Friday, November 30, 2012

A Bakery Black Friday

New York is the greatest city in the world. As a boy growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, visiting NYC terrified me. Back then, I was very concerned with cleanliness, and that subway forced me to experience my definition of dirty. Tons of sweaty people crammed together, the force of the train constantly pushing them far closer than any strangers should be…it wasn’t for me.

Now that I am older and I laugh in the face of hypothetical subway germs, I see New York for what it truly is: a paradise for anyone interested in anything, as long as they are willing to travel for it. For me, New York is a food paradise. And what food do I crave while on vacation?....and at all other times in my life? Baked goods! Well, also cheesecake, chocolate, and tons of non-dessert things, but still. I traveled around Brooklyn and Manhattan for five hours with 40 pounds of luggage on my back and in my hands searching for cookies, cakes, and whatever else I could get my hungry hands on. When I finally made it to my cousins’ home in Pelham Manor, my shoulders and arms were about to give out on me and all I had eaten for hours was a giant chocolate chip cookie. I saved the other stuff so I could document everything I bought. At least, the stuff that wasn’t crushed during my journey.

The first place I went was Jacques Torres in DUMBO. I got myself a nice bag of his chocolate disks and one of his famous giant chocolate chip cookies. Warm and gooey, the cookie was pretty great. But the homemade version of the same cookie that I wrote about a few weeks ago is much better.

Next I walked down the street to another bakery called One Girl Cookies. I got my first whoopie pie ever and an assortment of little cookies. Pure deliciousness. I am now a fan of whoopie pies for their delicious frosting and their soft, cakey consistency. The little cookies were each pretty great as well, but none really stood out.

I next stopped in lower Manhattan at Financier Patisserie. Regrettably, I failed to take a picture of the cookie/chocolate/pecan thing that I bought and have no idea what it was. Still, it was excellent and I have a strong desire to return to this bakery for more.

The last stop on my trip was La Maison Du Chocolat, which was by far the most expensive of the places I visited. I bought three dark chocolates, each considered a praline for the nuts inside, a piece of their chocolate almond cake “Pleyel,” and a piece of their “Bresilien Pastry.” The Anastasia and Figaro chocolates were good, but may not have been worth the $2.25 they each cost. They do give out a free chocolate when you buy enough stuff, so that very slightly softens the blow. The Jolika, however, was awesome. If you like pistachio, you will absolutely adore this.

The pleyel had an excellent, extremely light and cakey texture, but was less chocolatey than the last time I had it. The Bresilien Pastry was only okay, possibly due in part to it being a little smooshed when I finally got to it, but I wouldn’t buy it again. It was more cream and less pastry than I expected and the mocha flavor overpowered all the others. All in all though, this awesomely decadent Black Friday perfectly complimented the best Thanksgiving ever.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Waffle Grilled Cheese- a scrumptious pinch

One rather chilly evening last week, I decided that it was utterly impossible to traverse across campus in search of food. Frogro, certainly, was out of the question. That left me with two options: order from Grubhub or eat whatever I had in stock. Unfortunately, any delivery would probably take an hour, and I was far too hungry to wait. So, I ventured to my kitchen in search of something edible. However instead of finding any ingredients that went well together, I was met with a rather eclectic selection: oatmeal, white cheddar cheese, prosciutto, yogurt, expired milk, and pancake mix. Although I had eaten oatmeal for dinner in the past, I really wanted something a little more substantial. And, sadly, none of my other ingredients seemed dinner appropriate.

I dismally reflected on my options, for none of them seemed too appealing. Yet, suddenly, I remembered reading an article a year or two ago about a girl whose mom would often make waffles with cheese for dinner. Since I had pancake mix and a waffle iron, I could try to do the same--and I could add the prosciutto as well! While preparing the waffle batter, I had trouble deciding how I should put the cheese into the waffles. Should I place it into the batter, as I would with blueberries or strawberries? Or, should I first make the waffle and then place the cheese and prosciutto in the middle of the two slices?

I decided on the latter. I poured the waffle mix into the iron and let it cook until the steam disappeared. The waffles looked delicious—light, fluffy, and golden brown. I then transferred one of the waffle quarters into a frying pan and delicately positioned the slices of cheese and prosciutto on top. I took the second waffle quarter and placed it over the cheese and prosciutto. Then, as I would with a grilled cheese, I cooked the waffle sandwich over medium heat, flipping it over to prevent burning. Once the cheese had melted, I transferred the waffle sandwich to a plate and dug in. It was scrumptious. The light and fluffy waffle tasted almost like a biscuit. The cheese sopped into each and every hole, accenting the soft texture of the waffle and the crispy prosciutto. The prosciutto did taste a bit salty, however, so I’m tempted just to use regular ham next time. However, the next time I’m in a pinch for dinner, I know that I’ll first look to see if I have pancake mix and cheese. In fact, I may try to be in a pinch a little more—maybe, once a week. Or, even, once a day!

Photo courtesy of the TasteSpotting blog.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Favorite Blondies

Dear Kevin,

I think we should be friends. It’s quite obvious that we both have excellent taste in food, and when it comes right down to it, what better way is there is make a friend than to share a meal? In our case, however, I would recommend sharing dessert. After all, we both have an appreciation for anything chocolate. We both like our desserts warm from the oven – a soft crumb, a moist inside, and a melting scoop of ice cream spreading across the plate. Most importantly, however, we both have the same favorite blondie. It’s true that they were your favorite long before they were mine, but you’ll have to excuse me for spending a few years in the dark. When I saw the post on your wife, Kristen’s blog, and when I saw the photos of the perfect squares flecked with peanuts and oozing chocolate, I didn’t wait long before making them. I assembled the peanut butter and peanuts, the flaked coconut and semisweet chocolate, and I haven’t turned back since. I tasted a tiny square right out of the oven. Yum! I came back for seconds a bit later, and I came back for thirds and fourths and maybe even fifths. (We can keep the exact number to ourselves.) Somewhere in the middle of tasting and savoring and licking the last drop of chocolate off my fork (Yes, I eat blondies with a fork. I hope that’s okay), I realized they were my favorite blondies: that and my favorite bar cookie and maybe even my favorite dessert.

