Archive: December, 2008
Not Philly Fish & Co., but you get the idea.
Philadelphia Fish & Co. is the latest hero of our never-ending search for cheap edibles, bargain hangovers and free info-tainment. The Old City seafooderie is getting butts in the seats with this bar-only deal:
One pint PBR, half a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl o' tomato soup for $3.11.
So you're headed back to work or out on the town with a belly full of butter, white bread, and sweet sweet beer. PBR is sort of beer, right?
Big ups to City Paper assistant publisher Roxanne Cooper who turned Meal Ticket on to this, the finest cheapest meal in the greater Old City area.
Fair Warning: If you tip 60 cents on this lunch, which is technically 20 percent, you will be rocked by the most epic food poisoning/hideous breakup/ill-timed joke of your life. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but that bastardly tip karma always gets its man.
Philadelphia Fish & Co., 207 Chestnut St., 215-625-8605
Yesterday when I set out to bake, I could not face the Acme one more time. The frantic South Philly mamas clutching every bar of bittersweet chocolate and tube of red frosting to their sweatered breasts, while "Rudoph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" clangs through the atmosphere, is like Fellini's worst nightmare.
Lacking nuts, chocolate and the will to roll out any more gingerbread, I searched the Internet for a cookie recipe that could be constructed from the contents of the pantry. Chowhound, that archive of culinary snitfests, delivered a simple brown butter, brown sugar cookie recipe gleaned from Cook's Illustrated. With nothing more than flour, brown sugar, plenty of butter and a few eggs, I turned out a few dozen crisp-on-the-outside, tender and chewy-inside cookies infused with the nutty aroma of brown butter. Package with festively colored tissue paper in tins or boxes tied with baker's string. Nevermore, Acme. Nevermore.
Recipe after the jump.
Brown Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 Dozen Cookies
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (about 1 3/4 ounces)
2 cups packed dark brown sugar (14 ounces)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Heat 10 tablespoons of the butter in a pan over medium-high heat until melted. Continue to cook the butter until it is browned a dark golden color and smells nutty, about 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer the browned butter to a bowl and stir the rest of the butter into the hot butter until it melts- let this rest for 15 min. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a baking dish, mix granulated sugar and a ¼ cup of the brown sugar until combined well; set this mixture aside to roll dough balls in. Mix flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl. Add 1 ¾ cup brown sugar and salt to cooled butter and mix until there are no lumps. Add egg, yolk, and vanilla to butter mixture and mix well, then add flour and mix until just combined. Roll dough into balls about 1 ½ inches in diameter, and roll balls in brown sugar and white sugar mixture. Place balls about 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake sheets one at a time until cookies are puffy and lightly browned, about 12- 14 minutes. (It says the cookies will look slightly raw between some of the cracks and seem underdone, but be careful not to overbake.) Cool on sheet for about 5 minutes and then transfer to a rack to cool.
|Bacalao, Baccala,Bachalhau = Dried Salt Cod|
Ippolito's Seafood, at 13th and Dickinson in South Philly, not only has fresh whole fish, fillets, shellfish and prepared seafood dishes — it also has a firm hold on the Italian cooking ways of the past.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Southern Italian Christmas Eve tradition, also called La Vigilia (Italian: "the vigil," or waiting for the midnight birth of Jesus). Eating seafood on Christmas Eve corresponds with the Catholic abstinence from meat or dairy products on Fridays and holy days. Many Catholic Italians ate fish fried in oil on these days. The number seven is considered a divine number in the New Testament of the Bible; there are seven Roman Catholic sacraments. Whatever the reasoning, the Seven Fishes is always a variety of dishes that are very humble in origin. They are meant to be things that an ordinary person could afford to make for their family.
Ippolito's Seafood Web site has super-traditonal, Jesus-centered description of the typical Seven Fishes dishes:
Italian families throughout the world enjoy The Feast of The Seven Fishes, on Christmas Eve. Each dish is intended to celebrate the impending birth of Christ.
