Archive: November, 2008
Locked away in hot-box kitchens, chefs work surrounded by enviable amounts ofï¿½ food. Berkshire pork belly, torchon of foie gras and delicately tourneed organic vegetables are their stock and trade, and they all nosh on ends of tuna loins and the odd scrap of braised lamb shank while creating the plates that delight diners. Itï¿½s a sweet perk, almost making up for the aggravating servers demanding sauce on the side on behalf of their discerningï¿½ tables.
No matter what type of cuisine or how haute the raw materials, there are days when you just canï¿½t eat the stuff anymore. Pizzas are delivered to the kitchen doors of four-star restaurants; takeout sushi is smuggled into the reach-in fridge. The chefs of Philadelphia shared some more of their secrets with Meal Ticket after we outed them in this weekï¿½s Top 5: Chefï¿½s Guilty Pleasures, which features Supper's Mitch Prensky, Marigold Kitchen's Erin O'Shea, Cochon's Gene Giuffi, Root's Christopher Hora and Snackbar's Joshua Homacki.
Some additional toques gave us bonus content, revealing the things they love that you wonï¿½t ever, ever find on their menus after the jump. No shame here ï¿½ just share that Frito Pie.
- Mitch Prensky (Supper, 926 South St., 215-592-8180)
Chef/co-owner of South Streetï¿½s cozy boite Supper, Prensky divulged a list of guilty favorites that he termed ï¿½a cathartic food therapy session.ï¿½ The uber-processed ingredients in a few of these are the diametric opposite of the clean flavors and sparkling local produce he favors at his restaurant. "I hope I haven't embarrassed myself," says Prensky. "Oh well. No matter."
A plain bagel (untoasted) with cream cheese and crushed bbq potato chips (Wise brand only) sandwiched inside (the
more potato chips you can fit inside the better).
Hot pastrami and chopped liver on rye with sliced pickles, onion and chicken schmaltz spread on the bread (this is only guilty if you care about your cholesterol level).
Fritos Pie (sorta like nachos). What you do is place a bag of Fritos on a plate and open them down the middle and open the bag like a pouch. Top with chili, Cheez Wiz (which should have its own guilty pleasure category!) and sour cream. Heat in the microwave and eat with a spoon.
Peanut butter, banana and marshmallow fluff sandwiches on Wonder Bread.
- Subhash Sarpal (Palace at the Ben, 834 Chestnut St., 267-232-5600)
Chef Sarpal of PatB plays his guilty pleasures pretty close to the vest. For a guy who indulges his guests in the cream, ghee and perfumed spices of Indian fare, his own edible vice of choice is simple. ï¿½Chinese takeoutï¿½ was his pithy, evocative answer.
- Valerie Erwin (Geechee Girl Rice Cafï¿½, 6825 Germantown Ave., 215-843-8113)
At Mount Airyï¿½s Geechee Girl, Erwin builds upon the traditional rice dishes of the American South with Chinese, Thai and other world influences. She confesses to two food weaknesses ï¿½ McDonaldï¿½s french fries and any kind of ice cream.
I really don't eat most fast food ï¿½ Iï¿½haven't had a hamburger at McDonald's in 35 years. I do, however, love McDonald's french fries and will sometimes make a special trip to get them. My other "guilty pleasure" is ice cream, especially those custardy, rich premium brands like Haagan-Dazs. This, despite an egg allergy and sinus problems that would indicate avoiding dairy products. My sister, with whom I live, says that when we first got our house, she experimented with buying different flavors of ice cream, trying to find one that I didn't like and therefore wouldnï¿½t finish before she got home. She hit pay dirt with coffee ice cream. I didn't like coffee and left the ice cream alone. But eventually my ice cream addiction got the best of me and I learned ï¿½ much to my sisterï¿½s consternation ï¿½ to like coffee ice cream. And, you guessed it, I finished it before she got home. These days I like coffee ice cream and I even love drinking coffee
- Ian Moroney (Pumpkin, 1713 South St.,ï¿½ 215-545-4448)
Chef and co-owner of Pumpkin on South Street, Moroney wins for the most prosaic guilty pleasure that also manages to be the most shocking. When pressed for his favorite food weird food indulgence, this is what he hit us with. "Soggy cereal ï¿½ Captain Crunch. I just like it! I've loved it since I was a kid. I might as well say I like to eat feces, 'cause the reaction I gaet is similar."