I’m writing this note to say thank you – thank you for having such good taste and thank you for inspiring the post that gave me my favorite blondie. I don’t think I can repay the favor, but if you’d like to be friends, I’ll gladly bake a batch of these blondies. Maybe, if I’m feeling generous, I’ll even let you have more than one.

Happy eating,


The recipe for Kevin and my favorite blondies is from The Kitchen Sink Recipes blog and can be found here. It is also below with a few of my notes added in.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chunk Blondies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (using half whole wheat pastry flour and half all-purpose flour also works)

1 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup all-natural peanut butter

1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup unsalted peanuts, finely chopped (using other nuts works as well)

1/2 cup flaked coconut

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9-inch square pan. If you don’t have a 9-in square pan, you can use something that’s approximately the same size. Just be warned that the cooking time will vary accordingly. The blondies are best thick, so I would recommend an 8-in square pan above a 9x13in if you are going to substitute.

In a medium bowl, whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the butter and peanut butter until fluffy. Make sure that you allow the butter to sit at room temperature for at least 45 minutes ahead of time so that it softens. Add the sugar and mix until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

Using a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the chocolate, peanuts and coconut. Be sure to chop the peanuts very finely. The texture is much better that way. Bake the blondies in the center of the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, or until the blondies have just begun to brown around the edges.

Allow the blondies to cool completely in the pan before cutting. If like me, you’re too impatient to wait, you can cut a piece earlier. Just expect the edges to be rather messy.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins with Hazelnuts

When it comes to grocery shopping, I would generally consider myself a practical person- I almost always buy the generic brand over name brand, I meticulously write out shopping lists to avoid forgetting an item, I even scan over ingredient labels to check for quality. On the other hand, when it comes to baking, I tend to do things that make people question my sanity.
Today presented a perfect example. While munching on breakfast, my eyes were drawn to the bunch of speckled overripe bananas innocently perched on the dining table. Almost instantly, I was overcome with a baking itch. This is not the kind of itch that you can just scratch and it’ll go away. No, this is like the nastiest mosquito bite you ever had; it only gets worse and worse until you scratch yourself silly. Just the site of overripe bananas screamed banana bread in my mind. I knew that I would not be satisfied until I had transformed those shriveled black bananas into a scrumptious baked treat.
I am the type that will go out and buy flour, eggs, nuts, etc. just to save two black bananas rather than just trashing them or freezing them for smoothies like any rational person. Luckily, today I happened to have just enough ingredients on hand for muffins but this is usually not the case. I usually have to go to great lengths to save a few speckled bananas. Many people do not understand the magic of overripe bananas; no sarcasm intended. The blacker the better! Although they may be past their prime for straight up snacking, there is nothing more perfect for baking. They contribute a fragrant banana-y flavor as well as moisture and natural sweetness to baked goods.
For today’s recipe, I created a twist on classic banana bread and baked the batter into portable muffin form. Banana puree and sour cream add moisture while the vanilla and hint of espresso add depth of flavor. Semi-sweet chips create bursts of rich, chocolaty goodness and perfectly complement the crunchy hazelnut topping. The addition of whole wheat flour adds fiber and antioxidants so you can almost feel virtuous eating them.(I said almost. Just overlook the sour cream and sugar.) These muffins are moist, light, and definitely indulgent. Health conscious or not, they are sure to please.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins with Hazelnuts


*1 c. whole wheat pastry flour (can be found in most health food stores)
¾ c. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 c. banana puree (about 2 medium bananas)
1/3 c. white sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 c. sour cream, room temperature
1 egg, lightly beaten, room temperature
1 tsp. instant espresso
1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
¾ c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ c. chopped hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 375°. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners and spray with cooking spray.
Whisk together flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Dissolve instant espresso in vanilla, whisk in banana puree, sugar, sour cream and the egg until smooth.
Gently stir together wet and dry ingredients until just combined.
Fold in chocolate chips. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Top with hazelnuts and gently press into batter
Bake 16-20 minutes or until lightly browned and toothpick comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan before removing to wire rack to cool completely. Nomnom!

Makes 12 muffins

*Can substitute all white flour or use regular whole wheat flour; if using regular whole wheat flour, only use 1/2 c. whole wheat flour and increase all purpose flour to 1 1/4 c.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bloggers' Bites: Thanksgiving 2012 Edition

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures and musings of Penn Appétit's blog staff. For this special Thanksgiving edition, Penn Appétit bloggers reflect on their favorite memories from a holiday that's all about good food.

Zoë Kirsch: Thanksgiving Day is all about the day after Thanksgiving. I say this because in my home, Thanksgiving dinner is almost too much. It's a heaven-sent avalanche of food, hell bent on sending you straight into a coma. My Kentucky-born grandmother and mother pull out all the stops. There's the classic: stuffing, two kinds of gravy (vegetarian and meaty), turkey (light and dark), cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes. There's the Southern regional: pickled peaches, marinated brussels sprouts, and corn pudding. The pair have dessert covered, too, in the form of three pies (Chess, pecan, pumpkin). As the dinner winds down, we pat our bulging tummies and decide no more meals for the next ten years. Cue the next day. The sun has risen, and we can now stand up without falling over. Time for round two. We tell ourselves that the suffering endured last night has made us wiser, and so we help ourselves only to measured portions of stuffing, gravy, turkey, and cranberry sauce. Just those, microwaved and sandwiched between two thick slices of whole grain bread.