The feast begins with the shellfish because, in olden days, crustaceans were the food of the very poor and Christ's life spoke to the importance of even the lowest of God's creatures. Clams and mussels in white or red sauce served over pasta is a must, as is shrimp and scallops.
Next comes baccala (salt cured cod) in an aromatics stew. Cod, until most recently, was the most common fish and a main stay of the poor.
Then there is squid or "calamari" as it is known in the "cucina" (kitchen). Sliced into rings, dipped in egg and flour, then deep-fried. The squid's many swirling tentacles represent the many different directions that Christ's teachings went throughout the world.
Eel is served lightly dusted with flour and fried or roasted. The fast moving citizen of the sea symbolizes the speed with which the Word of Christ spread.
Then come the tiny whole Smelts dipped in flour and deep fried. They signify that the smallest and most humble of fish are pleasing God. Served with lemon, they are most pleasing to people.
Rounding off the feast is a good soft white-fleshed fish such as poached whiting. Whiting has always been abundant and easily available to people.
Several area chefs are preparing Seven Fishes-type feasts to go, like chef Patrick Feury's Villanova restaurant, Maia. His nouveau menu includes shrimp cocktail, Maryland jumbo crab cakes, calamari salad with niçoise olives and lobster pot pie, among other dishes. A complete Seven Fishes feast to take home is $75 per person, with a minimum order of four people. Visit tastemaia.com or call 610-527-4888 to order.
Whether simple or fancy, the Seven Fishes is meant as a celebration, a time for the family to join together and break bread. Kyle Phillips on About.com has collected some interesting salt cod recipes that would work perfectly as a traditional Seven Fishes menu items. Buy the salted fish today and start soaking in cold water in order to be eating the stuff on Christmas Eve. It's not necessary to soak a whole salted cod in the bathtub for three days, like my legendary great-grandmother. Merry eating!
Meal Ticket just touched base with restaurateur Marty Grims to get some updates on two projects he's working on in the street-level plaza of Commerce Square (2001 Market St.).
First up is the second Philly location of his Du Jour Gourmet Market and Café, which enjoyed a successful Avenue of the Arts debut in the Symphony House. (The original opened in Haverford in 1999.) This location, which is taking over for Saladworks, is around twice the size of its Broad and Pine predecessor, with room for 80 outside. Breakfast/lunch/dinner concept will stay the same. Grims is aiming for an April 2009 opening.
His second stake at 20th and Market is "a pan-Asian concept," in the former Twenty21, helmed by famed NY-based hospitality design firm Jeffrey Beers International — they're responsible many a high-profile spot, but have yet to land in Philly. The opulent bilevel space, paired with JB's high-brow aesthetic, tells us this project is gonna be a big deal. But don't get too excited just yet — the restaurant, which does not even have a name yet, is still in the design stage. No chef has been hired yet, but Grims is speaking with "a couple candidates out of New York."
"It will be a high-style, high-impact restaurant," says Grims, who says his decision to go Pan-Asian was based off "a void in the marketplace" — as far as that concept goes — on this side of Broad. Should the nearby Pearl watch out?
|Wally reclines among the winter squash at Fair Food.|
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
A cook friend and I were discussing vegan-izing recipes the other day. He is a rather strict vegetarian, and was a vegan for years. "To make, say, a seven-ingredient recipe vegan, it will take at least 20 ingredients," he said, adding that eggs are the hardest to replicate, and that's why vegan baking can be very challenging. "That's why meat substitutes have such texture issues," I thought to myself. I never seem to enjoy meat substitutes. From spongy soy to heavy, soggy seitan, their textures are always so disappointing, no matter how assiduously flavor is applied.
The very next morning, I was shopping at the Reading Terminal Market's Fair Food Farmstand (soon to take over the primo former Rick's Steaks real estate) and spied a familiar-looking block with an unfamiliar label: Vrapple. A cheerful pig in a chef hat grinned out, next to the legend Vrapple: The Vegan Breakfast Treat. Wally says, "We kick the crap out of scrapple!"
With a tagline like that, I had to try it.