- Peter Karapanagiotis (Privï¿½, 246 Market St., 215-923-8313)
Though heï¿½s put in time at Brasserie Perrier before taking over new small-plates spot Privï¿½, Karapanagiotisï¿½ guilty pleasure is about as unpretentious as it gets. ï¿½Corndogs and tater tots,ï¿½ the chef says, laughing. ï¿½Theyï¿½re amazing. We go to North Bowl and get corndogs and tater tots.ï¿½
SNACK TIME: Yes we did (make pizza), spelting bee, a cocktail even Pat Burrell would love, creating anew from maki materials, Day of the dead Bread, unpalatable at any speed, how to avoid home kitchen nightmares
Every Wednesday, we poke around the food blog world to see what's simmering.
- "Even if this pizza design is not palatable to your political tastes, the crust recipe is still tasty," says Matzo and Rice of their Obama logo pizza. How topical and topping-ful.
- Livia of No Counterpace deviates from her usual Metropolitan Bakery pumpernickel and discovers their smashing spelt bread. She also drops into the new Cafe Clave, which we first told you about here.
- Over at A Food Coma, Alexandra is mixing up a Phillies-themed pomegranate martini. It's never too late for celebratory imbibation. (Is that a word?)
- What the hell do you do with the leftovers from a sushi party? Jovialism knows.
- CP contributor Amanda McKenna gets into Dia de los Muertos by baking festive bread and decorating sugar skulls.
- Between the Phillies, Obama and Cali voters supporting Prop 2 (combating commerical animal cruelty), Urban Vegan can't contain herself. She celebrates by whipping up a raspberry swirl poundcake with limoncello glaze.
- Apparently, Ralph Nader's mother's hummus recipe is way too garlicky.
- Epicurious has posted dinner party tips from none other than Gordon Ramsay.
|Abongo Malik Obama & Rob Crilly|
Reporter Rob Crilly for the UK news source Times Online traveled to Kogelo, Kenya to join President-elect Barack Obama's family for an election eve feast. In proper guest form, Crilly brings a contribution to the meal.
There's only one thing to take to a Kenyan election victory feast: a goat. Preferably still breathing — "a sign of freshness" — and with big testicles, apparently the sign of quality breeding.
"This is a fine animal," said Abongo Malik Obama, at the lush family homestead in the far west of Kenya, surrounded by grazing cattle and fields thick with maize. "You are certainly welcome now to stay and sit around the fire tonight." By then John [Ed: John is the goat] will be nyama choma — the Swahili term for grilled meat.
Everyone in Kolego had been invited to stop by the Obamas for an open house, to join in the meal of bulls, goats, sheep and chickens. Traditional nyama choma is meat grilled or roasted, and is a very popular dish among East Africans, according to The Congo Cookbook. The most famous restaurant in Kenya is The Carnivore, serving "every type of meat imaginable" grilled over charcoal. As the Obamas break bread (and goat) together, the celebration of their "lost son's" victory continues all over Kenya.
Kiprotich arap Kirongo, from Nairobi, commented on the article, which described American flags waving from trees and taxis in Kogelo.
Goat is eaten all over the world, from East Africa to Thailand. Here in Philadelphia, goat has been increasing in popularity among chefs bored with more familiar proteins. A May 2007 New York Times article deemed goat "the new duck" in an article about Philadelphia chef Marc Vetri. Meal Ticket/CP food editor Drew Lazor prefers the goat at Cantina Los Caballitos, a reliably moist heap of shredded, roasted goat meat strongly seasoned with whole cloves of garlic.
The President-elect himself has not expressed a goat preference. He's been photographed on the campaign trail eating apples of his own will; beer and chicken wings only to be polite. Naturally, most Philadelphians lean tothe left, toward the wings ... but there's always time to expand your worldview through a few goat tacos at El Zarape.
|Crappy Cell Photos | Drew Lazor|
Philadelphia Brewing Co. was also in the house handing out free pint glasses. I left mine on the bar by mistake. Dammit!