Katie Behrman: 10 years ago, my family made a pecan pie for Thanksgiving. I had never had a pecan pie before, but all I had heard that day were my mom’s rave reviews. After consuming a delicious, and plentiful, meal, we first decided to go see the 2nd Harry Potter movie. We left the freshly baked pie on the counter and bid goodbye to my dog. When we returned from the movie, however, we were shocked to see that the pie had fallen to the ground! Its dismantled container rested on the floor, but its contents were nowhere to be found. What could have happened? My dog sulkily came in to greet us, and for good reason. Crumbles of pie had attached themselves to his whiskers and crust lay embedded in his eyelashes. He had eaten the ENTIRE PIE! Crust and all. Somehow, while we were at the movie, my dog had managed to knock the pie off the counter and lick away each and every morsel! Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get to try the pie, I don’t think I would have remembered the taste as much as I remember seeing my dog mope across the room, tail under legs, with little specs of gooey pecan littering his nose.

AJ Winkelman: Thanksgiving, for me, is not about food. Yes, I LOVE ridiculous amounts of moist, healthy turkey meat, but honestly most other Thanksgiving staples are just not that exciting for me. Thus, in my most special Thanksgiving memory, food is an afterthought. That Thanksgiving is the one in which my family and my cousins, who had previously never shared a Thanksgiving, were together. The piles of fluffy mashed potatoes, multiple turkeys, and the pumpkin pie were better than any food I've ever had, not because they tasted better, but because they did what no other food had successfully done before them: they connected our three families, if only for one day.

Laura Sluyter:  With all the lore and love surrounding the Thanksgiving turkey, some may find it surprising that my vegetarian aunt always hosts our family's Thanksgiving feast. I, however, think it's the perfect arrangement. My aunt cooks the turkey (and tofurkey) with as much care as anyone, and she takes the sides to a whole new level. Green beans, asparagus, salad, beets, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, creamed onions, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, dressing, homemade bread, and so on. With a side dish to person ratio greater than one, its no surprise we all leave the table stuffed. At least, I tell myself, it's mostly vegetables.

Krystal Bonner: As a vegetarian, my favorite part about Thanksgiving is introducing my extended family to delicious meatless holiday dishes. As a rule, I steer clear of preparing cooking that attempts to mimic meat (anyone who has tried Tofurky can attest to the prudence of this). Instead, I try to utilize seasonable produce and fresh herbs to create flavorful dishes that everyone can enjoy. This year I'm going to attempt a walnut and apple cornbread dressing (some Thanksgiving jargon for you—it's only called "stuffing" if it is cooked while "stuffed" inside the turkey). Of course, my other favorite part of Thanksgiving are the desserts—no dietary restrictions there other than the size of my stomach!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Uses for Leftover Chocolate (Or: How to make your chocolate chips awesome!)

Last week, when I was writing about my favorite cookies, I shared my disdain for chocolate chips. To reiterate: chocolate chips are too small and result in chocolate being spread too far throughout baked goods. I mentioned that I had a way of transforming these unsubstantial bits of chocolate into something useful. Today I will share that technique.

I call them chocolate layers. They are best used in large baked goods like banana bread or pound cakes, and can turn any dry and unremarkable baked good into a chocolate lover’s delight. One can make them using any chocolate they have, be it in chocolate bar form or chocolate chip form. This does not occur because more chocolate is used; it occurs because with these layers, pockets of chocolate are created which pack a lot more of an impact than teensy chocolate chips. To use them, you break them into strands of chocolate and insert them vertically into your dough or batter, adding batter then chocolate and repeating until there is no batter or chocolate left.

But you didn’t come here to read my justification for making giant chocolate layers. You came here for the chocolate. Let’s do this:

Chocolate Layers

Required Equipment:
-Baking Sheet
-Parchment Paper
-Large glass bowl + A pot to boil water in

-At least 5 ounces of chocolate (darker chocolate works better in baked goods)
-Water to be boiled
-Sugar to taste (Optional, only use if using unsweetened chocolate)

1. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill pot halfway with water. Make sure glass bowl can sit atop pot on its own. Put the pot on the stove and turn the stove to high. Let the water get hot enough to begin steaming (almost a boil) and then turn down the heat just enough to maintain that steam.

2. Add chocolate to glass bowl. If using chocolate bars, chop chocolate into equal sized pieces before adding it. Put glass bowl on top of pot. Note: It is very important that no water touches any of the chocolate. If this happens, it will not melt and the chocolate will be useless.

3. Stir chocolate with a spatula. Do not stop stirring until the chocolate is smooth and completely melted.

4. Pour chocolate from bowl onto parchment paper. Smooth chocolate with spatula to desired thickness.

5. Put baking sheet with chocolate on it into the fridge. After 20 minutes check the chocolate. If it has solidified, it is ready to be used, if not, put it back in the fridge and wait another 10 minutes. Do not leave it in there for too long, it is not good for the chocolate.
6. Chocolate can be used immediately or can be stored for later use. To store it, just put it in a ziplock bag and store it at room temperature. It should not be stored in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Scream, You Scream...

It’s never too cold for ice cream. Even as winter rapidly approaches us, sometimes all you really need is the comfort of a big scoop of your favorite ice cream flavor. Well, look no further than The Franklin Fountain located at 116 Market Street.

