Weird Regional Foods
Longtime CP contributor/copy editor Carolyn Wyman (above) has written The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book, a detailed paean to our city's quintessential between-bread draw. While you're going to have to wait until tomorrow's issue hits the stands (or peep our site tonight!) to read an exclusive excerpt of CW's grease-stained opus, it's important we let you know about three chances you'll have to meet the author and hear more about her work.
Tomorrow, June 25: Carolyn will be in the house at the Bellevue (Broad and Walnut) at noon to celebrate the grand reopening of the embattled Rick's Steaks. Books will be available for purchase.
Saturday, July 11: You have to know Carolyn to know this, but she is a badass on two wheels. On this day, she'll be leading a 12-mile bike ride to eight different cheesesteak shops. Starts at Sonny's and Campo's in Old City, ends at Pat's and Geno's, with Johnny's Hots, Tony Luke's, Philip's and Cosmi's in between. The ride is free (pay as you go/meat-sweat for steaks ï¿½ $2 sample sizes will be available), but you have to pre-register.
Wednesday, July 22: Carolyn will read from The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book as part of a 50-minute lecture/slideshow at the Free Library at 7:30 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.
Local illustrator Hawk Krall, our fave dude who draws food, contributed a "Hot Dog Of The Week" illo and writeup to Serious Eats. He talks up what's known colloquially as the Philly Combo, the one-of-a-kind frankfurter/fried fish cake snack native to the area:
The Philly Combo is a hot dog variation unique to the Philadelphia area. Believed to have originated at Levis Hot Dogs, which was open between 1895 and 1992 on 6th and South Streets, this kosher-inspired concoction consists of an all-beef hot dog and a potato fish cake topped with mustard and onions. Moe's Hot Dogs here in Philly still serves up this classic, and even has Levis Champ Cherry soda to wash it down.
Check out HK's pic and piece here.
The Illadelph puts us on to some Philly food still lifes from local painter Mike Geno. The artist (here's his site and his Etsy) talks about his relationship with regional eats in this Eat Me Daily interview:
EMD: Scrapple, Tastykakes, and pretzels ï¿½ you're obviously influenced by your Philly surroundings ï¿½ so tell us, whereï¿½s the cheese steak?
Mike Geno: Excellent question. It seems inevitable but so far I've not been successful in ordering one that holds up for a few hours while I paint it. I always work from life with my food and other still life paintings. Honestly, I don't know if I'd hold up that long smelling it without eating it. I've developed a plan though. I may have to go to a good source, which alone is a Philly debate, and eat one before taking another one home to paint. That may just work.
He can't paint a cheesesteak because it smells too good to just let it sit there. Mike Geno, you are OUR BOY.
The good dudes of Salt Pepper Ketchup, Philly's own street food Internet show, visit the Taco Loco cart near the soccer fields at Fourth and Washington for some tortas.
There is some torta confusion, but it all works out in the end.
Check out all the SPK episodes at salt-pepper-ketchup.com.
I won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't post this picture of Jackie Chan attempting to hug the world's largest sushi roll.
So there you go. Via Weird Asia News:
This ginormous version of the bite-sized dish was on display at G. Sushi, the famed Honk Kong-based chain, that recently opened an outlet in Shanghai, China.
It is owned by Jackie Chan, the martial arts hero and actor. The restaurateur tries to put his arms around the gigantic sushi roll (makizushi) wrapped in a blanket of seaweed (nori).
|Rainer Zenz, via WikiMedia Commons
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: white mustard seeds; ground white mustard; Bavarian sweet
Mustard is the only condiment that exists in several different forms in my kitchen. From spicy brown for hot dogs to Grey Poupon for vinaigrettes and tuna salad, many dishes are incomplete at best without the spicy heat and flavor of mustard.
While researching "English mustard" for our upcoming DISH food supplement, I stumbled across the table above illustrating the varieties of mustard on Wiki. The illustration has been tagged "Best of Wiki" by users, who rated it as substantially enhancing the article it accompanies.
Peggy Trowbridge Fillipone writes on the history of mustard for about.com:
Mustard is a member of the Brassica family of plants which bears tiny round edible seeds as well as tasty leaves. Its English name, mustard, is derived from a contraction of the Latin mustum ardens meaning burning wine. This is a reference to the spicy heat of the crushed mustard seeds and the French practice of mixing the ground seeds with must, the young, unfermented juice of wine grapes.
Fillipone notes that mustard was used in medicine before it gained prominence as a food condiment:
In the sixth century B.C., Greek scientist Pythagoras used mustard as a remedy for scorpion stings. One hundred years later, Hippocrates used mustard in a variety of medicines and poultices. Mustard plasters were applied to "cure" toothaches and a number of other ailments.
|A potent powder|
The English mustard that started me on this journey is a finely ground mustard blended with flour and turmeric ï¿½ the most famous brand is Colman's, sold in a distinctive yellow tin. Founder Jeremiah Colman perfected the technique of grinding mustard seeds without heat, thus preserving the seeds' flavorful oils. For this accomplishment he was named royal mustard maker to Queen Victoria in 1866.
