May 31, 2010


A & I have been documenting our fresh and local produce from our CSA share, which has been well complemented by fresh baked bread from Metropolitan Bakery. If you combine these things with the restaurant scene, you might find yourself at FARMiCiA, a restaurant in Old City that focuses on simple dishes utilizing local, organic ingredients. Additionally, this restaurant is the brainchild of the owners of Metropolitan.

Because A was in the Poconos for the long weekend, my boyfriend replaced her as my dining date. Thankfully, he enjoys healthy food as much as we do, so I knew he would appreciate my restaurant choice. A warm summery weekend evening was perfect for the half-hour stroll through Center City to 3rd & Market. Sadly, we don't find ourselves in the more historical area of the city very often- it's really so pretty! However, most of the good food in the area is a little out of the realm of our bank account (Amada, Union Trust, etc).

FARMiCiA has a very open layout, with huge glass windows open to sidewalk seating. Our waitress had the personality of a rock, but there were no problems with the service. A big basket of Metropolitan bread circulates around the room- our choices included an herbed foccacia, a thinly sliced wheaty-grainy bread, and a bread packed with thick slices of olives. For the indecisive types *raises hand* you can try any or all of the types. The bread is also served with a creamy scoop of herbed butter.

We started out the meal with the antipasto ($11)- a good plate to share, and on the lighter side- perfect for warm weather. I liked that the restaurant put it's own touch on the different components- it wasn't your typical meat-and-cheese-fest. Without a doubt, the highlight of the dish was the marinated mushrooms- earthy, vinegary, a smoky flavor from the grill, with a really satisfying dense, meaty texture. The hardboiled egg was also good, but seemed a little dry compared to the ones that come out of my own kitchen. The salty white sardines were great on pieces of buttered wheat bread. Although the menu claims that the olives in this dish are grilled, A) how does one grill an olive? and B) these seemed like plain olives to me. Don't get me wrong, they were delicious olives- a mix of different purples and greens. The plate also included two items from my "not-so-favorite-foods" list- sundried tomatoes and capers- but I dutifully tried them out and found the capers to be a good complement to a bit of egg. A small tuft of microgreens- also good for making mini open-faced sandwiches- rounded out the dish.

I thought my date might go for the cheese plate or the calamari, but he opted for the Tuscan Grains salad ($8.5). A mix of spelt and chopped orange and red peppers comprised the majority of the dish, though it was served with a thin layer of baby arugula and topped with more microgreens. Big squares of soft ricotta salata gave a subtle salty flavor to complement the super sweet, crunchy peppers and hearty grains. The spelt was actually a new grain to both of us- as a variety of wheat, it was a little on the nutty side and gave the salad a little more bulk. Everything was lightly coated in a citrusy vinaigrette- the dish was something I'd love to recreate for a summer picnic. My boyfriend kept commenting on how healthy it was, but yet it was still super tasty- personally my favorite kind of food.

Although I'd love to check out something on the vegetarian portion of the menu ("Mega Dose of Vegetables and Grains" sounds RIGHT up my alley) the sundried cherries in the description of the duck dish ($22) snagged my full attention. The duck breast was perfectly cooked, with a crispy skin covered in the sweet and sour glaze complete with fat dried cherries. The sourness of the cherries and the more complex flavor of the duck was incredible. The meat was served with a pile of sauteed sugar snap peas- so sweet and super crunchy, with a hint of sage-y herb flavor. The other star of the dish was the grain mixture- a "native grain pilaf" that included wild rice, giant whole white corn kernels (also known as hominy) and more spelt. Because it took grains from all the major categories (rice, wheat, corn), it really made such an amazing mix of flavors and textures- so simple yet SO good. Although the serving sizes here may not be huge, they leave nothing to be desired.