New to the Philly scene, I had never heard of this extraordinary place and just happened to stumble upon it by chance. Well, I’m glad I did because never have my taste buds been so happy. From the moment you step foot into this cozy old school ice cream parlor, you are transported back in time—a time when the only kind of ice cream was the homemade kind. So taken aback by the nostalgic atmosphere, I almost forgot to look at the menu. Almost.

Newcomers beware: if you thought choosing what type of ice cream to get was hard before, the Franklin Fountain takes difficulty to a whole new level. First, you have your basic flavors consisting of some classic favorites such as vanilla bean, rocky road, pistachio and rum raisin. If you’re just looking to grab a cup or a cone they are bound to have a flavor for you. Although I must warn you, their portion sizes are quite generous. However, this place gets even more impressive with their selection of sundaes. From the Franklin Mint, which consists of mint chocolate chip ice cream underneath a layer of homemade marshmallow topping, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and a mint infused cherry to top it off, to The Stock Market Crunch, which is a concoction of rocky road ice cream smothered with peanut butter sauce and then showered with pretzel bites, these sundaes are quite the creations. The most impressive has to be their famous Mt. Vesuvius. Living up to its name, the Mt. Vesuvius starts with an enormous bowl of vanilla (or chocolate) ice cream, is then topped with homemade fudgy brownie pieces, bathed in hot fudge, sprinkled with malt powder and then finished off with whipped cream. And if you haven’t satisfied your sweet tooth after conquering one of these enormous sundaes, have no fear because The Franklin Fountain has an array of homemade pies, fudge, an assortment of candies and, of course, fresh from the fountain sodas. I am almost positive that it is impossible to leave this place disappointed.

While there, I opted to get the seasonal flavor of pumpkin ice cream paired with my personal favorite, coffee. It was like a pumpkin spice latte, but so much better. So, fight the dropping temperatures and head over to The Franklin Fountain. If you hurry you may be able to get their latest featured item, The Caramel Apple Pie Milkshake, which is fresh out of the oven warm apple pie and vanilla ice cream all fused into one mouthwatering dessert. I shouldn’t even have to say more.

-- Xandria James


Sunday, November 18, 2012

News Feed: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

• Campus: Philadelphia Chutney Company, Whirled Peace Frozen Yogurt coming to 40th and Sansom! Be sure to check out Midtown Lunch's review of Philadelphia Chutney Company's center city location

• University City and beyond: The Inquirer profiles the owners of Milk & Honey, located at 44th and Baltimore, who've recently expanded the business over the bridge 

• +1: Spencer ETA Burger, the brother restaurant of Sabrina's Cafe at 34th and Powelton, is expanding its hours; check out their eclectic burger menu here

Thanksgiving Roundup: Seven must-try recipes from The Inquirer, a bizarre vegetarian option called the "Veggieducken" from Slate, and Uwishunu's top picks for Thanksgiving dinner at Philadelphia restaurants

• Closings: Both the Union Trust and Butcher & the Brewer are shutting their doors

A Thanksgiving miracle? Foobooz reports that Crumbs Bake Shop is aiming to open its first Philadelphia location at 133 S 18th Street before the holiday

• The Fall 2012 Center City District Restaurant Week was the most successful since the biannual event began in 2003; the next Center City District Restaurant Week begins January 20

Vedge, Chef Greg Vernick winners in Eater's 2012 Awards for Philly 

• Food Saga: Part 1: The New York Times pans Guy Fieri's New York restaurant, Part 2: Fieri shoots back calling the review unfair, Stunning Twistthe Times hosted a 160-person party at the restaurant, Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, the same day the review ran in the paper

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Philly Food Events

Beer vs. Wine Pairing Dinner
WHAT: Chef Michael Solomonov and sommelier Marnie Old are pairing up with Brauhaus Schmitz Executive Chef Jeremy Nolen and owner Doug Hager for a night of sips, suds and German-inspired plates. The evening presents passed hors d’oeuvres and five courses each accompanied by one beer chosen by Hager and a wine option selected by Old. A glimpse at the menu reveals chestnut-stuffed pasta with pumpernickel crumbs and aged gouda, chicken liver schnitzel “BLT,” halibut-stuffed cabbage rolls with passion fruit-mango pickle, confit pork belly alongside turnip-sauerkraut gratin and maggi glaze and lastly, malted pot de creme and chocolate covered pretzel sticks for dessert. Reservations can be made via City Eats here. Note: you have to first sign up for a (totally free) City Eats membership. For more information, call (216) 909-8814.
WHERE: Brauhaus Schmitz, 718 South Street
WHEN: Tuesday, November 20, 7 p.m.
COST: $75 plus tax & gratuity

Burger Palooza 2012
WHAT: Meat patty lovers unite as Burger Palooza 2012 stacks up on Wednesday, November 21 at Yards Brewery. Gathering on Thanksgiving eve, this topping-loaded affair will be a warm-up, or stretch if you will, for official gobble day feasts. Participating food trucks include Chewys, Spot, Street Food Philly and The MOO Truck of Bucks County. Each will reveal three entirely new variations of 1/4-lb. gourmet creations. That’s a dozen burgers and three extra pounds to add to your frame. The all-you-can-eat, four-hour event comes in at $35 a ticket and sees you two foamy pours from Yards in addition to live tunes. Starting this Monday, November 12, visit one of the four trucks listed above and purchase a ticket for just $29 in advance.
WHERE: Yards Brewery, 901 N. Delaware Avenue
WHEN: Wednesday, November 21, 5-9 p.m.
COST: $35 at door; $29 at participating food trucks

