Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Southern Sights, Southern Hospitality, Southern Food

As soon as Penn let out for the summer, I had the great pleasure of visiting North Carolina (the cities of Durham and Raleigh), South Carolina (Charleston), and Georgia (Savannah). I explored beautiful historical plantations, saw famous Civil War sites, and strolled down cobblestone streets. However, the true star of my vacation was food! We encountered two menu items that seemed to be present at every restaurant: cornbread...

Jestine’s Kitchen; Charleston, SC
...and fried chicken.

Jestine’s Kitchen; Charleston, SC
Savannah played host to my favorite places for both. The Olde Pink House Restaurant had incredible cornbread—golden in color, airy in texture, and buttery in taste—and Mrs. Wilkes’ dished out moist, flavorful fried chicken with excellent seasoning that left you hankering for more (more on this extraordinary place later). I couldn’t believe it, but we found amazing authentic French food in the South!

Croque Monsieur; Papillote; Savannah, GA
Chocolate Macaron; Macaroon Boutique; Charleston, SC

Palmier; Harris Baking Company; Savannah, GA
Some meals stayed true to their Southern roots…

Chicken Pot Pie; The Lady and Sons (for you Food Network fans, this is Paula Deen’s restaurant); Savannah, GA
…others were BBQ-inspired...

Carolina-style Ribs; The Pit; Raleigh, NC
...but ultimately, all were just plain delicious.

Pan Seared Crab Cake with Sauteed Corn, Arugula, and Truffle-Corn Puree; Middleton Place Restaurant; Charleston, SC
Housemade Potato Chips; Magnolias Uptown/Down South; Charleston, SC
Braised Pork Shank with Pineapple Glaze; The Olde Pink House Restaurant; Savannah, GA
Crispy Local Pork Belly with Clams, Potatoes, Leeks, and Tomato Broth; Slightly North of Broad; Charleston, SC
Sauteed Duck Breast with Goat Cheese and Confit Duck Risotto, Glazed Carrots, and Honey Thyme Reduction; Slightly North of Broad; Charleston, SC
There was no shortage of delicious sweets either (much to the excitement of my sweet tooth).

Mocha Chocolate Chip Ice Cream; Leopold’s Ice Cream; Savannah, GA
Red Velvet Cupcake; Cupcake!; Charleston, SC
Napoleon; Amelia Café; Durham; NC

Orange Curd Tart with Coffee Ice Cream and Chocolate; McCrady’s; Charleston, SC

The best food experience of the trip? That would have to go to Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. The all-you-can-eat family-style restaurant serves traditional Southern fare and is only open on the weekdays from 11 am to 2 pm. They don’t offer reservations, so people begin standing in line at least an hour before the place opens. We arrived around 10:45 am and waited 1 ½ hours before we sat down to eat! Trust me, the wait is well worth it. As soon as you enter the door, you sit down to a 10-person table already laden with over 20 different heaping piles of food. We had the chance to try fried chicken, beef Brunswick stew, red rice with sausage, cabbage, snap beans, macaroni and cheese, black eyed peas, squash, white rice, mashed potatoes, candied yams, collard greens, okra and tomatoes, baked beans, potato salad, English peas and egg noodles, butter beans, pickled cucumbers, apple salad, biscuits, cornbread, peach cobbler, and banana pudding. Mrs. Wilkes' makes the most incredible biscuits I’ve ever had. Each bite I took was like eating a pillow: light and airy, soft and fluffy, not dense at all. You will not leave hungry after this Thanksgiving-esque meal. Dining with other visitors who waited in line with us was also a fun unique social experience. It truly emphasizes the worldwide power of food. This one-of-a-kind meal is a must-see (and must-eat) if you visit Savannah!

I greatly enjoyed visiting the Carolinas and Georgia, getting a wonderful taste of their delicious cuisines, beautiful sights, and Southern hospitality. Take a trip here whenever you get the chance!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Blog Bites: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

Closed: Marathon Grill has not renewed its lease at 40th and Walnut due to declining business, reports The Daily Pennsylvanian. No details on what will fill its spot.

Reopened: University Square Farmers’ Market at 36th and Walnut, with three new vendors come August - The Daily Pennsylvanian

Opening: Authentic Mexican restaurant "Guacamole Mex-Grill" at 4612 Woodland Ave. in early July - Meal Ticket

• More details about Honest Tom’s Taco Truck's, a favorite of Clark Park Farmer's Market goers, move to a permanent location - Grub Street Philly

• Speaking of food trucks, Philadelphia will hosts its first Vendy Awards, a food truck competition and cook-off, on July 9 - Uwishunu

• Meal Ticket reports on the new "Philly Disloyalty Program," a customer reward card featured at seven local, non-chain Philly coffee houses, including West Philly's Lovers & Madmen at 28 S. 40th St.

• Uwishunu has the guide for Philly Beer Week 2011, running from June 3-11

•...and Penn's34th Street interviews the event's executive director and Philadelphia Daily News columnist, Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell

• The politics of food: A look at how the eating habits of liberals and conservatives differ - Mashable

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

What is the difference between a cupcake and a muffin? It can be a confusing question--answers range from size (muffins are bigger), frosting (only cupcakes have it), or appropriate consumption time (muffins go with breakfast). In reality, muffins are quickbreads (meaning they do not contain yeast and are usually leavened with baking powder); cupcakes are made of cake batter. The distinction lies in the ratio of the ingredients and how they are combined, giving them separate consistencies. Muffins have less fat and sugar and tend to be denser.