B.A. Nilsson, restaurant critic for the Metroland alt-weekly in Albany, New York, recently tapped Meal Ticket for restaurant suggestions for a weekend trip to Philadelphia. We came up with a big list of destinations, and he went for it. Check out his full eating recap, with photos, below. —Drew Lazor
This is about dining in the age of the GPS, making it possible for a
hungry out-of-towner to graze across the length of several
neighborhoods during the course of a weekend. Thanks to my daughter
Lily's recent passion for Panic at the Disco, her mother and I were
bringing her to Philadelphia, one of the stops on the band's Rock Band
Tour, and Susan, my wife, generously relieved me of any need to sit
through the show.
I review restaurants for Metroland magazine, the alt-newsweekly published in Albany, NY. It's an area that struggles to achieve any multi-ethnic culinary variety, and often seems like the red-sauce capital of the universe. Right now we're being inundated with Japanese steakhouses, provoking the fear that I'm doomed to an eternity of forcing a chuckle at little plastic squeeze-dolls pissing on teppanyaki flames.
Why not see what Philadelphia has to offer? There’s a strong collegial feeling among alt-weekly writers, so I sought the advice of Drew Lazor. I’ve been so consulted in the past, and Drew, it turned out, also has turned to a far-flung counterpart. He and Felicia D'Ambrosio put together a list
After depositing the family at the Spectrum’s Pattison Street entrance, I continued north for a taste of the grilled octopus at Dmitri's. Here’s where the GPS got wacky. Instead of sending me to Queen Village along the river, I was led through a maze of one-way residential streets, each block ending in a stop sign, traffic light, or, as far as I could tell, free-for-all. And the tiny dining room of my destination was packed, the sidewalk thick with waiting customers. It was approaching 7. I couldn’t imagine the crowd thinning too soon.
On to Chinatown. The route was more direct, but parking on the narrow streets eluded me. I dropped the car at a for-pay lot where it was crammed into an array that couldn’t possibly be untangled when I chose to depart.
|Pork kidneys at Potluck Café|
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
I had the rest of it wrapped, and carried it a short distance down N. 10th to the Potluck Café. We’ve got a million of these tiny storefront takeout joints in my area, but none offering "Frog with Three Kinds Mushroom in the Hotpot." I like to boast of epicurean adventurousness, but that was daunting. Presented with tasty morsels of salted chicken as I studied the menu, I settled on pork kidneys with hotbean paste.
"They make their own hotbean paste," Darren Finizio told me. "It's excellent." He was dining at an adjacent table, and couldn’t extol the Potluck too highly. “I’m the one who told Drew Lazor to review this place,” he said. My conclusion: If I'm going to eat kidneys, let it be in a hotbean paste. But with lots of rice.
I marveled at the parking attendant's skill at vehicular Tetris, quickly bringing my car to the head of an exit lane. I wanted to get to Indonesia. I was eager to sample fare from Ethiopia or Eritrea. And I was running out of hunger. I drove a short physical distance for a huge change of neighborhood, and entered Wazobia for a Nigerian meal.
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
And then pathetically addressed each item individually, forking into my face a bit of this, a bit of that. "This is Nigerian food," explained a man named Peter, taking pity on me. "You mix it all together, that's how it's supposed to be eaten." Then he launched into a fascinating comparative survey of African cuisines, describing so many unfamiliar aspects that I failed to follow much of it. He even left me with his phone number should I wish to learn more.
Still trying to pace myself, I added this fresh round of leftovers containers to the car and journeyed south. A navigational pattern was emerging. No matter where I headed, once the GPS signed off and left me in front of the restaurant and I continued on to find parking, I ended up on Broad or Market St. with City Hall looming in front of me. You can’t fight it.
Had I done more research, I would have discovered that the recently reopened Minar Palace closes Saturdays at 7. It was well past 9 when I read the sign on the door. My luck continued lousy: Vic Sushi had just closed when I neared the place, taking my hope of sushi with it, and the walk to Almaz Café also proved fruitless — I missed the place by minutes.
|Zilzil tibs at Almaz Café |
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
|Carnitas tacos at Distrito|
|Photo | B.A. Nilsson|
"I used to work for the chef when he had a restaurant in Chicago," our server, Jessica, told us. So she contrived to move to Philadelphia to work here. "He's honestly the nicest, most generous chef I've ever known."