English mustard powder plays a crucial role in Pub & Kitchen's much-vaunted "roll mops," which were until last week a part of the pub's $3 snack menu. Keep an eye out for our DISH supplement in early May, when we share Pub & Kitchen chef/owner Jonathan McDonald's recipe for roll mops to make at home.
|Jan & Marï¿½sa Boshoff|
|Merenda Zug in Strasburg, PA|
Driving through Strasburg on the way to Lancaster one pretty spring day, my sister begged me to stop at a small coffee shop, Merenda Zug. Our grandparents had often treated us to a homemade ice cream at the Strasburg Creamery down the street in our younger days, but I had never been inside this particular storefront.
Once inside, my sister ordered a Lebanon bologna sandwich from the Mennonite girl behind the counter. "Ew," I whispered to her. "I thought you hated bologna."
"This is different," she said firmly. "You're going to like it. A lot." As the counter girl removed mustard, white American cheese and deli-sliced meat from a 1970s avocado-colored refrigerator, I wondered what could transform the slimy, mystery meat of childhood into a sandwich worth stopping for.
The young woman paused from carefully layering wheat bread with cheese and slices of the dark red Lebanon bologna. "Potato chips, ya?" she inquired. "Yes, please," my sister quickly responded.ï¿½ On went thickly cut potato chips, and the sandwich was topped with another slice of bread and wrapped in wax paper.
Outside, we divvied up our halves and sat on a bench to eat. The first bite through the layer of familiar American cheese, spicy mustard and sweet, smoky meat all topped with a salty layer of potato chips was a seriously satisfying moment. Oscar Mayer made no unwelcome appearances.
Lebanon bologna is a regional specialty native to the Lebanon Valley of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. It is an all-beef, cured, smoked, fermented, semi-dry sausage that is much closer in style to salami than bologna. Slow-curing gives the sausage a strong smoky flavor, while fermentation provides a distinct tang.
If a trip to Strasburg isn't in your immediate future, several vendors in the Reading Terminal Market sell Lebanon bologna, including Hatville Deli in the Pennsylvania Dutch section. Fair Food Farmstand is offering packages of Gap's Green Meadow Farm grass-fed, nitrite-free, all natural beef Lebanon Bologna that has a round, smoky flavor and pleasant sweetness.
Merenda Zug, 11 E. Main St., Strasburg, 17579; 717-687-8027
Hatville Deli, Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch streets, 215-925-5065
Fair Food Farmstand, Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch streets, 215-627-2029
While a personal commitment kept me from attending last night's CineFest event opener, nothing will stop me from catching the rest of the flick-ering fun. (Check out all of CP's CineFest coverage.) And while weï¿½ll start tonight with Tony Luke Jr. and The Nail at the Prince Theater ï¿½ discussed in this here feature ï¿½ some of you might not care about a Luke movie other than say, this one:
That's because that video tells you how to best prepare his Tony Luke Frozen Cheesesteak. That's the product that ate up 3+ years of Luke's life, trying to find the right meat (sliced Black Angus sirloin instead of the fat-marbled ribeye he uses at his stand on Oregon Avenue), the right rolls (in separate wrappers) and how to get the cooking process just right ï¿½ whether you dunk it in water or nuke the whole thing in microwave-safe pouches.
Getting the sandwich absolutely right was crucial to Luke and Ray Rastelli III, the vice president of South Jersey's Rastelli Foods Group, which distributes Tony Luke Frozen Cheesesteaks. Rastelli also happens to be a big benefactor when it came to the money end of The Nail. "The guyï¿½s a saint," says Luke of his partner in crime.
Before he started the process seriously and wound up happy with the product, he found that ï¿½ Luke said this to very loudly ï¿½ "you cannot, under any circumstances, take a full and complete sandwich ï¿½ a loaded sandwich that is frozen ï¿½ put it in a microwave or in an oven and expect that the sandwich will taste good. By the time that the heat gets to the center of sandwich, the rest of the it is completely overcooked or is dried out." The first thing he had to do? "I had to separate the two ï¿½ the meat from the bread. I cannot put the sandwich together."
Luke did try to Cryovac meat from a microwave and it tasted like garbage ï¿½ "it was dry and it was rubbery." He added and subtracted stuff from the packet. "It was burnt and barely OK ï¿½ and inconsistent."
That is until his partner Rastelli made a comment: "It's not in the packet. It's in the meat."
Luke canï¿½t comment more. He has a patent pending on this. He has this process. He got industry experts to sign confidentiality agreements. When they said it couldn't work. Luke said "humor me." He loves that saying. He says it a few times, as if to humor himself. "I'll pay you. Just humor me."