These muffins walk the line between cupcake and muffin. It is muffin batter, but the amount of butter and the quantity of eggs mean that these lean toward dessert territory. They are the closest I've come to mimicking the kind of giant, glistening muffins found in bakeries and coffee shops: soft, pillowy texture with fine crumbs and little pockets of melted chocolate. Tell yourself that the banana makes them healthier and be sure to top with sugar before they go in the oven.

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 large bananas
1/4 cup milk
1 cup milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, until just blending after each addition. Beat in bananas, and then alternate adding the dry ingredients and milk until all combined. Stir in chocolate chips, and spoon batter into lined baking cups 3/4 full. Bake for 25 minutes.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Dinner of Champions: Grilled Salmon with Lentils

Home, sweet home.

Nothing spells summer to me like the short walk from my front door to kitchen, where I throw open the double doors of the refrigerator to behold the stockpile of ingredients inside. My parents are well-intentioned health nuts, and our crisper drawers of fruits and vegetables rarely close with ease. However, with two of four children in college and a third on the way in September, they still have not given up their habit of bulk buying, for which I am grateful. My favorite summer vegetables were at the ready, including a bundle of asparagus stalks that looked like they needed immediate attention.

And one more thing that spells summer: salmon. It’s the epitome of Sunday dinner, eaten outside next to the grill while my dogs try their hardest to snag a taste. Luckily, my mom was at home to help with dinner, and immediately volunteered our favorite fish. Usually, we would grill our summer vegetables at the same time, but I wanted a different twist (and something a little more manageable, for those of us who don’t always have access to a family-grade grill).

I quickly browsed for some recipes which included a cabinet staple of mine at school: lentils. My last delicious salmon experience in Philadelphia was a fillet served over a bed of lentil ‘hash’ at Table 31 (of all places). There was no way I was going to try to recreate the dish, but the pairing served as inspiration all the same. At school, I would typically cook up a salad of lentils with winter veggies (carrots, celery, etc.) and a little chicken stock, top a bowlful with a fried egg (to complement the protein content), and call the whole thing dinner. But not now-- not with family to impress and salmon waiting for the grill.

Most recipes I scanned called for pan-frying or broiling, but with simple seasoning: a brush of olive oil, salt and pepper. Some also included instructions for herb butter and other sauces; unfortunately, chives and tarragon were not in the fridge stockpile. Instead, I opted to lightly season the lentils with mustard and red wine vinegar, a pairing that gives the dish a slight tang without weighing it down.

Finally, I have been itching to try a shaved asparagus salad (this recipe from Smitten Kitchen looks fabulous: http://smittenkitchen.com/2011/05/ribboned-asparagus-salad-with-lemon/). However, the stalks I was working with turned out to be too slim to shave with a peeler. After a few attempts, I took the whole bunch and put them in the oven to roast. I did, however, take a few tips from the recipe, adding toasted sunflower seeds for a nutty crunch and a few shaves of Parmesan cheese, as well as a spritz of lemon flavor.

The recipe below serves 6, but can be simplified for fewer portions. Extra lentils can always be saved and mixed with rice or with a cooked egg the next day. The seasonings can be omitted or changed, if you want something a little simpler or heartier (Ina Garten has a lentil recipe that calls for carrots and celery, chicken stock and tomato paste). Creating a sauce for the salmon would also be a great way to amp up the flavors of the dish.

As is, the recipe was a success! Clean plates all around, and many went back for seconds on the lentils. Now, on to tackling the crate-sized container of strawberries I spy in the bottom of the crisper ...

Lentil salad:
¾ cup of lentils (many recipes call for a French green variety, but any kind will do)
4 cups of water
¾ tsp. kosher salt
1 summer squash and 1 zucchini, small dice
1 medium yellow onion, small dice
2 cloves of garlic, diced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp grain mustard
1 squeeze of lemon juice

1. Bring water and salt to a boil in a small saucepan.
2. Add lentils, reduce heat slightly, and cook for 15 minutes or until al dente.
3. In the meantime, dice the squash and zucchini (these were medium-sized), as well as garlic and onion. A fine dice works better here, to match the size and texture of the lentil grain.
4. Saute the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes on medium heat, then add the squash and zucchini for an additional 3-5. Cook until tender.
5. When lentils have softened somewhat, drain and reserve ½ cup of cooking liquid.
6. Add lentils to vegetable mix, along with cooking liquid, red wine vinegar, and mustard. Reduce heat to low and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the lentils have absorbed the liquid.

6 4 oz. portions
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper.
2. Grill, skin-on, 6-8 minutes per side.
3. Plate the dish with about 1 cup of the lentil mixture, topped with a grilled salmon fillet. I didn’t prepare a garnish, but the dish could always be served with a slice of lemon or a sprig of fresh herbs.

Asparagus side dish:
1 bunch of asparagus
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
½ cup toasted sunflower seeds
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, shaved or grated
1 squeeze of lemon

1. Preheat oven to 425.
2. Prepare stalks of asparagus by trimming woody end.
3. Line a baking sheet with tin foil, arrange stalks, and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat.
4. Roast for 8-12 minutes (depending upon your oven’s personality). Check to ensure even cooking, and toss as needed.
5. Once out of the oven, season with salt, pepper, and lemon.
6. Immediately before serving, top with sunflower seeds and Parmesan cheese.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rittenhouse Spring Festival

As if Philadelphia needs another reason to be proud of its ever expanding food scene; this past weekend the Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival was the stage for the city's most sought after eats to show off their flavors!

