendants. Modern day (or “Western”) illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and obesity also did not exist before humans abandoned their hunting and gathering ways and learned how to farm. Studies done on modern-day hunter-gatherers mimic this idea— in The New Evolution Diet, Art DeVany writes, “Ancestral humans were not overweight. Nor did they suffer the ailments that are so prevalent in our civilized world. Now we suffer from a host of chronic ‘Western’ diseases that were virtually unknown among our early ancestors and are largely absent even among today’s hunger-gatherers living in traditional ways.” Eating like the cavemen also regulates insulin levels, lowers bad cholesterol, erases or alleviates symptoms of conditions like IBS, Crohn's disease, and arthritis, clears up acne, and improves athletic performance.
The Paleo diet is high in fat and animal protein and relatively low in carbohydrates. Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint, says to “eliminate: sugary foods and beverages, grains (wheat, corn, rice, pasta, breads, cereals, etc.), legumes (soy and other beans), trans and partially hydrogenated fates, high-risk conventional meat and produce, and excess polyunsaturated fatty acids.” Processed foods, artificial sweeteners, and dairy should also be avoided. That’s right—no pizza, Insomnia cookies, Red Bull, or fro-yo on this eating plan!
While it may seem that this is incredibly restrictive, the foods you can eat are some of the healthiest and most delicious ones that nature has to offer. A Paleo diet consists of fruits and (non-starchy) vegetables; lean (and idcaveman, Health, Nutrition, paleally organic and grass-fed) animal meats, seafood, and eggs; nuts and seeds; healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil; and fresh spices. Eating this way is quite easy—almost every restaurant has meat and veggies on the menu, and the dining halls are accommodating to this lifestyle too with their salad bars, protein and veggie entrees, and occasional “action” options like omelets and lettuce wraps. There are thousands of meal choices for Paleo eaters—in fact, there are even countless cookbooks available!
There’s no “one size fits all” approach to the Paleo lifestyle, however—it can be adjusted to an individual’s specific goals and preferences. If you turn to Paleo to lose weight, for example, you might decide to cut out nuts, seeds, and fruit. Other Paleo eaters decide to include modern foods into their diets such as coffee, red wine, dark chocolate (with 70% or higher cacao content), or high-quality cheese. Some also choose to use natural sweeteners like honey or Stevia, whereas others decide to eat all of their foods raw. No matter how strict you want to get with it, eating Paleo is all about being healthy and promoting longevity-- and that's what makes it more than just a diet! Paleo is a lifestyle.
Want to learn more about the Paleo/Primal/Caveman lifestyle? I highly recommend watching this clip from ABC Nightline, checking out the websites of Loren Cordain (The Paleo Diet), Mark Sisson (The Primal Blueprint), Robb Wolf (The Paleo Solution), and Art DeVany (The New Evolution Diet), or taking a look at my blog, Paleo at Penn. If you have some more time on your hands, I encourage you to read any of these writers' books, as well as some probably more-familiar titles, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes, which both touch upon the Paleolithic lifestyle and its health benefits.
As we Paleo eaters like to say, Grok on!
Friday, March 11, 2011
After venturing down to Florida for Spring Break, my friends and I decided to try some southern cooking. As part of our Mardi Gras celebration we focused on Cajun food specifically. In the spirit of things, I choose a few hearty and spicy to recipes to follow. The first recipe I came upon that caught my interest was for Bubba’s Shrimp Gumbo. Being an avid “Forrest Gump” lover, I was thrilled to try this.
Bubba’s Shrimp Gumbo
1 c. butter
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 chopped yellow onion
1/4 c. chopped celery
1/4 c. chopped green bell pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 c. sliced okra
3 c. shrimp stock
2 c. clam juice
1 c. chopped tomatoes with juice (from a can)
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp dried basil leaves
1/2 tspn finely ground black pepper
1 1/2 c. cooked smoked sausage
2 lbs. shrimp, uncooked, cleaned and deveined
In a large heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt 1 cup of the butter. Add the flour, and cook on low heat until the roux is dark brown. Continue for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the onions, celery, peppers and garlic and saute until translucent.
Mix in the okra and the remaining ingredients, until thick. This takes about 1 hour. Before serving, remove the bay leaves. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve over white rice, if desired.
The gumbo turned out deliciously. I was careful to let the gumbo thicken long enough that it could be eaten as a single entrée, although it could have been eaten with rice. At my friends’ request, I also decided to make green beans and cornbread to accompany my gumbo. I found a green bean recipe with a spicy twist. I added honey to my cornbread to balance out the other spicy and savory flavors of the meal.