"We could move to Philadelphia," my wife observed as we strolled back to the car, adding, with the braggadocio of the infrequent drinker, "and I'd have a margarita every day." And why not? I enjoyed the food and the friendliness and was confident that I’d soon solve the mystery of parking. And I felt like I was beginning to know my way around the city, so I set off for the hotel without bothering to set the GPS, looping around City Hall a couple of times before returning to that instrument's surety.
|Scrub, scrub, rinse = more loot. |
I stumbled across the Web site Pioneer Thinking while researching ways to save money, and Jill Cooper's article "Dirty Dishes Cause Debt" stopped me in my cybertracks. Going out to eat, even when you can't truly afford it, is common amongst Americans. I am a slave to restaurants; when I'm not working in one, I want to be in one. I used to attribute it to spending too many hours scraping other people's plates, fetching other peoples' iced teas, and heading off to work at 5 p.m. when the rest of the world was on their way home. Like all good addicts on the road to recovery, I'm admitting I have a problem. And I'm not alone.
Cooper states, "Most people don't want to face the real causes of their debt. Their biggest problems are the things they like the most. Going out to eat is one of the top five causes of debt."
Keeping your kitchen empty of dirty dishes is the key to saving money. This is probably the #1 way to start getting out of debt. Most people are so overwhelmed with piled counter tops and dirty dishes that they would rather go out to eat than face a dirty kitchen. Do the dishes after every meal...Clean up as you go. If your sink is empty and the dishes are washed, your kitchen always looks good. This helps you save money because you have time and space to cook.
Chefs and restaurateurs can flame away: If you want to save money, you better learn to eat in. Restaurants were a treat for our parents; a special destination. When I was a kid, I thought Sizzler was a seriously expensive outing — that make-your-own-sundae bar was impossibly luxe. But for the past 20 years, farm subsidies and cheap fuel have kept food prices artificially low, and the number of casual restaurants has exploded. With belts tightening at every income level and exponential increases in the cost of food commodities, this glut of restaurants are in for the same tough year as their customers.
If you find yourself on the scary end of a pile of credit card statements, take the first step in the right direction. Pick up a pair of cheery yellow Playtex gloves and wash those dirty dishes.
|Mealworm jun with crickets|
|Henry Hong | Baltimore City Paper|
Much as it pains us, we are not the only City Paper around. Baltimore is home to a doppelganger alt-weekly that, to our continued agony, scooped up the citypaper.com URL just seconds before we did. The second-class ".net" designation is a chip we will wear on our collective shoulder forever.
Moving on: Baltimore City Paper serves up some pretty tasty food features and has the lowdown on the hippest restaurants in that crab-tastic metropolis. In her Eat feature "Meal Cricket," Violet Glaze seeks to solve the world's protein crisis while assuaging her sort-of-vegan guilt by farming and cooking up insects.
When you examine the data, eating insects looks like the solution to all our food-supply ills. Insects are cheap, plentiful, nutritious (full of protein and trace minerals, with only a smidgen of unsaturated fat), and raising them is ecologically sound. It takes 100 pounds of feed to raise 45 pounds of cricket meat, as opposed to the incredibly wasteful ratio of 100 pounds of grain to every 10 pounds of beef. Also, raising insects doesn't require a landscape-bespoiling, water-guzzling, manure-caked feedlot — just an aquarium with a lid, plus food and water. Practically every culture and every nation in human history has eaten insects, either intentionally as main dishes or as stowaways in the grain supply.
The article leads the reader on a merry chase through Glaze's attempts at farming crickets (not so successful) and managing mealworms (slightly better results). She winds up in a friend's restaurant, where the insects are stir-fried in a wok and merged into a scallion pancake (jun). Initial taste-test results are encouraging:
A funny thing happens when you're about to eat an insect for the first time. Your hand involuntarily jerks back a few times on the way to the plate, as if your brain is saying, "Whoa, cowboy--you sure you want to eat that?" There's a pregnant moment when you're about to pop it in your mouth, a feeling that there's no turning back from this culinary rubicon. Then you leap into the abyss . . . and land in a big feather bed. Crickets taste good...They have that singed, crispy protein flavor that's essential to the bouquet of pork rinds, with a delicate, savory sweetness that's not unlike what we associate with shrimp, except without the salt water/iodine tang of seafood. Our faces registered with astonishment at how good they were as we popped another toasty, savory handful in our mouths.