From the park's perimeter to every sidewalk, there was culinary madness, fashion shows, and family fun spread up and down Walnut Street. The atmosphere was abuzz with food filled mouths chattering about all the surprises found housed in each white tent.

Well-loved eateries such as 10 Arts Bistro, Alma de Cuba, Square 1682, Le Bec Fin, Rouge, Continental Midtown, Village Whiskey, Prime Rib, Di Bruno Bros, El Rey, The Dandelion, Marathon Grill, Butcher and Singer, Le Castagne, Parc, Barclay Prime, Swiss Haus, The Oyster House, and La Croix and more all sported signature dishes cooked on the spot. As some of these locations have reservation lists booked for months in advance, Saturday was a great way to get a taste without the wait! From wine tastings, to beer sampling, full sized dinner plates, to spoonfuls of ice cream, Rittenhouse Row had it all going on.

(2) The pastry mavens at Termini piped cannoli on command throughout the day;(1) Le Bec Fin served up itty bitty bites of France with each signature mini dessert; (3) Continental Midtown did their best to keep the crowd cool with a variety of popsicles made in-house, like this one, themed after their famous Tang based cocktail "The Astronaut"; while Alma de Cuba (4) turned up the heat with a spicy pulled pork sandwich complimented by cabbage slaw! And the local produce purveyors were impossible to miss as they added the vibrant colors to the day. With selections including crates of strawberries, tomatoes, spring onions, and bibb lettuce,(5) everyone was toting something around to accompany that night's dinner. That is of course, if they had any room leftover after spending the day enjoying so much of the city's greatest treats. Read more from guest-blogger Aly at Gradtogourmet.com


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Father's Day Recipes

For mother's and father's day, I really like to do a full day of cooking for my parents, especially because it's just so personal and shows my appreciation for them. Since father's day is coming up soon, I wanted to share some of my personal favorites that have been huge hits in my family.

For brunch, I have found great success with Rachael Ray's scrambled eggs with smoked salmon recipe. It is simple and the smoked salmon taste isn't overbearing and all the flavors are well balanced -- plus it's super easy to make.

Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 6 minutes, Total time: 16 minutes

1/4 pound sliced smoked salmon
12 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
12 to 15 blades of fresh chives, finely chopped

Reserve 2 slices of salmon for garnish. Chop the remaining salmon into very small pieces.
Whisk your eggs and cream together. Add 1/2 of your chopped chives and season eggs with salt and pepper. Preheat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Melt butter in the pan and add eggs. Scramble eggs with a wooden spoon. Do not cook eggs until dry. When eggs have come together but remain wet, stir in chopped salmon. Remove pan from the stove and place on a trivet. Garnish the eggs with remaining salmon and chives and serve right out of the warm pan.

Note: If you are serving these eggs with the other recipes provided as a brunch, a platter of store bought fruit filled dainties will complete your elegant brunch. Allow 1 dainty per person but halve dainties so that guests may mix and match varieties.

In addition to the scrambled eggs, I like to pair it with fresh squeezed orange juice from scratch and a little bit of champagne (a mimosa) to add a celebratory touch.

For dinner, I usually pull out the grill if it's a nice day and either do a fish dish or some pork spare ribs.
If your dad likes seafood, the Wegman's grilled swordfish with tomato cucumber salsa is likely to be a hit -- the salsa is crisp and refreshing and adds a lot of flavor to the swordfish, which is light and flaky -- the perfect white fish in my opinion. This really is a great dish for a warm summer day. Some wines that I recommend pairing with this dish are chardonnay, pinot grigio, pinot noir, chablis, or dolcetto. Swordfish is not a difficult dish to pair with wine, but these seem to enhance the flavors of the dish the most.
Serves: 4, Total time: 20 minutes

Ingredients for Swordfish
2 Swordfish steaks (about 10 oz each)
Salt and pepper
Wegmans Basting Oil

Preheat grill on high 10 min.
1. Clean grill with wire brush. Using soft cloth, coat grill grate lightly with vegetable oil.
2. Season both sides of swordfish with salt and pepper. Drizzle lightly with basting oil. (Too much oil will cause flare-ups on grill.)
3. Sear swordfish on grill until swordfish has changed color 1/4 way up from bottom. Turn and brush seared side with basting oil. Sear other side; turn again and brush. Reduce heat; close lid.
4. Grill swordfish 1-inch thick or less about 4-5 min/side on medium. Grill swordfish thicker than 1-inch about 6-7 min per side on low.
5. Cook swordfish to 130 degrees internal temp, about 15-20 min. Check by inserting thermometer halfway into thickest part. Remove from grill; let rest at least 2 min. Serve with Tomato Cucumber Salsa (see recipe).

Ingredients for Salsa
1 medium (about 1/2 lb) cucumber, peeled, sliced lengthwise, seeded, diced small
1 tsp salt
1 jalapeno pepper (wear gloves) halved, seeded, diced very fine
4 large (about 3/4 lb each) tomatoes, diced small
3 Tbsp red onion, diced
4 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

1. Toss cucumbers in bowl with salt (will draw out moisture). Let set 30 min; squeeze, then drain water off.
2. Combine all ingredients in medium bowl.

In addition to this swordfish recipe, I have also tried the Kraft recipe for barbecue spare ribs (I know, I know, why would I use a Kraft recipe) that has proven to be easy to make as well as very flavorful. As with anything barbecue related, a good beer seems to be the beverage of choice -- in general, I think good barbecue should be served with something that doesn't compete or contrast heavily with the sweetness of the dry rub, so a light beer is probably the way to go so that the focus of the meal is the flavor of the meat. This recipe is super easy and simple but is surprisingly flavorful for what seems to be an overly simple Kraft recipe -- don't underestimate it!