My boyfriend has a slight obsession with lamb, so he chose the Pan Roasted Lamb Tenderloin ($22.5). Sliced into good-sized chunks, the cooked-to-order meat was incredibly juicy and flavorful. It was done up in a minty dressing- an unoriginal taste pairing for lamb, but hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! The asparagus was more of an original addition- peeled and ever-so-slightly steamed, maintaining a major crunch factor and an amazingly light flavor. I've been hoping for freshly cut asparagus in our CSA box, because I've heard that most people have no idea what asparagus is supposed to taste like- let's just say I see myself growing asparagus in a future garden. Everything was served over soft white beans that had soaked up some of the minty flavor from the sauce. As I'm not the biggest fan of lamb, I was a little surprised to find myself asking for multiple pieces in trade for some of my delicious cherry duck. My mouth is watering just typing about it.

We had plans to walk around the corner for some ice cream at Franklin Fountain, so we declined our waitress's offer of the dessert menu. I have no doubt that the options on that menu are just as fresh and delicious as the other items we had the opportunity to taste. Although I'm not sure that this restaurant would fit the bill for just any hungry Joe Schmo looking for dinner, we absolutely loved FARMiCiA- the concept, the atmosphere, and of course, the food. The name is a play on the idea that food can actually provide everything a body needs to be healthy- FARMiCiA executed this point of view perfectly- and in a tasty and interesting way, to boot.

15 S. 3rd Street

May 24, 2010

CSA Week 2

After some reader comments about "measly vegetables" in our last weeks CSA half-share, A & I are pleased to say that this weeks share was a little more exciting.

In this weeks box we received the following:

Front: one bunch Hakurei turnips, two bunches scallions (matured to more of a "spring onion"), one bag purple broccoli, one bag watercress; Back: one head red leaf lettuce, one bunch kale

This box had THREE new products that we've never had- turnips, purple broccoli, and watercress. When I was unpacking the box, I actually opened the bag of watercress, forgot what had been on the list, decided it was parsley by appearance, ate a piece and found it to be spicy, like an intense arugula. Additionally, the red leaf lettuce was covered in mud- I had to break it apart, wash and dry each leaf, and store the whole bunch in a plastic grocery bag. Unpacking a CSA box is like a little mini-adventure.

When the folks at LFFC send the handy list of what we're getting, they also suggest uses for some of the items, which provides another source of inspiration. One of the suggestions for using the cress was as an accompaniment to egg salad. A and I have never made egg salad, but we do have a source of incredibly delicious farm fresh eggs- I've mentioned them before. Making egg salad seems easy enough, so we opted for egg salad sandwiches with cress on toasted wheaty bread. The bread is something we used to eat growing up- it's packed full of bits of seed and grains, including cornmeal. Though Dad used to buy it at Sam's Club, Trader Joe's also sells it and it is amazing. A made the egg salad with celery, Dijon mustard, chopped spring onions, and a Greek yogurt/mayonnaise mixture. The eggs are so rich as they are, they don't need much mayonnaise- we think Greek yogurt makes a protein-rich, creamy substitute. With a handful of spicy watercress and a bit of crisp to the bread, the egg salad was DEEE-licious. We also made up a side salad using some of the red leaf, dried cherries, a little blue cheese and some sunflower seeds. A perfectly delightful Sunday dinner.

A few months ago we had a really good broccoli salad at a friends place- A and I don't typically like raw broccoli (A associates it with a puking incident when she was much younger), but the mix of crunchy broccoli with other flavors and a touch of mayonnaise (a common theme in this post...) had us going back for seconds. The purple broccoli in our share gave us a good excuse to try to recreate this dish. Purple broccoli comes in a much smaller head than regular green broccoli- we got about 6 of them and it still didn't seem to add up to a normal broccoli head. Additionally, the tiny tips of the broccoli are a little bigger on the purple variety. However, the taste is exactly the same; I thought it was a bit milder, but this may be attributable to its freshness.