After Rastelli and Luke devised what they came up, they believed they'd revolutionized something special ï¿½ making a frozen cheesesteak that was good. "People have to do a little bit of work to knock this out," he explains. "You're gonna cook it. But not much ï¿½ in fact, you can either do it in microwave which is easier or in the boil-in bag where you toast the roll and quickly boil the meat in the bag."
Funny thing was, Luke was going to try to something more like a Steak-Umm. He got the best meat. Got a focus group. Everybody fried it and tried it. Everybody got the roll. Everybody ate it. "Everybody in the focus group loved it ... 95 percent said it was fantastic. So I said, 'Will you buy it?' and 90 percent said 'Absolutely not.'"
He laughs hardest at that.
"Because we gotta cook it. These people are used to throwing something in the microwave and two minutes later eating their dinner. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" he yells.
A lot of people this time around don't get the sous vide "boil in bag" process where the 180-degree water bath breaks meat down and creates a juice that's phenomenal. "Three minutes in a bag ï¿½ let it rest so that the cheese doesn't stick to the bag. It's ready in 3-4 minues. Shake it a second and youï¿½ll find that the juice from the meat is so flavorful you will lose your mind. Take that roll. Put it in a toaster oven 3, 4 minutes. It comes out crisp and soft. Put it together ï¿½ amazing."
He laughs after having read the blogs and the responses to his process. "Youï¿½d a thought I set off a bomb in the middle of Center City. But all Iï¿½m trying to do is represent the cheesesteak and Philly better than it has been by bigger companies."
Left Coast/formerly Philly food blog Gastronomy recently checked out The Bazaar by Josï¿½ Andrï¿½s, which earned a four-star review in the Los Angeles Times.
One of the tapas on the El Bulli vet's menu? A cheesesteak. "Waaay cheaper than the one at Barclay Prime," says Gastronomy's Cathy.
The Philly Cheesesteak ($8) marked the transition from cold plates to hot ones. ï¿½Air bread,ï¿½ making its second appearance of the evening, was piped full of oozy cheddar cheese and topped with Wagyu beef. The cheesesteakï¿½s flavors and textures were nothing short of fabulous; definitely one of the stars of The Bazaar.
|Soda bread with raisins becomes Spotted Dog|
|Irish Dance & Music|
On Saturday night, a herd of green-clad young professionals went carousing across Third Street, blocking traffic and inspiring much angry honking. As I watched the intoxicated inexpertly attempt to gain entrance to Ansill, of all places, I realized what was going on.
It's the Erin Express, Philadelphia'sï¿½ sodden bus tour of heroic drunkenness, now in its 35th year. The party is ostensibly in honor of one St. Patrick,ï¿½ a long-dead European who never once drank a green beer or passionately slobbered all over a complete stranger. I know the way of the Erin Express because I've been on it ï¿½ just once! But once was enough to gather enough data about wasted white people to last me my entire life. Some of these white people are, on some level, Irish Catholics.
This makes them authentic Irish drinkers, they will shout at you, proudly wearing the dregs of a Carbomb all over their shirt. Authentic!
Around this time of year, claims of authentic Irish whatever proliferate like mushrooms after a spring rain. Irish Soda Bread is one of the most hotly contested. The first exposure I had to the seasonal bread was from an Irish friend, a Dubliner, who brought a loaf to work one day. Dense, faintly sweet and studded with raisins, it was toasted and spread thickly with Irish Kerrygold butter for a heavenly breakfast.
That wasn't Irish Soda Bread. According to the inflexible standards of the Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread (SPISB), what we ate was called Spotted Dog; really a tea cake modified with raisins, sugar or caraway seeds. Their Web site states that true soda bread, a daily bread eaten in Ireland since the mid-19th century, contains only flour, baking soda, buttermilk and salt.
It makes sense. Surely our impoverished Irish ancestors could not have afforded (on a daily basis) the eggs, sugar, candied fruit and whiskey called for in many "authentic" Irish recipes. The SPISB explains that in the first part of the 20th century, American newspapers would often publish "authentic" Irish recipes in conjunction with St. Patrick's Day, modified to appeal to American tastes for sugar.
No matter which side of the authenticity debate you stand on, both sweet, raisin-filled tea cakes and traditional, unsweetened soda bread make a brill brekkie. Check out three different recipes, both traditional and modified, after the jump.
Alton Brown provides an excellent recipe for Spotted Dog (which he calls Irish Soda Bread) on the Food Network Site.
Bobby Flay's show did "Tasting Ireland," where he visited a bakery that turns out hundreds of loaves of traditional soda bread every day. Irish food writer Darina Allen contributed her recipe here.
The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread provides the traditional, absolutely no-frills recipes for both soft white and wheat soda bread on their site.
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