|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|My funky honey|
In a quality establishment, a typical 1-ounce serving of artisanal cheese with a blingy accoutrement and crisp carbohydrate vehicle generally runs $5 to $8. Though the virtuoso cheese gets butts in the seats, it is often the accompanying spiced nuts, infused honey, preserves or mostarda that coaxes moody fromage into really singing.
This must have been my reasoning when I bought a $25, 8.8-ounce (250-gram) jar of Sabatino Tartufi truffle-infused honey.
It was after the farm-table dinner at Talula's Table; I'll say Bryan Sikora's heady cooking must have fried my food-budget defenses. At any rate, I did retain enough sense to check that the honey did indeed contain the actual spendy fungus and not just 2,4-dithiapentane, the most common chemical compound (marked "truffle essence" or "flavor" on ingredient labels) that's blended with olive oil to produce inexpensive but one-dimensional "truffle oils."
Sabatino Tartufi truffled honey is distributed by Sabatino North America, headquartered in the Bronx. Its ingredient list reads: "acacia honey, white truffle (tuber albidum) 1.5%, flavour." The signature earthy pungency of fresh truffles, chopped and in evidence as a sort of floating plug on top of the golden liquid, is smoothed and tamed by the super-sweet honey.
The complexity of the fungus was highlighted when the honey was drizzled over Black River Blue from Wisconsin (purchased at Green Aisle Grocery, $5 for 8 ounces). The sugary, tongue-coating honey cut through with salty, citrusy blue cheese and the initial funky truffle attack gave way to a long thoughtful finish. The tartufi showed equal ardor for biscuits (pictured) that were too flat to call successful, but too tasty not to repurpose as a scone-like launchpad for other flavors. Sliced hosui (Asian apple-pear) provided the obligatory plant component and a watery crunch to an otherwise fatty plate.
Very well, very decadent. But worth the price? Here's a Bang vs. Buck breakdown:
One absolutely lavish serving of Black River Blue with Sabatino Tartufo truffle honey and Asian pear
One ounce of Black River Blue cheese at $5/8 ounces.: $.63
About 5 percent of the $25, 8.8-ounce jar of truffle honey: $1.25
One hosui pear from Hung Vuong Supermarket: $1
Though 25 clams is a lot of money to spend on a condiment, the stuff elevated the plate from the standard, well-loved combination of blue cheese, honey and pear to a transcendent, money-can't-buy-this kind of moment. Overall you're still saving major paper on a rare and unique gustatory experience -- excellent bang for your buck.
|Photo l James Saul|
|"Simply Honest" with chipotle sauce and "Natures" with pesto sauce from Fino's|
Vegan pizza freak-out in Mount Airy! Fino's Pizza at Germantown and Carpenter serves four kinds of vegan pie, with three different sauces to mix-and-match: choose from pomegranate, chipotle and pesto. We got so stoked on it (and so snow-laden lazy) that we ordered two:
"Simply Honest" is topped with a mountain of roasted veggies: pepper, caramelized onion with flax seed oil, garlic, baby spinach, and cherry tomatoes. If you like spicy, get it with the chipotle sauce for extra chutzpa.
"Natures" is perfect for those in need of protein power, totally loaded with vegan beef and fresh veggies galore. We had it with the pesto, which is an impressive offering in terms of veganness vs. authenticity.
Fino's owner Robert Moezi is a longtime Northwest Philadelphian and has been vegan for 26 years. When asked about the vegan options on his menu, he says "At first, I did it just for me! But then I wanted to introduce this food to other people and show them that eating healthy is not expensive."
In addition to the vegan stuff, Fino's also has an expansive menu for all pizza lovers. Exotic selections like Poblano Corn and Seafood Gumbo can satisfy a whole range of palates.
Fino's Pizza, 6784 Germantown Ave., 215-844-1188
|Photo l Josh Middleton|
|Cupcakes as you like 'em|
Some might say the cupcake market around here is as saturated with vendors as icing is with sugar. Lily Fischer and Erin Bailey sought to set themselves apart by offering infinitely customizable treats with their business, A Cupcake Wonderland. Establishing headquarters from their kitchens in Fishtown, they say their niche is their artistic, boundless approach to baking an array of treats that clients can customize any way they like. So far business is booming. Since their first official day of business in May they haven't seen one day pass without a request for cupcakes in their inbox.