Spicy Green Beans
Frozen Green Beans
Place the green beans with a drop of olive oil in a frying pan. Begin to cook on low heat. Add chile sauce, salt, and pepper. Cook for at least a half hour to let frozen beans thaw and the flavors sink in.
1c. all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2c. granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 c. whole milk
2 large eggs
1/4c. melted butter
1/4 c. honey
Preheat oven to 400° F. Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the whole milk, eggs, butter, and honey. Add the second mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until mixed. Grease a 9’ x 9’ pan, pour in the mixture, and bake for 15 minutes, or until golden.
Overall, the meal went off as a hit! Although the faint of heart should be warned, with the exception of the cornbread, these recipes had a kick to them.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
What’s the latest trend following the extremely successful cupcake fad? People speculate the newest “it dessert” could be pies or cake pops, brownies or French macarons. Why not consider bundt cakes?
Bundt is derived from Bundkuchen, a German ring-shaped cake served during tea. Additionally, the word “bund” refers both to how the cake's dough “bundles” around the pan's center hole and to its German-English translation meaning “gathering” (thus a cake used for a gathering or party). The unique pan design was patented by Dave and Dotty Dalquist, who designed the pan in 1950 at the request of members of the Hadassah Society’s Minneapolis chapter. The Dalquists went on to establish NordicWare, a company specializing in kitchenware products. Today, they have sold nearly 60 million Bundt pans throughout the U.S. What makes the mold unique is its fluted and grooved design, which allows for more dough to make contact with the pan's inner surface and provides deeper, more even heat distribution.
To me, bundts are simply cupcakes in a different shape. However, I’m always on the hunt for that just-right cake base and spot-on frosting. In my area, a place named Nothing Bundt Cakes recently opened a few months ago—I was excited to give the place a try over Spring Break!
As indicated by its name, the bakery specializes in bundts. They offer nine standard cake flavors (including chocolate chocolate chip, pecan praline, lemon, and red velvet), as well as a rotating “flavor of the month” (if you’re curious, March is “Chocolate Turtle”). After surveying the delicious options, I decided to try their carrot bundtlet (a.k.a. mini bundt). The cake was perfectly moist; its carrot flavor was excellent, with added sweetness from pineapple (something I’m going to consider in my future carrot cakes!) and aromatic spiciness from cinnamon and nutmeg. The cream cheese frosting was piped not in the usual swirl as seen on cupcakes, but rather in thick umbrella-inspired petals. The frosting had a velvety texture and tasted sweet but not overpowering, merging well with the cake itself.
Overall, Nothing Bundt Cakes did a solid job with their bundts. I’d love to return before break ends so I can try some of the other flavors available. The bakery may very well be part of a new dessert trend, so here’s hoping for a bundt place to open in Philadelphia! (For now, you can get your fix at places like Metropolitan Bakery and Corner Bakery Cafe.)
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
In recent years, enhanced water beverages have risen to prominence in American drink markets. SmartWater, VitaminWater, and Skinny Water are three such products that have emerged as competitors of natural H2O. But what ingredients exactly "enhance" these drinks and are these additives necessarily beneficial?
SmartWater, introduced by Glaceau in 1998, is a no-calorie drink that adds electrolytes to distilled spring water. This results in a crisper tasting water that Glaceau’s website equates with “the first drop of rain.” While electrolytes are essential for various functions of the body, most people, according to nutritionist Nancy Rodriguez, manage to replenish their body's supply through food and tap water. Additionally, since SmartWater is sodium-free, it is not actually recommended as a sports drink for athletes. Some people believe the taste and style of SmartWater outweighs its cost, but nonetheless it is not an inherently “better” water product.
VitaminWater, meanwhile, has raked up a number of complaints since its introduction in 2000. Touted as a nutrition and hydration drink, VitaminWater’s brilliant advertising can distract consumers from the fact that it contains 33 grams of sugar (equivalent to eight teaspoons!) per bottle.
As Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League points out, “two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese; the last thing people need is sugar water with vitamins you could get from eating a healthy diet, or taking a vitamin pill.” Furthermore, the supplementary vitamins found in vitamin water might not even be beneficial, since, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, most Americans do not need a daily vitamin supplement.
VitaminWater has been criticized for not adhering to FDA regulations specifying that a product’s name should reflect its most prominent ingredients. In this case, "VitaminSugar" or "SugarWater" might be more appropriate. It has also been attacked for running ads that suggest the beverage has powers it doesn’t (a recent tag line: “vitamin water. flu shots are so last year”). While VitaminWater might be better than a can of soda, it is no replacement for actual water.