Christmas Village of Philadelphia
WHAT: It's time again for Philly's annual outdoor holiday market! Modeled after Germany’s traditional open-air Christmas markets, there are plenty of vendors from whom you can buy wares and Christmas-themed goodies. But the food, you ask? Enjoy traditional German and European food, sweets and drinks like bratwurst with sauerkraut, currywurst, strudels, pretzels, potato soup, landjager and more. You can also stay warm with a mug of hot gluhwine (mulled winde) and a cup of hot chocolate with some marshmallows on top for the little ones. In addition to the official food tent, Chaddsford Winery will sell mulled wine in Booth 51, German Grill will have more traditional German fare in Booth 46, Nuts About You will make fresh as-you-wait funnel cakes (Booth 6), and Helmut’s Original Austrian Food will be located at Booth 61. Check out Booth 13 for German Christmas foods like Lebkuchen (Gingerbread Cookies), Stollen (traditional German Holiday Cake), Cinnamon Stars and Spekulatius (traditional German spicy cookies). More info here.
WHEN: November 24-December 24; Sneak Peek on November 22 (Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Christmas Eve: 11 a.m.-5 p.m.)
WHERE: Love Park, 1500 Arch Street
COST: Free admission; pay as you go for shopping and refreshments

An Uncommonly Tasty 1920 Commons

If you ask most upperclassmen their opinion of 1920 Commons, generally it won’t be very positive- the food is thought to be mediocre at best. I’m not a picky eater, and as one of the few sophomores with a small meal plan, have meal swipes to use. This meant dining at Commons fairly often, and my opinion of the selection was always average, until I got inventive.

Commons food is considerably bland, but as I’ve learned, has unlimited potential. I was recently filling my takeout box with spinach from the salad bar, and wondered about the possibility of actually cooking the spinach leaves. I have a stove in my apartment, and realized this would actually be possible.

I then proceeded to add a variety of raw vegetables, quinoa and grilled chicken. All were healthy, but flavor-wise, none of these foods were spectacular by themselves. When I returned to my apartment and sautéed them together with olive oil, salt and pepper, the result was wondrous. Believe it or not, my Commons meal was actually tasty.

Since then, I’ve come to realize that when it comes to Commons, all you need to do is add flavor. The salad bar is basically a stir-fry bar waiting to happen, and other foods can be improved upon too. For instance, the grilled chicken is generally tasteless, but when I cooked it with vegetables, balsamic vinaigrette, and lime juice, it was delicious.

Freshmen generally don’t have the option to cook, but for any upperclassmen that still have meal swipes and enjoy cooking, give Commons a chance. Putting in a little effort and adding your own twist makes the world of a difference.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Best Cookie Ever?

Big chocolate-chip cookies, small chocolate-chip cookies, giant chocolate-chip cookies stuffed with brownie. I certainly have a type. But, after a trip to Jacques Torres Chocolate in New York over Fall break, I am done with chocolate chips. Have I fallen out of love with chocolate? Of course not. Do I now think that chocolate and baked goods do not belong together? Preposterous. What then?

I have discovered something better. Some call them chocolate féves. Some call them chocolate discs. I call them “perfection.” I cannot fathom going back to regular chocolate chips. Nothing will ever be the same for me again. Chocolate feves even inspired me to melt down and shape my own chocolate for use in baking things like banana bread. However, I will delve into that subject another week. For now, let me share with you the recipe for a cookie I bought at Jacques Torres Chocolate that uses chocolate discs to amazing effect.

If you love chocolate this will absolutely be the best version of the classic chocolate-chip cookie that you ever make. It is perfectly crispy on the outside, chocolatey-chewy on the inside and has a slight hint of toffee. It truly is incredible. I do not usually write about recipes like this (these cookies are not especially crazy decadent except for their size), but I had four midterms this week and this cookie dough was already in my freezer, all ready to go. So without further ado, here is the recipe with a few of my notes in italics: (Note: All pictures here are from the internet; my camera is having problems).

Chocolate Chip Cookies
(From the New York Times)
Adapted from Jacques Torres

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note, linked is the bag that I have)
Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. 36 hour fridge cookies are noticeably better than 24 hour fridge cookies (and, of course, much, much better than cookies where the dough has not been refrigerated).
Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. The cookies spread out quite a bit, be extremely careful when spacing them or the sought-after crispy outside/gooey inside will be ruined! When in doubt, just put in fewer cookies at a time, baking time remains the same regardless of how many cookies are on a baking sheet.
Cookies can be taken out when their edges are golden yet their centers are still pale. If you are unsure, remember that it is better to underbake than to overbake (it just makes the cookies all gooey and no crunch!).
Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Do not skip this step. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.

One more note:

-1.2 oz cookies can be made as well. I only made one of these when there wasn't enough cookie dough for the larger cookies, but I really prefer them. In my opinion, the best part of these cookies is how they manage to be chewy and crispy at the same time, and the issue with the large cookies is that people often split them or just have a little bit. Only by eating the whole cookie can one fully appreciate the crispy/chewy texture. These smaller cookies allow people to do just that without the guilt that eating nearly quarter pound cookies brings (I must admit, I ate about 5 of the giant cookies over the course of the two days that I baked them a few weeks ago. Oh yes. When I am unhealthy, I go as far as possible.) These smaller cookies should be baked 12-14 minutes (a little longer than 13 was perfect for me). With these smaller cookies, the time cookies should sit outside of the oven before they are placed on the wire rack can be reduced to more like ~5 minutes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bloggers' Bites: Pub & Kitchen

Bloggers' Bites is a series of posts chronicling the foodie adventures of Penn Appétit's blog staff. Last Thursday, Penn Appétit bloggers went to Pub & Kitchen.