Serves: 5, Prep time: 10 minutes, Total time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

3 lb. pork baby back ribs
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsp. garlic powder
1-1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
1 cup Bull's-Eye or Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce

Heat grill to medium heat.
Place half the ribs in single layer on large sheet heavy-duty foil. Mix sugar and seasonings; rub half evenly onto both sides of ribs. Bring up foil sides. Double fold top and one end to seal packet. Add 1/4 cup water to packet through open end. Double fold remaining end, leaving room for heat circulation inside. Repeat to make second packet. Grill 45 min. to 1 hour or until ribs are done. Remove ribs from foil; discard foil. Return ribs to grill; brush with barbecue sauce. Grill 15 min. turning and brushing occasionally with remaining sauce.

I don't usually make dessert for Father's Day because my dad doesn't have much of a sweet tooth. However, some personal favorites of mine that I like to make if you need some dessert ideas are cheesecake or carrot cake (I really enjoy the cream cheese flavor).

Hopefully these recipes will provide inspiration for some ideas of your own. None of these recipes are my personal creations, I am not nearly creative enough or have the patience to make my own recipes. But my parents really seem to enjoy a good home-cooked meal now and then and I think that this is a great way to show your appreciation for everything your parents do for you. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Adsum for Hedonists

I saw Molly O’Neill’s awesome “Adsum for Pescatarians” review the other day, and I felt compelled to paint the other side of the picture. Adsum and its decadent menu seemed like a great choice for me, since my only dietary restriction is that everything must taste as good as possible.

I’m pleased to say that the requirement was fulfilled when I stopped in to give Matt Levin’s pretentiously subtitled “refined neighborhood bistro” another try after a strong-but-not-standout meal there last year. My dining partner and I ended up at a bar table because the one we’d reserved outside was too chilly. Things were good quickly; already the staff was more attentive than last time, and more than happy to move us inside. Overall, they were cordial and personal—not personable, but personal; you got the sense you weren’t getting the same spiel as every other customer. Another plus I hadn’t noticed during my last, late-night trip was Adsum’s huge windows; people-watching a block away from South Street added an element of fun to the meal, with everyone from punked-out little kids to pierced 60-somethings walking by. Our favorite character was a girl with bright purple hair glued up in Sonic the Hedgehog-like spikes.

I began with the Poppy Doble, a kitchen-sink cocktail with lime, almond, grapefruit, maraschino liqueur, rum, and a bunch of poppy seeds. While it tasted very good, the drink contained no trace of half of its ingredients; lime was the dominant flavor, with a hint of almond and subtle nuttiness from the poppy seeds, but not much else. I was pleased, though, that it utilized my favorite crushed ice—perhaps necessary to keep the seeds (whose added texture was a fun diversion) from drifting to the bottom of the glass.

We went on one of the last nights Levin offered his now-infamous Tastykake sliders, passionately explained to us by the waiter. So we eschewed a starter of grilled octopus with black pepper caramel—the biggest standout from my previous trip—in favor of those. It was very much a just-to-say-we-did affair, but they ended up being pretty damn good. The mini sandwiches took what we all love about the combination of peanut butter and chocolate—the melange of salty and sweet—and elevated it to an unprecedented level.

The buns were Kandy Kakes, which consist of sponge cake topped with peanut butter and covered in chocolate. The patty was ground brisket and, though it had some unexpected gristle, it was still meaty and satisfying, and enhanced the salty flavor of the Tastykake’s peanut butter. The patty was topped with a thin slice of melted white cheddar that didn’t add much. On top of that was a squirt of sour cherry-sriracha jam, which wasn’t remotely hot but did effectively add to the sweetness of the chocolate. So though all of the ingredients weren’t pulling their weight, the end result was a tasty mix of familiar flavors, united in an unexpected, but surprisingly comforting way. $11 for two sliders is steep, but for a one-time experience it was worth it.

Next was the restaurant’s famed poutine: duck-fat French fries topped with separate bacon and duck gravies, fresh mozzarella curds, and a slab of seared foie gras. The fries had been overcooked and were dry as a result, rendering them no more than high-calorie vehicles for their embellishments. And while none of those were outstanding on their own, and the fancy gravy combination not discernable from a standard beef gravy, we found that there was something magical about eating a gravy-covered piece of warm cheese with foie gras oozing on top of it. And the foie, I should note, was beautifully cooked, with a thin, salty crust on the outside giving way to a center decadently viscous enough to remind anyone why it’s basically the best food on earth. At $15, this dish felt like a bargain because of the large piece of liver, making it a little too easy to forgive its other components’ shortcomings.

The last dish we tried was the pork belly entrée. Its description on the menu was cryptic: “pork belly, bananas, green curry, lobster, vanilla cream.” I anticipated a stew, with a green curry broth and bits of pork and lobster. Given Levin’s daring reputation, I should have known better. We were served a huge, unadulterated hunk of pork belly, the size of a generous entrée portion of fish. Beneath it were two creamy sauces and a mound of spinach; above it, a bit of lobster salad. And while on the whole the entrée was remarkable, it fell into the same trap as every other dish we tried: some ingredients were amazing, while others simply had no reason to be there.

The main reason for this dish’s success was its center: the pork belly was perfect in ways I never thought a piece of pig could be. For one, it was leaner than most cuts, with a roughly 50/50 mixture of meat and fat. Second, it had clearly been cooked excruciatingly slowly and with much care; the top layer was the most melty, tender fat I’ve had from any animal, and the bottom was braised meat at its finest: gorgeous pork that fell apart at the slightest pressure, beautifully moist and delicately seasoned.

