Monday, June 25, 2012

Philly Food Events

Qdoba's Summer Savings
WHAT: Philadelphia residents can enjoy their favorite Qdoba entrées for only $6 with Qdoba’s Summer Savings Pass. Qdoba guests can print their Summer Savings Pass by visiting the Qdoba Philadelphia-area Facebook page and use it an unlimited number of times through Sunday, July 8.
WHERE: All of Qdoba’s Philadelphia-area restaurant locations. To find the Qdoba closest to you, visit here.
WHEN: Monday, June 11 – Sunday, July 8, 2012. Hours of operation vary by restaurant location.
COST: $6

Tiki Restaurant Pop-up
WHAT: In honor of the PMA's summer exhibit "Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse: Visions of Arcadia," STARR events and Granite Hill restaurant host a tiki feast appropriately including a whole roasted pig, Hawaiian coffee-smoked baby back ribs, butterfish and macadamia pesto wrapped in banana leaves, molokai sweet potato with caramelized onion and cinnamon rum butter, and pineapple upside down cake. Make reservations by calling (215) 684-7990.
WHERE: The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s East Terrace, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
WHEN: Thursday, June 28-Sunday, July 1, 6-9 p.m.
COST: $48 excluding tax/tip; 10% off with museum membership

Wawa Welcome America! Presents The Taste of Philadelphia 2012
WHAT: Enjoy food, live music performances at the city's annual event. Feast on dishes from restaurants around the city (i.e. Darling’s Diner, Gigi Restaurant & Lounge, Keatings River Grill and Marabella Meatball Company) and city food trucks (i.e. Sweet Box, Lil Dan’s Food Truck, Say Cheese, Gozen Yogurt, Gigi & Big R’s and Vernalicious Lunch Truck). Wine from Blue Mountain Vineyard and beers will also be available for purchase.
WHERE: Penn’s Landing, 201 S. Columbus Boulevard
WHEN: June 29, 5-10 p.m.; June 30, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; July 1, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
COST: Free admission, food costs between $1-$5

Ommegang Hop Chef Competition
WHAT: The third annual Hop Chef Competition is back, featuring Joe Cicala of Le Virtu, Scott Schroeder of South Philly Taproom, Stateside’s George Sabatino, Jason Cichonski of Ela, Rittenhouse Tavern’s Nick Elmi and Jon Cichon of Lacroix. Each chef is required to create and prepare two dishes using Ommegang beers to be judged on five pairing principles: simple pairing, incorporation, mimicking, story telling and experimental.
WHEN: Tuesday, July 10, 7-10 p.m.
WHERE: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut Street (upstairs)
COST: $57.92 with service fees

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Farmer's Markets

One of the absolute best things about summer has to be the revival of the local farmers market. While many areas have farmer’s markets year round, it is no exaggeration to say that the produce literally explodes in the summer. In my native Louisiana, the local growing seasons are often slightly different from other places in the country.  By June, strawberries have come and gone and blueberries have just started to emerge. But if there is anything that early June is good for, it’s the start of eggplants and the glory of tomatoes. Louisiana has some of the most delicious tomatoes in the form of “Creole tomatoes” which can only be grown in certain areas in the state. They are famous for the distinct shapes and meaty flavors. I’ll confess that I spend a good part of the year dreaming about what these real, summer tomatoes taste like and can hardly contain myself when the season rolls around.

On my recent visit to the Baton Rouge Red Stick farmer's market I also saw eggplants of all shapes and sizes. There were small ones, long ones, fat ones, tall ones. Eggplants come in all shades from deep purple to lavender to even white.  Louisiana also has other interesting produce, like the cushaw. The cushaw is a variety of squash native to Louisiana and best eaten sweet, cooked in sugar and butter. I had never seen one before but was excited when I found them in abundance at the market.  Farmer's markets provide the chance to find all kinds of these local treats, no matter which state you’re in.

Regardless of where you live and eat and cook, summer is the ultimate time to find and take advantage of local farmers markets.  If you’re in Philadelphia you’ll find that there is a farmer’s market almost every day of the week in the summer (see below). To find a farmer’s market anywhere in the nation look here.