Sarah Cain is the evil genius behind Sarah's Savories, which produces Vrapple. When a vegan friend pined to Sarah that she missed the hometown pig-part treat, Cain began ruminating on ways to reproduce the porky patty. Her final product is constructed from a base of organic mushrooms, wheat gluten, cornmeal, buckwheat flour, a touch of organic cane sugar and plenty of black pepper. The breakfast non-meat is sold in familiar scrapple-ish blocks, frozen for freshness.
Once defrosted, I sliced my Vrapple in to serving-size slices, and fried it in canola oil in a very hot pan until both sides were crispy and browned. I forked off a piece of the hot meat substitute, closed my eyes and took the plunge.
It is freaking delicious. It's BETTER than scrapple. The crisp outside and soft inside perfectly mimic scrapple's characteristic texture. The slice yields immediately under fork and tooth pressure and has a meaty, mushroomy base and a sweet, peppery finish. It is satisfyingly spicy and rich. It was so good I stopped writing my impressions to fry myself another slice. A splash of organic Grade B maple syrup took the already-delightful Vrapple to an even more decadent place. I could not believe how good it was.
Cain has converted me to actually preferring one meat substitute to the real thing. As Wally, the pig mascot, smiles out of the package at me, I grin back, pleased to feel so virtuous while eating something so tasty. Then I go back for another slice.
Vrapple is available at the Fair Food Farmstand in the Reading Terminal Market at 12th and Arch streets, 215-627-2029. It is sold by weight at an average of $5-$10 per frozen block.
Get your favorite foodie (that's not you) a chance to hear one of the grand masters of edibles speak at the Philadelphia Free Library this winter. You can conveniently neglect to mention that the tickets were $14 or free.
My giant crush Mark Bittman (The Minimalist for The New York Times) and author of the new book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, will be visiting our fair city on February 4. His new tome "examines the role that meat consumption plays in global warming and discusses how government policy, big marketing, and global economics influence what we eat." Not so-fun-fact: According to Bittman, serving your family of four a steak dinner consumes the same amount of energy as driving around in an SUV for three hours, leaving all the lights on at home. Gulp. Um, anyone for risotto con asparagi?
One for risotto is almost-legendary local chef Marc Vetri, who will be at the Library on January 20 in support of his new memoir-cookbook, Il Viaggio di Vetri. Ashley Primis, Food and Lifestyle Editor of Philadelphia Magazine, will be the one to who gets to rake chef Vetri over his own natural hardwood coals.
Tickets for the Bittman talk are not on sale yet; call 215-686-5322 for information. The Vetri event is free; call 215-567-4341 for more info. Both events will be held at the Central Library at 1901 Vine Street.
|Photo | Drew Lazor|
Does anyone know anything about this shuttered-up hamburger shack on the corner of 17th and Montrose? What it used to be? How long ago it closed? If it is haunted by a kindly apparition in a cardboard hat?
Can you imagine if a burger counter with 24-hour fountain service was open today? The world, able to get egg creams at 3 a.m., would be a better place.
|A copper brewing kettle at Cantillon|
In 1900, the Cantillon (pronounced Can-tee-yon) family founded what would become Belgium's most valued producer of the heritage style of beer known as lambic. Today, the Van Roy-Cantillon family still brews the astringent style to worldwide acclaim; their unpasteurized, unsweetened beers have set the standard by which all other lambics are judged.
When Tom Peters, co-owner of Monk's Café, discovered the wonder of Belgian beer for the first time in 1984, he didn't know he would be the man to turn Philadelphia into the country's number one consumer of Belgian beer. He did know there wasn't anything like these beers in America, and he set about wrangling Belgian brewers hesitant to export their babies to a time-consuming and unlikely market. Lambic, being sour, and low in carbonation and alcohol, was judged to be even less palatable to the American drinker, and languished in obscurity until the late nineties when brews from Cantillon, Boon, Hanssen's and Girardin became more available -- a trend boosted and talked-up constantly by Peters, who even devoted a draft line at Monk's to the tart beer.
After years of selling Cantillon brewer Jean Van Roy's beers, Peters has had the opportunity to blend his own lambics at Cantillon. His latest offering is a single-barrel kriek lambic available exclusively on a hand-pumped cask at Monk's Café.