Having consumed wok-fried crispy crickets and mealworms, Glaze begins to realize that perhaps insects alone won't save our stressed food chain.
Here's the hard truth about eating insects: Your limit is about a dozen. You can put them in casseroles, you can fry them up in pancakes, you can gussy them up like haute cuisine and serve them with shots of soju strong enough to anesthetize a horse, but at some point your brain intervenes and, without any overt retching or revulsion, you just decide you've had enough. Even the most unsqueamish carnivore, the kind of person who shlucks down raw oysters and happily chomps his way through liver and sweetbreads would hesitate at the heaping two cups of crickets you need to approximate the protein value of a skimpy hamburger patty.
Violet Glaze, we salute your brave foray into alternative proteins, even if they can't save the world. If crickets with chili oil and sea salt ever make the menu of our most progressive Philadelphia restaurants, we'll order up, close our eyes, and just think "pork rinds."
In my soporific little hometown of Bel Air, Maryland (about 80 miles south of Philly), beer and liquor is sold in one store (and it's so, so cheap), jacked-up, mud-splattered Jeep Wranglers rule the unnaturally wide roadways and the only things outnumbering the big-box chain restaurants are the gigantic McCain/Palin signs stabbed into peoples' pristine lawns.
There's also this old Exxon gas station that a guy named Richard converted into a seafood shack. As you can see from the first picture above, Richard did not take very many aesthetic steps to make his business appear more like Harford County's blue crab-steaming HQ than an unleaded refueling station. But that's OK — he's got fresh oysters.
My girlie and I made a pitstop at Richard's during a weekend trip to visit one of my oldest friends who celebrated the big 2-5 on Halloween. The Lazor household is huge on oysters, so we scooped up 48 in total — a dozen Chincoteague salts from Virginia, a dozen blue points from Long Island and two dozen Jersey salts, which many Philly-area seafood fans are familiar with — to share with mi familia. Moments after we proudly strutted through the door with our soaked-through, smelling-like-the-shore paper sack of shells, my mother popped in with another two dozen Jersey salts. Also from Richard's.
What the hell do you do with 72 OYSTERS?
Get to shucking, kids.
I'm a total noob when it comes to all this, so I let my dad clue me in to the process. He busted out a short, flat wood-handled knife that he admitted was designed more for clams than oysters. ("The purists are probably going to call you out on this," he told me.) On paper, the process is simple. Using a rag or glove to steady the oyster, find the space near the rear "hinge " — where it comes to a point — slide your knife in as far as you can get it and twist. It should pop open with a sound eerily similar to the noise that comes from a vacuum-sealed tube of Pillsbury crescent roll dough when you strike it against the edge of your kitchen counter. I watched my pop run through a good two dozen with minimal effort.
"This doesn't look so bad," I thought to myself. Foolishly.
I stabbed myself soooo many times. The problem is not the knife, though — it's the damn shells. These things are killers. I sliced open my hand in at least five places as I struggled to half-shell a mere dozen. After stoically refusing to don a bulky oven mitt (my mom's idea), I opted for a dishrag to hold my great-with-fresh-squeezed-lemon enemies in place. But of course, the rag got progressively wetter the more I shucked, as did the cutting board I was using as a support, causing my digits to flail and scrape over every rocky unforgiving nook and bastard barnacle. This shit is not easy!
After shedding a good amount of blood, though, I started to get the hang of it a little bit, and managed to run through about 20 before stopping to properly dress my wounds. That pop sound is definitely one of the most satisfying noises I've heard in a long time. (That's what she said) When I order oysters out somewhere, servers and bartenders almost always take great care to describe origins and flavors, information I pay especially close attention to because I'm a nerd. With my own go-round, however, I just slurped and slurped and slurped, aided by a great homemade mignonette whipped up by m'lady, never quite noting the subtleties between the different varieties. They all tasted like the ocean and they all tasted great.