To make the base of the broccoli salad you will need:

one head broccoli (or the equivalent)
two scallions
3 pieces of bacon
~1/8 purple onion (one thickish slice)
1 tomato or several smaller tomatoes
handful sunflower seeds
handful of raisins

The first step is to cook the bacon- I did this while I began assembling the rest of the ingredients. Chop up the broccoli into small pieces. A & I enjoy eating broccoli stems, so I added those to bulk up the meagerness of the heads. Chop the green onion, the tomato, and the purple onion. Add everything in a bowl, throw in the seeds and raisins, and crumble your bacon on top (once its super crispy and cooled). Because our broccoli came with so many leaves, I used the leftover bacon grease to saute some of them to add to a salad for tomorrow's lunch. We really like utilizing all parts of our vegetables!

The "sauce" component of the salad is super easy. Mix together: 1 T sugar, 1 T apple cider vinegar, 3 T mayonnaise, and 3 T lowfat sour cream. Again, we like to supplement the mayonnaise with something a little healthier. We do use mayonnaise made from canola oil, which is much better than "real" mayonnaise, but adding yogurt or sour cream makes it a little lighter and less greasy. I mixed everything together with tongs and popped it in the fridge to cool for a bit.

I served this up with a big baked sweet potato for each of us- A likes hers with hot sauce, a little sour cream, green onions (these things are SO versatile!) and some grated cheddar. I prefer mine sweet with goat cheddar, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Either way, the starchy sweet potato was the perfect addition to a big pile of broccoli salad. The salad would also go well over a grain or with some grilled chicken.

A plans to make braised kale and turnips tomorrow, which should use up the last of the produce from this week's box. We're really enjoying how the items are inspiring us to not only try new vegetables, but also new recipes. Hope we've inspired you as well!

May 23, 2010

City Tap House

This past week was a bit on the stressful side as both A & I had our preliminary/comprehensive exams for our respective programs. Good news is we both passed- making us official PhD candidates! Although we do have some bigger dining-based celebration plans for some point in the future, we really just wanted a low-key dinner at the end of the week. Very recently opened on Penn's campus, City Tap House has been getting a decent amount of press. Located in the Radian complex near 40th and Walnut, the restaurant takes up a large amount of indoor and outdoor space on the second level. Although it is managed by the same group that runs Public House and Field House (two very bar-type environments that aren't known for their food), someone got smart and hired head chef Al Paris who seems to have a decent amount of credentials (we're almost unsure of what he is doing at a place like this...). A had actually stopped by City Tap House about a week and a half ago as part of her boyfriend's graduation festivities, and deemed it blog-worthy. Good location and a not-too-fancy environment sealed the deal.

I was immediately impressed with the space, and I think it is the strong point for this restaurant. A huge indoor area, very tall ceilings, lots of woodwork, yet well lit and open to an enormous outdoor patio complete with a grassy lawn area- all on the second floor overlooking Walnut Street and the residential area of Penn's campus. Though A had made reservations, the hostess seemed a little on the frazzled side and we still had to wait a few minutes, which seemed the norm for groups without reservations as well. 7 PM on a Friday and lots of empty space- it's good to know that, at least at this point, there's not much of a wait- unlike the next door Bobby's Burger Palace which still has a long-ish line. We were seated near the open kitchen, with a good view of the entire place, as well as some overheard banter between a few of the chefs.

The menu is relatively standard: apps, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, main course meals, as well as a "Daily Supper" special Monday through Saturday. The price points seemed a little off, with appetizers, meal-sized salads and sandwich/fry combinations all hitting the same price range. As A had already checked out the food selection, she knew that the plates seemed a little uninspired and not worth the extra $$s. Additionally, we saw some of the pizzas coming out of the kitchen, and although these are cooked in a traditional brick oven, they really looked unappetizing. The crust was extremely thin, dry, and cracker-like with a measly amount of toppings- not our kind of pizza.