Ashlee Burris: Going to Pub & Kitchen was my first Penn Appétit blog outing- we ventured across the South Street Bridge for some delicious, Euro-American comfort food. After walking twenty minutes and more than ten blocks away from campus, we arrived at a rustic, warm, yet obscure setting that housed our destination. The eatery was packed; which is typical for a restaurant in Philadelphia on a Thursday evening. Pub & Kitchen does not accept reservations, so we had to wait 30 minutes for a table. However, my meal definitely made up for the wait. Picking it from their fall menu though did require some scrutinizing attention. I classify myself as a food economist- I pick meals off of menus based on quantity, quality and popularity. I don’t like to take too many food risks when it involves a more than moderately priced meal, especially on a college budget. I did a quick scan of the restaurant clientele and easily observed that the majority of people were eating burgers and short ribs. Our complementary appetizers consisted of autumn vegetables and their daily selection of cheeses and bread. Both appetizers tasted delicious. So to switch it up for my entrée, I ordered the burger and was pleasantly surprised. Not only did I receive a large portion of both burger and fries for $18, but also the burger had unique flavoring. It was stuffed with bleu cheese and topped with double cut bacon strips, pickled red onions, and buttered challah bread. The fries were also hand-cut and seasoned with the right amount of salt. I wouldn’t advise a health-conscious person to order this item off the menu, but I thoroughly enjoyed my selection- 2,000 calories and all. I wholly enjoyed my first outing and the restaurant selection. The items on the menu were a great spin on typical pub food with a unique and high end American flare. I strongly encourage more students to try this restaurant; especially on a night after midterms when comfort food is crucial.

AJ Winkelman: My first trip to Pub and Kitchen was an enjoyable one. After a long wait and some tasty drinks, we were finally seated at our table by an extremely friendly waitress. She felt bad that we had to wait so long so we got two plates of free appetizers -- a plate full of unidentifiable (but delicious) vegetables and a cheese plate. I love cheese and am very choosy, but even I thought the cheese was pretty good. Even better were the spreads that came with the cheese: fruity delicious.

On to the main course. I recently decided I would try to eat more fish, so I forced myself to try the trout. First thing I noticed about the dish was how pretty it was. The light green olive oil surrounded a centerpiece of trout, causing me to pause a bit to admire the aesthetics of the dish before I devoured it. Once I finally took a bite, I noticed a little bit too much salt. The olive oil was clearly of very high quality and was very well paired with the trout, but the saltiness of the trout itself threw me off. I would be happy to return to Pub & Kitchen, if only to try a hamburger next time, because as pretty as my dish was, the hamburger looked unbelievable.

Elliott Brooks: I'm embarrassed to say that last Thursday was my first time at Pub & Kitchen. Having heard amazing things about this upscale American-British pub and its lick-smacking fare, I was eager to make the trip across the Schuylkill. Once seated (after our 30 minute wait!) I ordered the warm beet and apple soup. I have always been a fan of borscht, a beet soup found in most Central and Eastern European countries, and was curious to try Pub & Kitchen's borscht-like variation. The soup itself was a beautiful bright red, garnished with apple slivers, a spoonful of trout roe, a dollop of creme fraiche and a bit of horseradish. The soup was thick and almost creamy, although that didn't prevent me from stirring in all the creme fraiche. It had that wonderful sweet-sour tang that I've come to associate with all beet soups, making the trout roe was an interesting combination. As delicious and beautiful as it was, it didn't come close to my Mom's homemade borscht. Worth the $9? Maybe- I haven't yet mastered the art of making beet soup, so for now Pub & Kitchen will have to do!

Pub & Kitchen
1946 Lombard St.
(215) 545-0350

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lost in Translation

Having spent six weeks in France, I wanted to take an entire meal “to-go,” but, alas, neither the French restaurants nor US customs supported this idea. While admiring the Creuset cookware at a boutique in Tours, France, I spied a thin book with the words Riz et Risotto elegantly inscribed on the cover. Herein lay my solution! With this cookbook, I could bring French food home; perhaps I could even become a renowned French chef-- Oh, the possibilities were endless! Sadly, such possibilities vanished as quickly as they had come. Back in the US and suffering from a bit of jet-lag, I mindlessly wrote down the ingredients for one enticing French risotto—“Gratiné au Beaufort”—and ventured to my grocery store, Publix. Once there, I realized that I had no idea what an ingredient, Beaufort, meant— besides that it’s a town in South Carolina. Lacking a Smart Phone and being in Publix, I thus had no way of translating the word with Google. Mon Dieu! I skimmed the remaining ingredients—white wine, shallots, Arborio, olive oil—what could be missing? Cheese! I rushed to Publix’s new fromagerie and asked the attendant if he carried Beaufort cheese. He quizzically replied, “beau-for?” emulating the French accent I had used, “I haven’t heard of it.” I tried again with a slight Southern accent, “Bow-fort? It’s French.” Nothing. So, I substituted Gruyere, another French cheese that I hoped would resemble Beaufort.

Having overcome the issues with translation, I now struggled to convert the measurements from metric units. While in elementary school, I decided that I had no use for the Metric system. You can thus imagine my struggle! Not only did some of my conversions seem rather outlandish (a result which I attributed to the decadence of French cuisine), but others didn’t convert evenly! The oven needed to be preheated to 180°C…356°F. My oven used increments of five. Quelle horreur! Should the temperature be too high? Too low? Anxiety began to overwhelm me, for I always follow directions exactly. The inexactitudes piled up with each step. Add a splash of salt! A dash of cheese when the moment strikes you! Did a splash of salt cause the boiling water to, in fact, splash? How would I know when I felt like adding cheese?! What if I changed my mind? I frantically flipped through the other recipes, but, they too, used this slapdash method! Sacré bleu! My dreams of becoming the next top French chef had been dashed, just like the cheese which I unenthusiastically scattered on the risotto. At least I tried, I thought, as I hesitantly tasted a spoonful. Yet, instead of swallowing something repulsive, my taste buds tingled, delighting in the potency of the cheese and the sweetness of the wine. I excitedly scanned the remaining recipes, happily appreciating their free-style method with every bite. So what if I remained lost in translation for these recipes? For, just as I was lost, the French, too, were lost in the precision of their measurements! Parfait!