Fischer and Bailey spend their afternoons chasing children at a local preschool, but at night they find an outlet for their burgeoning creativity through cupcake design. They each took art courses at Sarah Lawrence College and The Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design, respectively. They pride themselves on being able to create any type of cupcake their customers can fathom. Some of their favorite concoctions have been dragons, an 18-hole golf course and black, red and white Twilight cupcakes decorated with fangs and apples. Another aspect of their business is baking cupcakes for clients who may have special dietary needs. âNo one wants to be that kid in class who can't have a cupcake because he's allergic to something,â says Lily. Just as easily as they bake regular recipes, they can turn out goodies that are vegan, gluten-free and void of other common allergens, including eggs, soy and nuts.
The ordering process begins by building your cupcake from the cookie sheet up. Choices can be made from a long list of cake options, frostings, fillings and toppings. Then you can either choose to have them plain or adorned with any type of design, which they refer to as a âFlight of Fancy.â When the order is complete they can deliver the neatly packaged goods personally, wearing a cupcake themed apron that resembles something Strawberry Shortcake would have worn in her heyday. Fischer and Bailey have hopes of expanding their self-started business in the future. They recently added kid-friendly, make-your-own cupcake parties to their services and hope to eventually open a retail space with a cupcake bar. Until then, however, they're focused on cranking out the best cupcakes possible from their own kitchens and they're having a ball doing it. âIf you're not making your cupcake with love and fun,â says Lily, âthen you're not making your cupcake.â
Check out A Cupcake Wonderland on the Web, or contact them at acupcakewonderland[at]gmail[dot]com.
Though more than one St. Valentine was martyred before the fourteenth century fad for courtly love turned them into a lace-edged clichÃ©, it doesn't have to be all blood and roses now. The Dark Horse Pub (421 S. Second St.) will host Philly's first-ever Vegan Valentine's Dance and Drinks on Sat., Feb. 13, complete with DJ, $1 off all drinks and vegan appetizers making the rounds in two connected private party rooms.
One hundred percent of the $10 cover will benefit The Humane League of Philadelphia and aid them in their work advocating for animals. Doors open at 8 p.m.; vegetarians welcome.
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Got word that Allison Lubert and Heather Esposito's Sweet Freedom Bakery (1424 South St.) will open to the public next Friday, Jan. 15. The dietary restrictions-sensitive bakery, which we first detailed in October, will offer an array of cakes, pies, cupcakes, muffins, cookies, brownies and the like, all of which will be ï¿½ DEEP BREATH ï¿½ vegan and gluten-, soy-, egg-, nut-, dairy- and refined sugar-free. Both owners (pictured above at September's Appetite for Awareness event) are holistic health counselors.
Tonight ï¿½ starting right now, actually ï¿½ Royal Tavern (937 E. Passyunk Ave.) is showing a little love to the vegans and vegetarians of Philly by populating their famous chalkboard specials board with nothing but vegan/veg dishes. There'll also be some specialty cocktails to mark the event, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). This one-night-only event marks the kickoff of the Royal's anniversary celebration, which we told you about last month.
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
PETA's VegCooking blog recently rounded up their picks for the best faux meatballs in the nation, and Gianna's (507 S. Sixth St.) earned a slot for its "Haastile" meatball sub with sautï¿½ed onions, peppers and mushrooms. A solid pick, but we should also give a nod to the kofta sub at Govinda's (pictured above), which helped us through the hallucinatory vision quest that was The Week Without Meat.
|Photo | James Saul
On a tip from Miss Rachel's Pantry, we discovered that you can find homemade vegan donuts 20 minutes down the White Horse Pike (or a 15-minute walk from Lindenwold Speedline) in scenic South Jersey.
|Photo | James Saul
Jack's Donuts (503 White Horse Pike, Laurel Springs, N.J., 856-627-0431) is a charming greasy spoon with homemade donuts that just so happen to be dairy-free (save for chocolate). The Apple Crumb (pictured) doubles as an insane trip through an orchard of the mind. My partner says she hasn't eaten a donut like this since she went vegan seven years ago, and it takes me back to that fateful box of Little Debbie's Donut Sticks that kicked off my more conversion. Other donuts on deck include vanilla creme (yes, they are vegan!), pumpkin spice and jelly.
|Photo | James Saul|
Jack's also serves up traditional diner farem like omelettes and sandwiches with home fries and endless coffee. It's the kind of place where friends of all eating persuasions can gather 'round the counter and rap over Sunday breakfast. Do it now, while dipping the pumpkin spice in your coffee is seasonally appropriate, and you can still catch some of that Garden State foliage on your trip down Route 30.