With all of these factors in mind, we opted for the cheese plate as our appetizer ($12). We like cheese, and this is a good way for chefs to show a little creativity. Additionally, A's previous visit gave her the opportunity to eat something extremely memorable- a goat cheese "crouton" that is typically served on the beet salad. She really wanted to eat this again me to try this, so we asked our quirky but hard-working waiter if we could add a crouton to the cheese plate. I'm not gonna lie- it was the highlight of the plate. Served on a thick wooden block, the cheese plate comes with three cheeses- Cabrales (a Spanish blue), Gruyere (a sweet mild and firm cheese from Switzerland), and Morbier (a semi-soft French cheese with a distinct black layer of tasteless ash- thanks Wikipedia). While all of these cheeses were good in their own right, the super creamy ball of goat cheese encased in a thin layer of crispy-fried Panko definitely won the blue ribbon. In fact, Al Paris stopped by our table and personally asked us how we liked it. He ended up going off about the woman who made this particular cheese- something about her carrying it in a sack on her back around California when he used to work in Napa Valley. He seems a little kooky, but it gave the dining experience a special element. The cheese plate also came with some raisin-y bread, a few pieces of pear and grapes, a couple spicy walnuts, and a meager dab of quince paste. Good accompaniments for the cheese, but the chefs didn't seem to try to pair them specifically. The quince was delicious- extremely sweet with a thick texture that was easy to smear on a blob of cheese. I just wish there had been more! A little more creativity with this would have been nice, but the cheese selection (plus our own addition) was solid. Even better, they didn't even charge us extra for the crouton!

Left: raisin bread and Morbier; Middle: Fruit, GIANT goat cheese blob, slices of Gruyere, hiding nuts; Right: Quince and Cabrales

For our main dishes, we opted to order a sandwich and a salad and split them. A had already had the beet salad, and the only other one that really stood out to us was the Organic Pulled Chicken ($10). The serving sizes for the salads are enormous- definitely worth their price. This particular salad started with a huge heap of spring greens, with pulled roasted chicken around the edges, toasted pecans, thick bits of crispy pancetta, generous chunks of blue cheese, golden raisins, and finely chopped green apple, all covered with a "lemon-thyme" vinaigrette. We thought the conglomeration of ingredients made for a tasty and fresh salad, and we're always looking for salad-making inspiration. The pancetta was an upgrade on bits of bacon, and along with the blue cheese, gave a salty aspect that was perfectly complemented by the sweet and sour apple and the smoky chicken. A said it reminded her of Thanksgiving- the pulled chicken was a little reminiscent of turkey leftovers. I wasn't a huge fan of the dressing- it mostly gave the salad an oily coating without much of a flavor punch, but the salad ingredients didn't really need much. A touch more vinegar would have evened everything out.

On the "Craftwich" portion of the menu, the Red Brisket Reuben ($9) also stood out. It was served open faced on a thin-sliced yet dense piece of New York-style rye bread, and came with a really-more-meat-than-necessary sized pile of brisket. Covered in a gooey layer of melted Gruyere, and with a side of unmemorable fries, I was definitely glad we were splitting this dish. The brisket was so-so, though with Percy Street BBQ and Famous 4th Street Deli on our brisket taste-o-meter, it had a lot to live up to. We both agreed that it was plenty savory for the sandwich. The thick cut of the meat made for good sized chunks in every bite. The meat was also mixed with some pickled red cabbage and came with a side of Russian dressing, giving it a very deli-style twist which we very much enjoyed. Another hearty entree- we didn't come close to finishing it.

We were planning on walking home and didn't want to lug food babies with us, so we passed on dessert. I did see a nice bread-pudding type dish come out of the kitchen, which might be worth saving room for on a future visit (A says the donuts and chocolate cake are also good). Although we didn't venture into the real "meal" section of the menu, we definitely made good choices in terms of getting a good taste of the kitchen for a very good price. If you live on/near campus, we would definitely recommend checking the place out- the environment makes it a great spot for a leisurely weekend lunch or a get-together for a larger group of friends- definitely want to enjoy a summer evening out on that patio!

City Tap House
3925 Walnut Street

May 17, 2010

Our First CSA Share

This past week was quite exciting as it marked the delivery of our first box of CSA veggies. We signed up for the CSA several months ago (we blogged about it here, so have been somewhat anxiously awaiting the start of the "season." Lancaster Farm Fresh Coop has been great about sending us updates about the progress of the farms and even including pictures of adorable baby lettuces that would eventually be ours!