The other major winner was the green curry-banana gastrique, whose spice was bold enough to hold up to the unctuous pork. A vanilla sauce on the other side of the plate wasn’t necessary, since the curry’s spice was already tempered by the banana. The spinach was sautéed and unremarkable, with no apparent connection to anything else on the plate. And the lobster salad was most offensive of all; its inclusion made no sense and didn’t work with any other element in the dish. Worse, it was too mayonnaise-heavy and had too many scallions, blocking out the flavor of the lobster itself. So while the dish would have been best as its two main components alone, it was still damn good, and easily worth the $21 price tag.

On the whole, Adsum was definitely enjoyable and worth returning to—though I won’t be rushing to do so. Every dish has so much going on that a few ingredients fall by the wayside each time, and it’d be refreshing to see simpler plates with every component working in harmony and executed right.

But if you haven’t tried that pork belly, get on it. Seriously.
-Alex Marcus

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cadillac Culinary Challenge

This Saturday, Cadillac, Bon Appetit and Epicurious hosted the first of thirteen "culinary challenges" planned for the next few months at King of Prussia Mall. The idea is to pit a local chef (the tour will also hit California) against a celebrity one for a one-dish competition. Representing Philly was Walter Staib of City Tavern; faced off against David Burke, who owns Townhouse and six other restaurants in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Chicago. The audience tries both plates and two crowd-members are randomly selected to be part of the judging panel. At the demonstration I attended a professional poker player was the third judge.

The two men had an easy rapport: Staib commented that he was glad to be standing beside Burke because it didn't make him look fat, to which Burke quipped, "at least I didn't know Ben Franklin personally." (Staib's not only gray-haired and bearded; he also runs a restaurant that was founded in 1772.) Burke was the clear winner, although not by popular vote-- he might not be a native, but his take on the Philly cheesesteak was flavorful and strikingly plated.

A slab of dry-aged beef sat atop a slider bun, with a heaping pile of caramelized onions (cooked in barbecue sauce) and melted provolone. The beef is aged for 55 days in a room where the walls are literally made of blocks of salt, absorbing moisture and keeping bacteria out. It was tender and though rare, not at all bloody. The mushroom chips were a favorite; Portobellos sliced thin and fried. They're not really crispy (more wilted), but they taste great. Staib made an angel-hair frittata and chicken on a bed of dandelion greens. Dandelion greens are very bitter--it's a strong flavor that needs to be balanced, and Staib's relatively bland chicken couldn't stand up to it. The frittata was tasty in its own right, but the dandelion greens absolutely overwhelmed its nuances.

Walter Staib's Angel Hair Pasta Frittata

1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped red bell pepper
8 eggs, beaten
4 cups cooked angel hair pasta, chilled for 30 minutes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon stemmed and chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in large skillet over medium heat, add garlic, onion, and bell peppers and saute until softened. Put in refrigerator to chill. Stir eggs, pasta, cheese, thyme, basil, oregano and sauteed vegetables in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Heat the butter and the rest of the oil over medium high heat in a small skillet, add 1/4 of the egg mixture, shaping it into a 1 inch thick cake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter with your hands. Cook until browned.

David Burke's Dry Aged Cheesesteak

32 ounces of dry-aged beef, sliced thin
4 slices of aged provolone cheese
1 large onion, sliced
2 shallots sliced thinly, fried
6 tablespoons oil
4 slider buns
salt and pepper

Heat skillet over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pan, saute the onions. Remove oil, add remaining oil, and saute the beef quickly on both sides. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place beef on bun with provolone and shallots.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blog Bites: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that beloved campus food truck Hemo's will open a storefront location before the start of next fall semester

Baltimore Avenue Dollar Strolls, an event with 15 University City businesses offering up one dollar delicacies, will return on June 2 - Foobooz

Foodspotting, a social network and visual food guide, is teaming up with Visit Philly to provide Philly food excursions - Philly Homegrown

Don't mess with Governor Corbett's new health secretary Eli N. Avila, who caused a ruckus at a Harrisburg diner over fresh eggs, culminating in the Alvia screaming "Do you know who I am? I am the secretary of health!" - The Inquirer

Bummer: Restaurant menu prices are climbing nationwide - USA Today

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reading Terminal Market: 1 day, 29 meals

There I was staring at another plastic bag. Another stack of napkins. Another bite I needed to take. For the first time, it seemed as if my eyes were actually smaller than my stomach.

I had 28 of Reading Terminal Market’s famed food merchants under my belt, and just one last one left. The sight of another sandwich and the thought of sinking my teeth into one final tasting was daunting, but somehow my stomach was actually screaming, “That looks amazing, I have room! Promise!” I shut my eyes and bit into the finish line, a chicken cheesesteak with provolone, and fried onions from Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagies and Cheesesteaks. Wow, what a way to end it.

That was number 29. In five and half hours I had successfully eaten 29 of Reading Terminal Market’s most desired foods from their beloved vendors, and I’m proud to say that I didn’t need to be rolled out in a wheelchair.