The spontaneously fermented lambic was brewed in January of 2007, with 35 percent unmalted wheat and 65 percent malted barley (all organically grown). Two-year-aged Hallertau hops were added for preservation and the beer was kegged in September of 2007.
When Peters visited Cantillon brewery on September 4, 2008, Belgian bar owner Jean Hummeler joined him touring the barrel-aging room. The oak casks used to age lambics are equipped with three bungs: the large top for the initial aeration and fermenting beer to bubble out of, the side bung for the emptying of the keg at the end of aging, and the small bottom bung. The bottom bung is gently removed to obtain a sample of the aging beer during its process. Peters noticed that Hummeler was checking the small drips of spilled beer that had collected under the bottom bungs of the casks. When questioned on what he was looking for, he replied, "Fruit flies."
Fruit flies are attracted to the spilt beer that contains the sweetest, most concentrated fruit. Since Peters was looking to choose a cherry-fruited kriek beer, he decided to taste from the casks that had attracted the most fruit flies. The cask he ultimately chose had the brightest fruit flavor, and had also been the favorite of the tiny (drunken) flies.
Since the oak aging casks are permeable, lambics in their unblended state have almost no carbonation left. In American terms, they're flat beer. Peters wanted Monk's guests to taste the lambic in its pure state, just as he did in the barrel-aging room at Cantillon. Minus the odd floating fruit fly, the hand-pumped beer is just that.
|Monk's Café Cantillon Kriek|
Three hundred grams per liter of Belgian-grown Kellery cherries were added, by hand, one at a damn time, through the top bung of the oak cask to infuse a tart cherry flavor and bright ruby color into the beer. The whole cherries, including pits and stems, lend a fresh, crushed cherry nose to the lambic. A very subtle marzipan note from the cherry pits underlies the dominant fruit flavor, and as lambics go, this one isn't very sour, with no perceptible acetic acid. There is a distinct, clean tartness that makes your mouth water after swallowing the beer.
Brewed by arguably the finest lambic brewer in Belgium and selected by the guy who brought lambic to America, Monk's Single-Barrel Cantillon Kriek is a beer not to be missed by the aficionado or newbie. It is available only as a hand-pumped draft in Monk's Café back bar for $8.50 a glass, plus the killjoy government's 10 percent liquor tax.
This week's episode took what felt like an eternity to watch, so I'll try to keep this recap as succinct as possible.
Quickfire Challenge: Martha Stewart came out rocking some skinny jeans surprisingly lithely. She challenged the Top Chef hopefuls to create a "one-pot holiday meal" in 45 minutes. She borrowed a quote from Einstein to convey what she was looking for ("Make it simple, but not too simple"), which marked the first time in history anyone in skinny jeans has quoted Einstein. Our dude Jeff's potato risotto with crispy pork and Brussels sprouts sounded excellent, but Martha thought it sucked; she also criticized Gene's corn starch-thickened Korean pork stew and Fabio's polenta, which means we can safely conclude that Martha Stewart hates ethnic carbs.
One exception: Hosea's paella, which was joined in Martha's top three favorites by Jamie's potato, scallop and kale stew (white person food!) and Ariane's beef and cauliflower purée (even whiter white person food!). Ariane won because she is from Jersey and so is Martha.
After all this, the Harlem Gospel Choir came out and we were treated to a brief glimpse of Padma — who is transcendently beautiful — dancing while getting lifted up by that Holy Spirit. This, my favorite moment of the episode, was at once tremendously pleasing and tremendously uncomfortable. This is going to do wonders for the Find Padma a Mate Campaign.