Our pickup location is conveniently less than two blocks away at Metropolitan Bakery, a really great bakery that we frequent far too.. infrequently (it's kind of pricey and we don't buy that many baked goods on a regular basis). I suppose I was a bit too anxious about my first veggie box, as I went to the bakery prior to heading to work (around 8 AM). Unfortunately, the CSA director had not given us explicit directions on what time we could pick up our shares, and only told us that Metro opened at 7:30AM-- I assumed they would be there right at opening! Not the case... thankfully one of the employees was extremely nice and apologetic and took my name and number to let me know when they did arrive. Whew! I just wanted my vegetables! However, Metro is open until 7 PM giving me plenty of time to pick it up after work.

Now, on to the goods! In our first box we received:
1 bag of mushrooms (of the white button variety- a bit of a surprise as we were told we would get radishes, not mushrooms?)
1 bunch of scallions
1 head of romaine (flashy troutsback- more on this later)
1 bag baby lettuce mix (1 lb)
1 package mixed microgreens

All of these goods are certified organic and come from a variety of farms in the area. Upon signing up for the CSA, we knew the weekly load would be seasonal- and that the early boxes would be quite light and mostly spring lettuces. We also had a good idea of what we were getting (they send a list two days prior to pickup), so we were already making plans for what to do with them. And, I suppose this won't come as much of a surprise- we settled on a salad. In order to maximize the use of the vegetables in a single meal, and provide some protein and carbs, I purchased four additional items (is this going to be money saving? I'm not sure...). A loaf of wheaty sourdough bread (from Metro), some soft herb-y goat cheese, 10 ounces of sirloin steak, and a lemon equals dinner.

I chose to use the romaine as a base for the salad- it appeared to be needing consumption first. One downside to organic vegetables is that they really can't sit for long. The romaine looked very strange to me when I first saw it- the leaves were speckled with a dark red color, almost making it look like it was going bad! However, I quickly Googled "flashy troutsback" and was relieved to see that my lettuce was perfectly fine. It's so much more interesting than normal romaine, with the red color almost bleeding into the green as you chop it up. I tossed the greens, along with diced scallions, with a very light dressing I made with the juice from the lemon, a finely chopped clove of garlic, and about 1 tablespoon of good olive oil. Very simple, very refreshing.

I marinated the beef in a mix of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic for a few hours before throwing it onto the grill pan. Just a minute or two per side- it was a fairly thin piece of meat and I wanted it to remain about medium-rare. I simultaneously was sauteing the mushrooms (sliced) in a bit of butter. Cut some bread, smear it with the goat cheese, slice the meat.. the meal came together in less than 15 minutes. I piled the mushrooms and sliced meat onto the lettuce and sprinkled the microgreens on top of all of it.

The salad made a fantastic meal. The vegetables were all extremely fresh (especially the romaine!), which I suppose they should be since they were grown locally. The sauteed mushrooms and the steak made it hearty enough for a big meal. The microgreens, while small, actually contributed quite a bit- they provided a different texture and a very peppery flavor to each bite. And of course, the benefit of picking our share up at Metro is that we have no excuse not to pick up a loaf of bread. It was definitely a great addition- I'm looking forward to trying each of the many varieties of bread offered there throughout the next several months.

While this meal used up the majority of the box, we still had some scallions, some microgreens, and the bag of baby lettuces. We have since made a ridiculous amount of salads (for lunches and dinners) with the baby lettuce and still have half a bag to go. Never underestimate a pound of lettuce. Our veggies won't last us until the next box arrives, but they made a great addition to our week's eats, and I had a fun time coming up with a meal to incorporate most of them. I'm already anticipating the arrival of our next share, and am excited that I get to do this for the next 27 weeks!