Mission Accomplished:
(***** = Star Rating out of 5)
1. Bassett’s Ice Cream: Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (****)
2. Lancaster Country Dairy: Strawberry Lemonade (****)
3. Miller’s Twist: Soft Pretzel (****)
4. A.J. Pickle Patch & Salads: Kosher Dill Pickle (***)
5. Beiler’s Bakery: Apple Cider Donut (***)
6. Dienner’s Bar B-Q Chicken – Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwich with Provolone/Mild Sauce (*****)
7. Dutch Eating Place – Apple Dumpling with Whipped Cream (*****)
8. Sweet As Fudge Candy Shoppe – Cookie Dough Fudge (***)
9. The Rib Stand – Ribs with Mild Sauce (**)
10. By George Pizza – Spinach, Tomato, and Ricotta Pizza (****)
11. Chocolate By Mueller – Milk Chocolate Covered Pretzel and Rock Candy (***)
12. Jonathan Best Gourmet Grocer – Diet Lemonade (****)
13. Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties – Falafel and Zatar Pizza (***)
14. Little Thai Market – Chicken Pad Thai (*)
15. 12th Street Cantina – Fish Taco with Guacamole (*****)
16. Beck’s Cajun Café – Gator Gumbo (**)
17. Carmen’s Famous – Chicken Cheesesteak (*****)
18. Delilah’s at the Terminal – Fried Chicken and Cornbread (****)
19. DiNic’s – Pork Sandwich with Broccoli Rabe (****)
20. Down Home Diner – Multigrain Pancakes with strawberry and pear salsa (*****)
21. Franks A-Lot – Beef Hot Dog with onions, relish, mustard, ketchup (*)
22. Golden Bowl – Vegetable Egg Roll (*)
23. Hershel’s – Brisket Sandwich with Provolone (****)
24. Olympic Gyro – Chicken Gyro (***)
25. Profi’s Creperie – Strawberry and Nutella Crepes (****)
26. The Original Turkey – Turkey Sandwich with Cranberry (***)
27. Famous 4th Street Cookie Co. – Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie (****)
28. Flying Monkey Patisserie – Cookies and Cream Whoopie Pie (****)
29. Termini Brothers – Cannoli with Ricotta filling (*****)

It really was a crazy idea. When I planned it, I knew it was a feat not for the faint of stomach. But what is more satisfying than spending the day immersed in a world full of like-minded individuals? Food lovers. From the cashiers, to the patrons, to the individual in the kitchens responsible for making Reading Terminal Market a never-miss spot on any trip to Philadelphia, as soon as you step through one of the 10 doors and into the hustle bustle, you cannot help but love food.

For me, it is a love beyond those four letters. It is to the level of adoration and obsession. It kind of has to be if at any one moment that day I could’ve found myself seated at a table staring at fudge, an apple dumpling, and a pickle, all at the same time. Didn’t I say this wasn’t for the faint of stomach?

Truly, this experience made me realize much more than the fact that I am capable of eating a lot. As I drove up JFK Boulevard, with my best foodie friend in my passenger’s seat, our top buttons unbuttoned, and food babies in full bloom, I realized that the beauty of the day was in the opportunity to share in the culture of the market. Each vendor contributes a sight, a sound, and a smell, that coalesce into that which makes the RTM so wonderful. It is infectious. All one has to do is take a look at the people who work there. They have a pride about themselves that can put a smile on your face… like the Bassett’s ice cream scooper, our self-appointed cheerleader for the day, urging us on each time we passed him by, or Ethel at Delilah’s, filling our Styrofoam containers so full with food she was proud of that we were worried we would need to duct tape it shut.

Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love, and Reading Terminal Market is a representation of that. My city expressed love to me in 29 different ways that day, and it is an experience that will go unmatched. Go see for yourself just what kind of a memories one city block is capable of.

Read more at Aly's blog Gradtogourmet.com.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Italian Market Festival

1 & 2. views of the festival 3. Paesano's Paesano sandwich with beef brisket, provolone, horseradish mayo, peppers, fried egg and tomatoes 4. pina colada from a street vendor 5. cannolis from Ianelli's Bakery and Termini Bros Bakery 6. habenero peppers 7. basil plants 8. tripe sandwich from George's 9. chocolate covered banana

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pub & Kitchen

Whenever any restaurant gets "rave" reviews, it's almost impossible for it to live up to my expectations. I'll admit that it's my own fault for letting those expectations run away with others' often overly generous goodwill. That said, any restaurant that can meet and/or exceed those expectations certainly ends up receiving very high marks in my book.

After several friends brought up how much fun they had at Pub & Kitchen, which is only a five-minute walk from my apartment above Twenty Manning Grill, I decided I had to check it out. I'd walked past it numerous times, and I was glad that I finally had the opportunity to try the food.

While it would've been nice to sit outside on a lovely spring day, zoning restrictions apparently prevent parties larger than four to sit around a table on the sidewalk. (At least that's what we were told.) Instead, we ended up getting a great table for five in the rustic backroom--a space that gets lots of light and offers tons of pub ambiance. And somewhere you can see yourself sitting for a few hours catching up with friends over the events of the day or week.

To start, I ordered the five-cheese cheese plate, which came with cheeses from Australia, Spain, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont, as well as several additional condiments. Our favorites were most definitely the blue cheese from Australia, and the soft cheese from Spain. Both offered a good balance of intense flavor and creamy consistency. The other three unfortunately left us wanting, as they didn't challenge our taste buds at all. And it seemed like we could've easily picked them up at the local grocery store.

Even though I'd been going on ad nauseum about wanting escargots off the menupages.com menu, I was thwarted--as P&K had most likely switched to their spring menu. Instead, I decided to indulge in the black pudding--a combination of pig's blood, pork fat, and spices.  The presentation was simple, with the dish arriving at the table in a small ramekin with an egg on top. The consistency was grainy without being crumbly--a little like moist meatloaf--and the flavor was strong without being too salty, which complemented the soft egg yolk. I was pleased.