Skinny Water, introduced in 2006, contains 0-calories, 0-grams of sugar, and, according to its website, "0-guilt." Skinny Water's claim to fame is its weight-loss component thanks to ingredients Super Citrimax and the green tea antioxidant EGCG. The dubious benefits of these ingredients aside, how can a beverage containing sucralose (Splenda), flavoring, coloring, and fruit extracts promote itself as "water?” Emily Mitchell, the dietician quoted on Skinny Water's website, states, "after reviewing the ingredients, I believe Skinny Water is an excellent, sugar-free and healthy alternative to traditional, high-calorie carbonated soft drinks." While Skinny Water may be a healthier choice than soda, it is misleading to advertise it as a "water." Being called a better alternative than soda is not high praise, nutritionally.
In the end, a final consideration when purchasing any form of bottled water is its environmental impact. While innovations and upgrades are made constantly, including a glass-bottle SmartWater product, perhaps it might be best to stick with the less glamorous but still effective option when it comes to quenching thirst: filtered tap water.
Post by Margaret Buff.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
The first time I was introduced to mochi was last year at Kiwi yogurt, a popular frozen yogurt business near campus. Small and semi-transparent cubes, I at first passed over the mochi gummies in the toppings section for the numerous and colorful fruit options. However, at the insistence of a friend, I added a few to my heaping fro-yo cup—and I was not disappointed.
For those unfamiliar, mochi (pronounced "moe-chee") is traditionally a Japanese confection, though also popular in other Asian cultures, made of sticky rice that is pounded and molded into shape. Plain mochi is white and has a bland taste and gummy texture. However, it can be sweetened or flavored and is used in a variety of dishes, including ice creams, pastries, and soups. Sweetened and cut into small gummies, mochi is also a standard topping at many fro-yo restaurants like Kiwi.
Combined with the tangy frozen yogurt, mochi gummies add an interesting texture to my usual mix of fruity toppings and have become a staple for my Kiwi concoctions. So when I heard about the second annual Mochi Fest being held in Harrison College House's Sky Lounge this past Friday, I was eager to expand my mochi horizons.
Hosted by the Japan Student Association, the event featured a total of ten mochi dishes from all over Asia for only 50 cents a sample, prepared by the co-hosting Penn organizations. The event was packed when I arrived, and I was able to sample seven of the dishes.
1. Coconut Mochi Cake with Mango and Macadamia Nuts
First I tried the Coconut Mochi Cake with Mango and Macadamia Nuts made by the Penn Taiwanese Society. Crumbly on the outside and gummy on the inside, the baked mochi had a nice mix of textures, as well as a yummy blend of nutty and coconut flavors.
2. Muah Chee
Next was the Muah Chee made by Club Singapore. Instead of a cake, this mochi dish consisted of mochi balls coated in fragrant toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, and sugar. Because the mochi was not baked, its texture was stickier than the cake.
3. Kinako Mochi
Following the Muah Chee, I tried the Kinako Mochi, small mochi cakes coated in kinako (soy flour) and sugar, prepared by Penn Sangam. This dessert was sweet but slightly bland.
4. Mitarashi Dango
The next sample I tried was the Mitarashi Dango made by the Hong Kong Student Association. Though described as sweet and salty, I found the skewered mochi dumplings to be a unpleasant combination of gumminess and soy-sauce flavor.
5. Mochi Ube Ice Cream
One of my favorite dishes of the night was the Mochi Ube Ice Cream made by the Penn Philippine Association. Simply sweet mochi topped with vibrant purple ice cream made with ube (a purple yam frequently used in Filipino desserts that tastes similar to taro), the dessert was a delicious mix of cold, creamy ice cream and slightly pasty and gummy mochi.
6. Chocolate-Coated Mochi with Strawberry Ice Cream
I also enjoyed the next dessert I tried, Chocolate-Coated Mochi with Strawberry Ice Cream made by alpha Kappa Delta Phi. Chocolate and strawberry being a classic flavor combination, the mochi cakes, coated in cocoa powder and sugar, paired well with the strawberry ice cream.
In addition to the Mochi Ube Ice Cream, my other favorite dish of the night was the last I tried, Hoddeok made by the Korean Students Association. A glutinous pan-fried rice cake with a honey and walnut filling, the dessert was warm and flavorful. The dough was delicious and chewy, and the filling was syrupy and sweet.
The three dishes that I unfortunately did not get a chance to try were the Japan Student Association's Green Tea Ice Cream with Kinako, Black Sesame, and Red Bean Shiratama, the Chinese Students Association's Assorted Flavored Mochi Stuffed with Red Bean and Nutella, and the Wharton Asia Exchange's Blueberry Mochi Cake.
Nevertheless, I was overall thrilled with the mochi dishes I tried. I encourage others to venture beyond the mochi fro-yo topping, and to experience the variety of dishes prepared with this gummy treat!