News Feed: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

Dining Guide! From Pizza Brain to Magpie, 34th Street is back with its bi-yearly round up of Philly restaurant reviews

• Listicle: Philadelphia Weekly has spotlighted 50 Things You Must Eat in Philly

• Si Por Favor: Check out Foobooz's list of Philly's best empanada offerings

• Newbies: Food writer Drew Lazor highlights the 10 most promising food and drink industry talents in Philadelphia

• Eager to get your Thanksgiving feasting started? Grub Street Philly has compiled a list of restaurants serving up holiday-inspired eats

• Step back cheesesteaks: The Philly meatball sandwich is ready for its moment

• The British are coming! The Insider reports a new English pub is headed for Old City

• Foodmanteau: It's Ketchup! It's Sriracha! It's Srirachup!

• Food meets the election: California rejects labeling of genetically modified food

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Devon Seafood Grill

Devon Seafood Grill, located in Rittenhouse Square, is known for its freshest, high-quality seafood and notable wine list. It is a semi-upscale restaurant (two dollar signs on with a slightly casual atmosphere. I recommend going there during lunch, perhaps on a special day, since you can have a delicious lunch at a reasonable price.

When I visited Devon Seafood Grill, the weather was still warm, so I got to sit at the balcony area, with wide-open windows, providing me with a beautiful view of Rittenhouse Square from my table. This vantage point, and the general atmosphere, made my meal so relaxing.

I ordered "Today’s Fresh Fish” menu, which comes with a choice of a grilled fish and two seasonal sides. The fish all vary in price. I ordered Mahi-mahi ($17) with mashed potato and lobster mac and cheese as sides. Mahi-mahi, as I had expected, was very fresh and tasty. The fish was grilled in a way that made the outer part slightly crispy and the inner part very soft. The fish was seasoned well with right amount of salt, peppers and other spices, so it was perfect for me. Some restaurants over-season their steak or fish so that the only thing I taste is the saltiness, but this wasn’t the case with Devon.

The mashed potato tasted just like any other mash potatoes. I like mash potato in general, so it was a good side dish. However, what made my lunch perfect was the lobster mac and cheese. The macaroni pastas were really big, and I liked the fact that they were not completely soaked in cheese, and consequently not too greasy. I really loved it. Although I had to pay a few bucks more for the lobster mac and cheese because it was a special side dish, it was worth it.

Another menu you could choose is “Power Lunch Combos” ($13). You can choose your main dish from a list, which includes roasted duck flatbread, ahi tuna sushi rolls, and lobster tamale, and it is served with a bowl of soup or starter salad. The same goes with “Power Lunch Entrees” ($18). If the lunch sets do not satisfy you, there is variety of other options available, including sandwiches ($11-$14) and entrees ($14-$31).

Of course, I would definitely visit Devon again!

Devon Seafood Grill
225 S 18th St
(215) 546-5940

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

A Brief Introduction To Me

I don’t think I properly introduced myself last week when I wrote my first blog post here about healthy cauliflower pizza. You probably guessed that I love making “healthy” versions of usually unhealthy dishes. That is my second cooking love. Let me reintroduce myself by writing about my primary culinary passion.

I am AJ. I have never met a (dark) chocolate I didn’t like. Sure, I don’t like Nestle like I love Valrhona, but I don’t think I could ever say any dark chocolate isn’t “good”. Almost all (dark) chocolate is good enough for me, and I don’t think I’ve ever once thought that anything “had too much chocolate.”

My relationship with sugar is not as stable. A moderate amount of refined sugar every once in a while is enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. But there’s a moderate amount of sugar, and then there’s this: a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Red Velvet Cake Pie

Some people can handle massive amounts of sugar. I on the other hand get dizzy, start moving very slowly, fall into a sugar stupor, and begin to hallucinate. Maybe not that last one. So, if I knew a single piece of this thing would nearly send me into a coma, why did I make this monstrosity today?

I don’t half-ass my desserts.

When I make desserts, I always go too far. I am extremely disciplined when it comes to health and food, but make dessert once a week on Sunday. Before that great day, every week I spend HOURS all week planning and researching what ridiculous thing I am going to make next. Chocolate fudge truffle cheesecake topped with homemade whipped cream and strawberries? Been there. Homemade quarter pound “pillow” cookies with homemade chocolate covered brownie centers? Done that. Pie crust filled with chocolate chip cookie dough and red velvet cake? Whoah. Decadent enough. I guess.

I made this chocolate chip cookie dough red velvet cake pie because I happened to have a pound of homemade cookie dough from last Sunday’s dessert day in my freezer, because pie crust is so very easy to make, and because I’ve never made a red velvet cake. I don’t particularly like cake, but I wanted an excuse to make a cream cheese based frosting (I have no springform pan here and I miss cheesecake; this was close enough…or something).

So, that’s enough about me. I love making delicious healthy food, but I also love unbelievably, ridiculously, ludicrously unhealthy food. I also forgot to mention that I LOVE learning about the science behind cooking and baking (I am about to start making my way through this, the new bible of the science behind cooking), but you’ll learn more about that in the weeks to come. From now on -- it’s all about the food, baby.