Going with four friends, I got to sample, admire, and critique a few other plates as well. The deviled eggs were quite good, and possibly Erich's favorite dish. There was just a little something added that took the dish beyond its staple status. In contrast, we found the chicken liver mousse surprisingly bland, with the sherry aspic not adding very much to the dish whatsoever, flavor- or texture-wise. Thankfully, the side of peas made up for some of the starter shortcomings, being loaded with bacon and all. I'm a bit of a pea hater, but the combination of crunchy sugar snap peas and crispy bacon is kind of irresistable.

After reading a number of food blogs, Maki went for the Churchill burger, which P&K is apparently known for--a custom blend of dry-aged beef from Creekstone Farm. Yet, after much fanfare, the burger didn't produce any sort of overwhelming reaction. It was good, but nothing to necessarily write home about. Jaime went with the pulled pork sandwich, which a close friend had told me was excellent. The dish was actually one of the specials for the evening, having been rotated off the menu but constantly requested back by regular patrons, according to our server. Although the meat was nice and moist, the barbecue sauce lacked salt, which left the flavor muted.

At the same time, we found Erich's beef carpaccio a lot more grey than pink, which is odd considering that the dish is supposed to be close to raw. On the other hand, Peter's fish and chips looked perfectly crispy and flaky, though the plate didn't necessarily seem to blow him away either.

Despite being underwhelmed by the food, I found the atmosphere perfect for catching up with friends. The service was polite and speedy, but didn't make us feel any bit rushed. As with any good pub, I could definitely see us relaxing here again over wine and beers.

With so many friends mentioning P&K in recent weeks, I had to say I at least tried it. And well, now I at least tried it.

Pub & Kitchen
1946 Lombard Street
Between 20th & Uber Streets

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Adsum for Pescatarians

No, I didn’t try the poutine. Nor the Tastykake sliders, newly jettisoned from the menu. Inventive Queen Village bistro Adsum gets a lot of press for its meat--Craig LaBan called chef Matt Levin’s fried chicken “shatteringly crisp,” and the foie gras poutine has been hailed by stoner foodies all over Philly as the paradigm of decadence (you can ramp the cholesterol up a notch with the “Super Poutine,” topped with bacon and a fried duck egg).

My dirty little secret is out: I don’t eat land animals. What can I say; I grew up fishing, but the thought of eating a sweet little piglet or cuddly lamb is abhorrent to me. So I took on Adsum to see how well they performed in the seafood and vegetable categories.

We started with Kumamoto oysters, fresh and chilly. I appreciated the aesthetic addition of the Tabasco pearls on top, but I found the flavor brought more citrus than spice. It’s probably just as well; an over-spiced component could have overwhelmed the delicate savory quality of the bivalves.

The Hamachi appetizer came highly recommended by a server, and rightly so. Cubes of firm, glistening yellowtail peeked out from under a sweet, smoky chimichurri. Smoked soy added another rich component. Diced mango was beautiful, but not intense enough to cut through the smoke. Did I mention smoke? That flavor permeated the dish, lending a meaty quality that made me want to sink my teeth into every last scrap on the plate.

Next came the grilled rock octopus with black pepper caramel. The tentacles were beautifully cooked, chewy but not rubbery. The sauce was a little perplexing; it came off more as a sweet barbecue sauce than either caramel or pepper. I found it a little overpowering for the octopus, which would have been delicious without the heavy, sticky coating. At the very least, a heavier hand on the spice could have balanced the sweetness. But it was certainly tasty in its own right.

In an effort to eat a vegetable (not the easiest thing to do at Adsum), we chose the grilled romaine, Matt Levin’s version of a Caesar salad. It was shockingly tasty; the warm lettuce stood up surprisingly well to its rich, well-seasoned Parmesan dressing, refusing to become soggy. Polenta croutons added another dimension of crisp, flavorful texture. We found ourselves cutting the little cubes in half to ensure we received equal portions.

Deciding against the other large plates in favor of shareables, we took on the mac and cheese with cornbread crumble. I expected a weighty dish in line with Adsum’s more succulent menu items, but was delighted to dig into the unbelievably light pasta. The flavors were luscious and the cheese smooth without being too heavy. The cornbread crumble, which could easily have been chunky and soggy, was instead wonderfully crisp. It perfectly offset the silky cheese.

Torn between whether to order another course or dessert, we decided to do both. Eating more cheese seemed like an apt way to round out the meal, so on came the house-smoked mozzarella with roasted cherry tomatoes (paper-thin ham on the side for my carnivorous dining partner). I can say without much hesitation that it was the best smoked mozzarella I’ve ever had. The hickory chips lent a mouthwatering woodiness to the little orbs, complemented nicely by the acidity of juicy roasted tomato. I found something oddly spicy about the pesto-and-aged-balsamic drizzles; I never could put my finger on it, even with the server’s help.

We attacked the dessert menu from both sides, ordering the chocolate cake with red beet caramel and the apple fritters with cream cheese dipping sauce. The cake was quite good, though a bit too hefty for the meager caramel. The sauce was delicious, sweet and tart, but there wasn’t enough of it to balance out the dense cake. The fritters, however, were perfect. They quickly earned a place on my top five all-time favorite desserts list. They looked like giant doughnut holes, the crispy, sugary outsides breaking open to reveal moist, fluffy apple cake inside. The cream cheese dip was more savory than sweet, akin to sour cream. It lent a strudel-like quality to the fritters when paired together, which ended the meal on a very high note.