For the Elimination Challenge, the remaining cheftestants were instructed to craft "12 Days of Christmas"-themed food for a 300-person American Foundation for AIDS Research fundraiser. Forcing Fabio to make a crab dish that somehow conveyed the phrase "nine ladies dancing" was cruel and unusual enough, but the viewing public was fed the biggest load of festive shit by the whole refrigerator issue. The chefs came back to the prep kitchen the morning of the event to discover that one of the fridge doors had been left ajar, rendering Hosea's pork and Radhika's duck spoiled and unservable. Haute tension, dramatic music, Radhika's crying and saying she should pack up and go now, etc. Wait ... what's this? HARK, I spy the True Spirit of Christmas, sitting majestically atop his jingle bell- and wreath-adorned steed, on the horizon! All the other chefs lended a helping hand to get Rad and Hosea back on their feet. Hey, a bunch of extra pork and duck — enough for 300 people! — just happens to be hanging out in the kitchen! Wow, this couldn't have worked out any better. This is what Christmas is all about! Now where is that crippled kid?
You make me sick, Bravo.
And you made me even sicker when you subjected me to all of this pre-fab holiday cheer and then DIDN'T ELIMINATE ANYONE. Hosea got the win, but each of the bottom three chefs — Gene (crappy poisson cru), Jamie (crappy scallop vichyssoise dish, ew) and Melissa (crappily gorgonzola-fied NY strip steak) — were spared. Tom Colicchio is baby Jesus Santa!
Natasha Richardson, aka Liam Neeson's wife, lent her celebrity to the show this week. Her boobs looked really weird to me. Anyone else?
|Earth Bread + Brewery|
|Photo | Michael T. Regan|
- Trey Popp waxes fantastic about the Hearth of Gold that is Earth Bread + Brewery's pizza oven. The Mount Airy brewpub does just about everything right, from expertly blistered flat bread pizzas to tough-to-find beer varieties like gruit ale, a brew that uses obscure herbs like mugwort and bog myrtle in place of hops.
- Feeding Frenzy has details on El Camino Real, MangoMoon, Seasons 52 (Cherry Hill Mall, son!) and dealage at Pita Pit.
- Kelly White of Living on the Vedge is a guest critic this week, sharing her take on Mi Lah Vegetarian at 16th and Chancellor. In her eyes, there's a lot to like (and some room for improvement) on chef Tyler Black's menu.
- In the Small Bites section, Kelly makes her second print appearance this week, telling you all about the locally produced Gray Kangaroo Liquor Filter. Tim Bratton wants you to eat Three Monkeys Café's Mighty Joe Young Burger, which is topped with pork roll, and we think we will take his advice. Meal Ticket's own Felicia D. puts you on to the deliciously shippable BellaPizzelles. I share my thoughts on the Pennsylvania Proud Penn1681 Rye Vodka.
- City Paper editor in chief Brian Howard and arts editor Carolyn Huckabay team up to compile a list of their five favorite Bowls Built for Winter. Do not sleep on Nan Zhou's sliced beef soup.
- Nikki Volpicelli is coming at you with a New Year's Eve edition of What's Cooking. Do you want to drunkenly get loose to "Holiday" with a vodka martini in your hand? Kiss a belly dancer when the clock strikes 12? Read on. (For more NYE events, check out Jakob Dorof's Agenda column.)
- barstool scientist
- Brew Revue
- Chef Salad
- Dirty Dishes
- Don't Front
- Eat This Immediately
- Field Trip
- Food and Art
- Food and Holidays
- Food and Movies
- Food and Music
- Food and Politics
- Food and Sports
- Food and Web
- Food Blogs
- Food Books
- Food Events
- Food News
- Food TV
- Happy Hour Hopper
- In Print
- Meal Ticket
- Menu Time
- Not So Quickfire
- Notes from the Weekend
- On Wheels
- Patio Drinking
- Philly Beer Week 2010
- Private Chef POV
- Product Placement
- Snack Time
- Stiff Drank
- Ticket Stubs
- Top Chef
- Weekly Candy
- Weird Regional Foods
- We're Here to Help
- Where'd We Eat?
- Drew Lazor's Ill-Advised Rant Factory
- Ill-Advised Ranting
- The Week Without Meat
- Philly Beer Week 2009
- Real Big
- Where'd I Eat Last Night?
- Top Chef Masters
- The Good Word
- Next Iron Chef
- Arterial Terrorism
- Food and Radio