Check out the photos chronicling the making of this magical and deadly pie:

Pie Crust with Cookie Dough Layered on Top

Red Velvet Cake Batter Atop Cookie Dough

Shameful Frosting Job. AWESOME cream cheese frosting.

See you next week.

Friday, November 2, 2012

News Feed: A Round-Up of the Week's Top Food Stories

• I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM: A new Philadelphia-made, French-style ice cream venture called Weckerly’s is coming soon to the Green Line Café at 43rd and Baltimore

• No complaints here: Federal Donuts owners plan to continue expanding, with as many as 10 stores by 2015

• Quick Fix: The WALK blog has a quick recipe for heathy chocolate mousse using avocados

• Uwishunu is back with two must-read roundups: Newly opened Philly restaurants to add to your must-try list and upcoming restaurant openings to look forward to

Stephen Starr: Food writer Kirsten Henri defends the restaurateur against stuffy foodies' common criticisms

• We're all guilty: Local Philadelphia chefs share some of their commonplace food vices, from Ben & Jerry's Phish Food to Oreos with peanut butter

• Listicle: Philly Mag offers the "21 Best Things to Eat at Reading Terminal Market," which celebrated its 120th birthday this year

• Spuds: A brief history of the tater tot and some Philadelphia watering holes that are serving up the classic childhood food (also check out this recipe to make your own!)

• National Wire: Yelp is launching an “Explore the Menu” feature that displays user-contributed photos of restaurant's menu items

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cake Mania

Who doesn't love cakes? I am a bit cake-obsessed and by a bit I mean constantly stalk new creations of my favorite cake decorators. One of my all-time favorite cake decorators is Bronwen Weber of Frosted Art Bakery in Dallas, Texas. I first discovered her during her many stints in Food Network Challenge. I found myself always rooting for her as she created some of the most incredible cakes I have ever seen, on the spot and within a time limit. What draws me to her cakes so much is the attention to incredible detail, how life-like her cake sculptures are, and how intricate and beautiful the overall designs of her cakes are. You can check out some of her amazing creations here.

Another favorite cake designer: Colette Peters of Colette's Cakes in New York, New York. While I first fell in love with her artistry during her witty banter with Duff Goldman during Food Network Challenges, I continued my taste for her cakes because of their magnificence. I cannot forget when she squared off with Duff during the "Mystery Cakes" challenge. While Duff's cake was incredible in design, the execution unfortunately did not turn out copasetic. On the spot, Colette was able to perfectly execute a "Fishing" themed cake and beat out her fierce competitors. It was then that my love for her skill was solidified.

And I cannot possibly do an introduction to my favorite cake designers post without the aforementioned cake genius that is Duff Goldman of Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, Maryland. Duff's ability to create the most interesting, jaw-dropping cakes is unmatched in the industry. His willingness to take chances and make cakes that possibly no one else would ever attempt is inspiring. I will never forget the awe I experienced when I saw the episode of "Ace of Cakes" in the first season entitled "Wedding Cakes and Headaches." In this episode, Duff created a birthday cake for his father in which he had fireworks come shooting out of it. Not many would attempt such a cake but Duff was excited for the challenge. If you want to admire extreme yet beautiful cakes, Duff would be your guy! Check out some of his cool cake sculptures and more here!
Courtesy of:

Taste the Celebration

When I was in first grade, I became obsessed with fairies. I had a fairy house – think dollhouse – outside, and I spent hours making furniture out of twigs and delectable fairy delicacies out of flowers. So of course, when the leaves began to turn and my birthday planning began, I asked for a fairy themed party. My mom and I planned fairy games, crafts, and costumes, and after I submitted my request for lemon cake and vanilla icing, my mom planned the cake. On the day of my party, as all my classmates sang “Happy Birthday,” my mom carried a beautiful fairy to the table – my favorite lemon cake forming the giant domed skirt of a repurposed Barbie doll with a blue icing bodice and wings.

When I was little, I always wanted plain lemon cake, but the shapes my mom created each year stole the show. Koala bear faces and teacups for me, footballs and train tracks for my brother: food coloring, carving, and lots of love. Ever since I can remember, birthday cakes have been a big deal in my house. At some point along the line, the cakes became simple round layers, and I shifted my allegiance from lemon cake to chocolate with a year or two of carrot cake limbo in between. Nevertheless, I still see birthday cakes as the center of the celebration – a birthday necessity made to order.

This year, I was lucky enough to be home for my mom’s birthday which meant that I had the all-important honor of baking her cake. Not surprisingly, she asked for chocolate cake and in particular for what has become our favorite chocolate cake from Bon Appétit. Considering the multitude of chocolate cakes we’ve tried over the years, that’s quite a compliment. With a moist and fluffy crumb, the cake melts deliciously in your mouth.

Cake decided, it was time to choose the icing to top it off. To the great satisfaction of my taste buds, my mom selected chocolate ganache. With its fancy French name, I used to think ganache was a difficult and sophisticated preparation reserved for restaurant desserts. Luckily, I discovered before too long that it is remarkably easy – requiring just a quick whisk of warm cream and chopped chocolate. Even more importantly, it is lick-the-bowl, never-eat-store-bought-icing-again kind of good.

When I carried the cake to the table on my mom’s birthday, it wasn’t quite as showy as the fairy of years ago. It didn’t feature food coloring or carving. It wasn’t colorful or creative. But it was just as delicious as any birthday cake before and it was baked with just as much love.

My favorite chocolate cake recipe can be found here on the Bon Appétit website. Oddly enough, I’ve never made the cream filling or ganache recipes that are paired with the cake, but I think you’ll love the cake regardless of the fillings and icings you choose.

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