And the drinks…oh, the drinks. The Logical Consequence appealed to my Ph.D. candidate companion’s scientific side, and included gin, green tea, dill, fresh lime, honey, and absinthe. The Esteller combined basil with jalapeño-infused tequila to create a refreshing concoction with lingering heat. Wines are measured carefully in beakers (another hit with my partner) and then poured into large glasses; the Garnacha was chocolaty and spicy, a perfect pair with our desserts.

Service at Adsum is friendly and knowledgeable, professional yet relaxed. It sets the perfect tone for the neighborhood. Aside from a slanted table, we had no complaints about the atmosphere. For such a tiny bistro, the tables are fairly well-spaced (though it was rather slow when we dined early on a Wednesday evening). I plan to move back to the East side of Broad this summer, and when I do, I’ll be happy to give Adsum a regular slot in my dining-out rotation.

700 South 5th Street
Philadelphia PA

Friday, May 13, 2011

Best Biscuits

I’ve made a lot of biscuits—from mixes, various cookbooks and blogs, and with all kinds of add-ins. But this simple recipe makes the best. They’re not fancy: there are only six ingredients and prep-time is minimal. And they are delicious. Soft, chewy with just the right amount of slight crunch, they are the perfect balance of salty, a hint of sweet, and that oh-so-heavenly buttery flavor in every bite. Serve them warm and let the smell of butter waft over your kitchen.

3 tablespoons butter
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ¼ cups half and half

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add in the half and half. Add extra flour or half and half slowly if needed: dough should be soft and easy to handle. On a floured surface, use your hands or a rolling pin to press the dough into ¾ inch thickness. Cut into rounds about 2 ½ inches in diameter. Continue to roll and cut until you’ve used all of the scraps. Melt butter, and carefully dip the top of each biscuit into the butter before placing on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden.

Tip: To avoid biscuits that taste tinny (this can happen because of the large amount of baking powder in the recipe), use a baking powder brand that doesn’t contain aluminum.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Tyson Bees

When Tyson Bees opened outside the Penn Museum in December, it generated a lot of buzz: every foodie in Philly wanted to jump on the Korean-fusion bandwagon, and they tripped over themselves to heap praise on the truck's Asian-Mexican mash-up tacos.

Tyson Bees follows in the tradition of L.A.'s Korean taco trucks, which are wildly popular on the West coast, and have recently made inroads both here and in New York. The truck's founder, Tyson Wong Ophaso, is actually Thai (and he's lived in France and San Francisco), and the food he serves up is a combination of Vietnamese, Mexican, Korean and Thai influences. He's very friendly and seems to have a good rapport with his customers. Tyson Bees has vibrant, eye-catching artwork, and on sunny days, it's surrounded by families and hungry college students, all clutching playing cards, which is how Ophaso keeps track of orders.

For me (and for anyone who regularly depends on the University City food truck scene for lunch), though, there are the inevitable comparisons to the now defunct Coup de Taco, which used to sit on 40th street. Especially since, when I visited a few weeks ago, I ordered the Thai Basil Chicken tacos, 3 for $8 (or $3 each). Maybe it's not fair to compare the two Thai tacos--but if you do, it's pretty clear who the winner is. The flavors in Tyson Bees' tacos were sorely lacking. The paper-thin radish slices added a nice crunch, and the lime was properly tangy. But the taco was overwhelmingly bland (and the sauce was runny). There just wasn't anything aggressive or interesting about it. It left me wanting to grab the nearest salt shaker or pepper flakes, in an effort to turn the taste volume up. Maybe my experience was a victim of too-high expectations. In any case, I do plan to give it another try at some point in the hope that my last meal will be proven a fluke.

Tyson Bees
33rd and Spruce St
Philadelphia PA 19104

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spread Bagelry: Montreal-Style Bagels in Philly

After months of anticipation (because I swear they were supposed to open back in January or February), Spread Bagelry (located conveniently across the street from me) opened its doors to customers this past Monday.

As a New Yorker, I grew up with bagels, whether it be the ones from the bodegas and delis right by school, or the ones off the coffee carts outside the office, or the ones from H&H that have garnered national acclaim.

Although I'm not a big fan of bread, I'm almost always willing to make an exception for a taste of something new. And having never had a Montreal-style bagel, I was keen to see how it'd fare against my traditional New York bagel.

To my delight, I thought my whole wheat everything bagel was quite delicious. A little denser and a little sweeter, it contrasted well with the slightly salty Trader Joe's peanut butter cream cheese I slathered on it. Because Montreal-style bagels are made without salt and boiled in honey water, they have just a hint of sweetness--which my sweet tooth appreciated.

While the staff is still figuring out basic things (like how to use the credit card machine), they are very congenial, which is always wonderful to have first thing in the morning. In addition, the rustic quality of the space and the warmth of the wood fire oven are both great draws for potential customers, especially since spring has yet to cling to Philly.

Food-wise, Spread offers a number of scrumptious-sounding seasonal spreads (including Amish Farm Jam and Sweet Farm Butter), as well as breakfast sandwiches, regular bagel sandwiches, and bagel melts. The menu is just extensive enough without being overwhelming, and the fact that the bagelry serves La Colombe Coffee is simply icing on the cake.

While the cost of these bagels and bagel products are definitely (and often significantly) higher than your typical bagel options, they may be worth it given the seasonal, local, and farm-fresh quality of their ingredients. However, I'll need to make it back and try the Bagelry Club before I make any further comments.

For now, if you'd like to experience the latest bagel craze for yourself, check out:

Spread Bagelry
262 S. 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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