May 15, 2010


I know we are constantly raving about the huge number of great restaurants in Philly, but it's something that we are still amazed at after six years here! The variety of good places to eat are scattered across the city- from Northern Liberties to West Philly, and living in the middle of it all allows most of these places to be very accessible. However, it has also prevented us from taking advantage of some of the restaurants that are just under our noses, right around Rittenhouse Square. For example, J has never been to Barclay Prime- which we could probably throw a stone at (not that we would!). Another nearby restaurant that she has never visited is Twenty Manning, literally less than two blocks from our place. A slight confession: the only reason I've been to both of these restaurants is for "special occasions" with the boyfriend! My walk to and from school has me passing Twenty Manning twice a day, and I often admired its sophistication as I walked by. On my visit with the bf, we had a decent meal- the food had a heavy Asian influence, and we enjoyed dishes such as potstickers and green curry, in a dimly lit, "romantic" atmosphere. It was good, but not particularly noteworthy (when reminding him of our visit, he had a hard time remembering it.. not a good sign), particularly considering the prices. When J considered a meal there, I gently dissuaded her.

A month or so ago, the restaurant closed for remodeling, and piqued my curiosity- what would they change? Would it make me want a return visit? There was a bit of a buzz on Philly food blogs, speculating about the changes. The restaurant has been in existence for quite some time, and was definitely being outshone by many other places popping up all over town. While it still had a steady clientele as far as I could see, it wasn't what I considered a dining destination. Major props to the owner, Audrey Claire Taichman (yes, she also owns Audrey Claire) for deciding to change this. This decision was apparently based on her desire to make Twenty Manning more of a neighborhood joint, with classic foods and lower prices. J and I liked the sounds of this- an affordable, "new" restaurant just steps from our house, with a chef and an owner who both have a reputation for good food. Slowly the restaurant morphed into a bright, shiny new American-style "grill"-- complete with an interior and exterior color change and the addition of the word to its name. Now known as Twenty Manning Grill (or TMG!!), the paper in the windows finally came down and they opened for business once again.

J and I really wanted a look at the menu before we hit it up, but the restaurant seemed to be somewhat secretive about it. It wasn't published on any food blogs that we read, nor was it posted to the TMG website or in the window of the restaurant. While walking home one day, I almost stepped on a copy lying on the ground, and took about 10 seconds to pick it up and scan it (quite conspicuously). It gave me a general feel for prices (reasonable), and combined with my glances at plates of sidewalk diners' food, I deemed it worth a visit.

We arrived for our reservation about ten minutes early, and the hostess was fine with seating us right away. The sidewalk dining seemed very popular, with less diners inside. The restaurant has huge window which open out onto the street, giving indoor seating an outdoor feel as well. It's a small-ish place, but they fit a LOT of tables in. If you go, prepare to listen to the entire conversation of your neighbors. It's still a bit dark however, even with the open windows and white paint (more reflective than the former black). Our waiter was fantastic, very cheery and quick to go along with our random jokes, as well as efficient and attentive.

He started us off with a small bread "bag"- literally a tiny paper bag with two small rolls. I swear he called them "salted rye" but upon consumption, J refused to believe the "salt" existed. They were definitely rye bread, but with only a slight rye flavor, very dense and chewy with good crust. Good bread is much appreciated, and TMG did not disappoint. Accompanying the bread was a pat of butter with a few rosemary leaves scattered on top, along with two tiny glass bowls, one with two grape tomatoes and one with coarse grain salt. The additions to our "freebies" were small but delicious- rolling the tomatoes in the salt offered a great first bite of the meal. Random? Totally. Delicious? Definitely. I suppose we may be easy to please. I also wanted to take the paper bag and the little glass bowls home. Unfortunately, this did not happen.