Before she opened her all-vegetarian, all-pie eatery Sweetie's Pie Diner, Stephanie Thaw was doing Sweet! Her mini poundcakes and oatmeal cookies are stuffed with organic grains and are only minimally sweetened, but made quite an impression on local eating enthusiasts.ï¿½ Around the same time Thaw started Sweet!, she began running and developed an energy bar to fortify her fellow distance runners.ï¿½ Motley Fuel bars come in four flavors and pack 334 calories, 18 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbohydrates and 10 grams of protein in a chewy, all-natural package that bears no resemblance to the dust-colored clay of a Powerbar.
Try the Mosh Pit Mix of oats, honey, peanut butter, coconut, raw almonds, sunflower kernels, dried cranberries and apricots, semi-sweet chocolate bits and flax seed -- all organic excepting the honey, 'cause who knows where bees go?ï¿½ A portion of the sale price of every Motley Fuel bar benefits Students Run Philly Style, a program that helps city kids achieve success through marathon and distance running training.
Motley Fuel bars are available at Sweetie's Pie Diner (1822 Spring Garden St.), Pumpkin Market (1610 South St.), Cafï¿½ Cret (16th St. & the Parkway), Breakaway Bikes (1923 Chestnut St.), both Philadelphia Runner locations (1601 Sansom St. and 3621 Walnut St.) and in Mt. Airy at InFusion Coffee & Tea (7133 Germantown Ave.).ï¿½ï¿½ If all else fails, order themï¿½ online at RegionalBest.com
|Photo l Michael Persico|
|Homemade gnocchi with pesto, spinach and Parmigiano|
Eating a bowl of fluffy gnocchi, simply sauced with pesto or sage in brown butter,ï¿½ is the equivalent of falling into a soft feather bed.ï¿½ Easy to do and easy to enjoy, but to actually make that feather bed you've got to kill a whole lot of geese and get pretty messy.ï¿½ The analogous pitfalls and time requirements of hand-making pasta has kept me from attempting those feathery pillows until now, when I went on the hunt for the Ultimate Gnocchi Recipe.ï¿½ Prescriptions for perfect pasta abound on the Web; the Food Network came up high offering versions from Emeril Lagasse (who starts with mashed potatoes) and Mario Batali (who has you par-cook the things and hold them in oil until service). ï¿½ï¿½ Further research turned up dozens of other, slightly less corporate sources.
The first method that stood out came from Anna Maria Volpi, a native of Italy who provides step-by-step instructions (with photos) for classic Gnocchi Patate.ï¿½ Her version is as traditional as it gets, boiling the potatoes in their skins and incorporating only flour and salt into the dough (the egg is optional) to create a super-light and incidentally vegan dumpling.
Executing Volpi's recipe resulted in puffed, airy dumplings that came at the expense of a difficut-to-work, crumbly dough.ï¿½ These boiled potato, egg-free vegan gnocchi worked best when cut intoï¿½ 1" pieces from a 3/4" rolled dowel of dough.
The second recipe worth using originates at The Italian Dish, a blog devoted to simple recipe/photo guides to classic Italian preparations.ï¿½ The Italian Dish bakes their Russet potatoes instead of boiling, mixing drier riced potatoes with eggs and flour. This egg-enriched dough held together better and was easier to work with.ï¿½ The gnocchi were also stiffer and took to their sautï¿½ without tearing, without sacrificing the fluff and bite of a quality gnoccho (singluar of gnocchi).
Gnocchi made in a large batch can be frozen and used later, by placing freshly cut gnocchi on a floured cloth on a baking sheet and freezing for 20 minutes.ï¿½ Partially frozen gnocchi can then be transferred to a freezer bag and stored for up to one month.ï¿½ To serve, add gnocchi straight from the freezer to vigorously boiling water until they float.ï¿½ Add gnocchi to sautï¿½ pan containing warmed sauce of your choice; toss to combine sauce with gnocchi.ï¿½ Serve hot, immediately.
To make successful vegan, traditional gnocchi, follow Anna Maria Volpi's technique, which can be modified by using baked potatoes instead of boiled.ï¿½ Bake the 2 lbs. of Russet potatoes for 65 minutes in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven, then proceed with the recipe as usual, omitting eggs.
To make successful egg and potato gnocchi, follow The Italian Dish's recipe.ï¿½ Bake 1.5 lbs. of Russet potatoes in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 65 minutes, until tender to the fork.ï¿½ Be cautious peeling potatoes of their skin; steam released from under the skin can burn you badly.
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