Farmer’s Markets in Philadelphia:

Tuesdays: Rittenhouse Square, 10 am – 1 pm
Wednesdays: University Square (36th and Walnut) 10 am – 3 pm
Thursdays: Clark Park, 3 pm – 7 pm 
Saturdays: Rittenhouse Square, 9 am- 3 pm, Clark Park 10am – 2 pm
Sundays: Headhouse Farmers Market (2nd and Lombard) 10 am – 2 pm

--Post and photos by Leyla Mocan

A Reason to Shout "Opa!"

Move over, Greek Lady: Uncle Nick's in New York, NY, proves that Greek cuisine is so much more than gyros and souvlaki.

Nothing much has changed since Uncle Nick's first opened its doors in the 1980s, vowing to bring fresh, moderately priced Greek food to the island of Manhattan. The menu boasts a mix of familiar and exotic Greek specialties with plenty of carnivorous and vegetarian options to boot. Family-size portions are large and can easily be shared, making this a true "big fat Greek" experience!

While the meat selection--sliced directly off the spit or pulled straight from the grill--is succulent and flavorful, Uncle Nick's does its seafood best.

Since the true stars of this meal take about 30 minutes for the kitchen to prepare, appetizers are key. Swirling tentacles and chunky rings of barely-dusted baby squid take a dip in the fryer, ready to be popped into your mouth at a moment's notice; the accompanying marinara sauce is an unnecessary addition to these light bite-size pieces. The inherent smokiness imbued in the tender grilled octopus harmonizes well with the sweet and tangy notes of an inky balsamic dressing. Thick slices of fried peppers and eggplant grace the top of a heap of scordalia dip, a a savory potato- and garlic-based blend studded with kalamata olives. The biggest spectacle by far, though, is the Saganaki-Tiri, a wedge of sharp goat's milk cheese that is lit on fire before being placed ceremonially on your table. Perhaps more for theatrics, the cheese is still decadently rich and the perfect warm, creamy spread for the standard bread basket.

What makes the seafood at Uncle Nick's so special is--perhaps surprisingly--the inherent simplicity: your fish of choice for eating; lemon, oil, salt, and pepper for taste; and a charcoal grill for cooking. Fillets and steak cuts of fish are readily available (and excellent choices), but the best way to experience Uncle Nick's is to truly "order a fish": head to tail, skin, bone, and all. As if that wasn't enough food, the gargantuan platter of fish is joined by plates of potatoes, mixed vegetables, and rice. Picking the buttery-soft flesh from the fish bones is half the fun; simply dine on the meat on one side, cleanly remove the spinal cord, and finish it off! For a true delicacy, nosh on the fish's cheeks, which offer the most tender and succulent meat. Devouring the delectable feast makes up the other half. Each bite evokes images of Greece's cerulean coastline, brightened by a sunny sparkle of fresh lemon. The species of fish also contributes its own unique flavor, from the the mild and delicate red snapper to the robust and hearty swordfish.

After cleaning your plate, you surely won't be left hungry, but you'll be ready to come back and try another of their authentic dishes. With two locations in New York (one in Hell's Kitchen and one in Chelsea), there's no excuse to not check out Uncle Nick's.

Check this out for more pictures from my dining experience!


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Homemade Pizza

When I was little, my family used to regularly make pizza together on Friday nights. My mother would make the dough from scratch and would give me a little bit to “knead” which, as a three year-old, really just meant playing with it like Play-Doh. As I got older and life got busier we eventually let go of the ritual of Friday night pizza. On a recent visit home, however, my mother and I once again made pizza from scratch together. Though this dough recipe is not the one that we used when I was a child, we were both really pleased with the results (as were our guests who shared the meal!).  Homemade pizza is also incredibly fun because of the opportunity to use any topping that you can dream up. (The pizza pictured features fresh mozzarella and caramelized onion.) Enjoy!

Homemade Pizza (adapted from Rocco Dispirito)
Makes 2 pizzas

½ tsp molasses
 ¾ cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
 ½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half white)
1 can Muir Glen pizza sauce (I think the canned sauce is good but you can use homemade tomato sauce as well)
Fresh mozzarella (or any other cheese you like)
Other toppings: caramelized onion, olive oil, basil, fresh tomatoes, artichokes, other vegetables, sausage etc.