I have newly acquired respect for the mother shuckers at my favorite restaurants. Here's to you, flat-blade-wielding sirs and madams. May your hands forever remain cut-free, and may your demeanor stay as salty as an oyster scraped from the bottom of the Choptank River.
|Photo | Felicia D'Ambrosio|
As the trees shed their summer green and dress, instead, in flaming scarlet and tarnished gold, the tables at the farmer's market are growing greener.
Leeks, apples, kale, pears, fennel, cabbages and hardy fall herbs dominate at Philadelphia-area markets; the color drained from the landscape reborn through the dirt. The key to eating cheaply and well is to use what is abundant- don't fret the lack of strawberries; rejoice in the bounty of pears. That said, sometimes you end up with a mighty sack of some vegetable you have no idea what to do with. In my crisper drawer, I swear the apples are multiplying, and stalks of leeks lie suggestively together, daring me to tear them apart.
Marrying these two off seemed the only safe option. Kissing cousin to the hot onion and pungent garlic, leeks are possessed of a milder, sweeter onion flavor and taste smashing cooked in butter (or bacon fat, for the unapologetic.) They are brilliant with eggs, crowning a burger, or gently steamed and dressed with vinagrette. Crisp and meant for eating out of hand, Honeycrisp, Gala and Granny Smith apples only need to be sliced down and added raw to salads and sandwiches, like an Apple-Leek Grilled Cheese.
Directions for cleaning and sweating leeks after the jump, along with the method for Apple-Leek Grilled Cheese.
|Butter the bread, not the pan, for ultimate goodness.|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Cleaning and Sweating Leeks
1 bunch big fatty leeks or 3 bunches small spindly leeks
1 sexy hunk of butter or bacon fat
1. Leeks grow from the inside out, with their stalks pushing up through the sandy soil they prefer. It is important to clean them thoroughly before cooking.
2. Cut off the tough green top of the stalks; remove any bruised or sad-looking outer stalks. Cut off the root end of the leek and slice down lengthwise.
3. Slice each leek half crosswise, about one-quarter or one-half of an inch wide.
4. Fill a big bowl with cold water, and dump in all of the sliced leeks. Swish them around, and the sand and dirt will drop to the bottom of the bowl. Lift the leeks out in handfuls, leaving the sand and water behind. Rinse the washed leeks in a strainer once more and spread out in a single layer to dry a bit.
5. Preheat a heavy cast-iron or nonstick pan over a medium-high flame. Throw all of the leeks in and stir them around, allowing any remaining surface moisture to evaporate.
6. When the leeks seem fairly dry, throw a big hunk of butter or bacon fat in the pan and stir it around to get the leeks coated.
7. Now stir, stir and stir some more while the leeks cook down. You can turn up the heat if you want to caramelize them a little, but keep stirring and don't let it burn.
8. About fifteen minutes into this process, taste a leek. They are done when the leek is tender throughout and tastes sweet.
9. Season with salt. These sauteed leeks are perfect to add to almost all potato dishes (Potato-leek gratin!), egg anything, or to top hot sandwiches like a burger, or in place of slaw on a reuben.
Apple-Leek Grilled Cheese
Slices of any bread you like
One crisp apple, sliced thin
Some cheese of your choice (I like American for grilled cheese)
Butter for greasing the bread
1. Butter one side of your slices of bread. The easiest way to assemble grilled cheese is to butter the bread, then place the buttered sides of the slices together and build on top. That way you won't butter your cutting board (or, worst case scenario, the floor).
2. Put a slice of cheese on the bread first, then a layer of thin-sliced apple. Another slice of cheese, then a layer of the sauteed leeks. Top with the other slice of bread.
3. Place your sandwiches in a preheated non-stick pan over LOW heat. Grilled cheese is a delicate operation, it requires patience. A low flame will melt the cheese and give you an even toast on the bread. Lid the pan to maximize melt.
4. Flip sandwich after 3 minutes or so, when the down side is tan and toasted. Cover again.
5. Serve with salad and lots of napkins.
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