In a bowl, dissolve the molasses in the warm water. When the water is cool enough to keep your finger in but still warm, add the yeast and mix. Let sit for about 10 minutes, or until the yeast starts to bubble. Add the salt and mix. Add the flour and combine with the liquid. Then, remove the dough from the bowl and turn onto a floured surface. Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth like a baby’s bottom. Lightly coat a bowl with olive oil and place dough inside. Cover with a towel and let sit in a warm place for about an hour or until dough has doubled in size.

Divide the dough into two equal sized pieces.  Roll into a ball in the palm of your hand and then place each ball onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit until it doubles again, about 45 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and place a pizza stone inside to heat. Let sit for about 20 minutes until the stone is nice and warm. On a lightly floured surface take the dough and roll it out as thin as possible. Place onto the pizza stone, prick the dough in several places with a fork and then put into the over for 2-3 minutes. Flip and bake for another 2-3 minutes until the crust is nice and crisp.

Remove crust from the oven, take several tablespoons of sauce and spread to the edges of the crust. Add all your other desired toppings. Place the pizza back into the oven for 6-10 minutes or until the cheese is well melted. Let sit for one or two minutes then slice and serve!

--Article and photos by Leyla Mocan

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Chez Yasmine

Because food trucks are such a large part of Philly’s food culture, it’s always exciting when a new one pops up. Chez Yasmine isn’t so new anymore, but it is certainly one of the newer ones, having only been around for a few months. And it’s on Penn campus, which is even more exciting because it is so accessible to students. So when I received an email about it from the Penn Gastronomy Club, I searched the food truck online, looked over the menu, and finally decided to check it out.

The owner, Jihed Chehimi, was extremely friendly. He welcomed me to the truck with a warm smile, while continuing his conversation with the three people ahead of me in line and putting together a sandwich. He chatted with regulars as if they were old school friends, knowing what they wanted and addressing them by name. He also explained to newcomers the inspiration behind his truck; both the names and the ingredients of each dish represent the places he has lived, worked, studied, and traveled— like Tunisia, France, and Philadelphia. After he finished preparing each customer’s order, he told them to pick a fruit and a mini water bottle to make their sandwich or salad a meal for no extra charge. He then took a picture of his new customers. I honestly found the photo a little strange, but he said he wanted it for a keepsake.

Unfortunately, the food wasn’t as outstanding as the service. I ordered the Wistar: Brie, sautéed mushrooms, avocado, basil/walnut pesto, and herbes de Provence on a baguette. When I got it, I thought it would be warm, like a French twist on a grilled cheese sandwich. But it wasn’t. So the brie was cold, not soft and melted. It was tasty, as well as smooth and creamy. But the rind was left on, which gave it a very pungent flavor. Although the rind is edible, I personally think it overpowers the flavor of the actual cheese, especially brie because it has a mild flavor. However, the mushrooms were seasoned well and the texture was agreeable because they were cooked. But again, I think that they would have been better warm, especially because they weren’t raw. The avocado would have provided a nice cool contrast to the warm, melted brie and mushrooms. However, since the cheese and mushrooms were as cold as the avocado, there was no variation in temperature. Also, the avocado was not evenly distributed, but randomly placed throughout the sandwich, providing either a mouthful of smashed avocado or a mouthful completely void of the ingredient. Finally, the baguette had a nice crunch on the outside, but the inside was a little tough instead of soft and tender. To fix this, I think the bread should have been toasted. On the other hand, the pesto sauce was tasty. It had a bold garlic flavor and was distributed evenly and generously. But the herbes de Provence shaken on top of the pesto sauce were overwhelming. There were too many, providing a grainy texture on your tongue, and tasted heavy on the thyme. Overall, I think that the Wistar is the right blend of ingredients, sans the herbes de Provence, but would only make me come try it again if the mushrooms were warm, the brie melted, and the baguette toasted.

At Chez Yasmine, the food truck experience was much better than the food itself. I would go back only because I would like to support Mr. Chehimi since he seems so good-hearted. You can tell that he really puts his heart and soul into his enterprise. Perhaps something other than the Wistar would be more satisfying. After all, the dishes are very innovative, which I admire. For now though, it is really the owner that has left an impression on me, not so much the food.

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