While the restaurants new logo proclaims the offering of "Fish, Fowl, Beef, (and) Pork", we somehow managed to stick to only one of these categories- the seafood. We started with the Crab Cakes ($9.50). (Note: I usually have an online menu to remind me about prices and dishes, but I'm having to go solely based on memory here. Hopefully I'm still accurate!) Two small cakes were topped with a creamy tartar sauce, and served with an apple slaw. Perfect to split between the two of us, the cakes were filled with crab and very little filler, and the sauce provided a good tangy flavor. The apple slaw was "eh"- matchstick sized slices of green apple paired with similar slivers of yellow bell pepper were tossed in a very light, almost imperceptible dressing. I think the idea was great- keeping the dish as light as possible, but the flavors were so hard to grasp with such a thin cut of the salad components.

As a main dish, J ordered the Tuna Burger ($13). They also have a beef burger, turkey burger, and veggie burger, all of which are very affordable and come with a huge pile of fries. J substituted the wedge fries for the normal shoestring- for an additional $1 surcharge. We prefer thick steak-style fries to thin, crispy fries, and when we saw the wedge potatoes as a side option, were quick to make the substitution. The tuna burger had an interesting composition- cooked to order (as rare as possible), and then given a rough chop and tossed with a mayonnaise based dressing before being encompassed by a round, airy bun. This made it easier to eat (taking a bite off of a big slab of tuna could be awkward), and also provided for a more interesting texture. The tuna was delicious- however, the fresh fish flavor was somewhat muffled by the bun, which was a little on the dry side. J solved this problem by eating the sandwich open-faced. However, when she was snapping pictures of the sandwich, she got two snide comments from TMG employees. One server walked by and said "Are you going to put those pictures on Facebook?" Um, no. That would be stupid. Since the lighting wasn't great, and more than one shot was necessary, it allowed time for a bus-girl to notice the picture-taking, stop, and annoyingly hover while making confused/shocked faces. "WHAT is she taking a picture of?" she practically shouted. I could only explain that we write a food blog. She seemed satisfied with the answer, but left us feeling quite exposed and awkward. We have NEVER had comments from waitstaff about our picture-taking at any of the other restaurants we've blogged about. So thank you, TMG, for being the first. However, the delightfulness of our meals kept us chugging along happily. The fries that we substituted as a side were really good, soft and warm with only a slight crisp shell. A huge pool of ketchup was certainly utilized.

Note: I know this is fuzzy- the rude comments stressed me out- but an inside view is necessary.

Along with their normal menu offerings, TMG has a daily special. i took advantage of the Friday special- the Lobster Roll. I have had only a few run-ins with lobster in my life (sadly), but have always enjoyed it immensely. The daily special ($19) was well worth the slightly higher price. Large chunks of lobster were coated in a light mayonnaise dressing, and tossed with slivers of crunchy veggies- carrots and the like. Together, this was arrayed on top of an extremely soft long roll. At first I thought it looked like a soft pretzel, but it was definitely bread. It was really the perfect way to transport the lobster into my mouth, this time without overwhelming the seafood flavor at all (perhaps because it was already open-faced?) The roll was served with a pickle, which if I had known, I wouldn't have ordered another on the side. Yes, TMG has "A Good Pickle" as a side option ($0.50!). These pickles were super soft and reminded us of Jewish delis. Our waiter insisted that they should be called "A Great Pickle" but we think we'll stick with "good." We appreciated the subtle humor though.

The dessert options looked fantastic, but we were a bit too full to partake. Not only do they offer a "Half-Baked Tollhouse Cookie" (Um, hello! We practically grew up on homemade chocolate chip cookies using the Tollhouse recipe, plus we enjoy our baked goods undercooked so.. this sounds like our personal heaven), but they also offer pints of homemade ice cream, complete with "two plastic spoons and Rittenhouse Square." Again, what a cute idea, and actual personality shining through right on the menu. At the end of the meal, we automatically and unanimously decided we MUST come back. I think it would be a super fun date spot (albeit a bit less romantic than Twenty Manning pre-makeover), and there are so many menu items I'd still like to try (including those desserts!) Thanks to the proprietors for choosing to create an affordable neighborhood spot that we will likely add as a regular choice to our restaurant rotation.

May 9, 2010

Banana Pudding Adventures

One of the best parts of my work day is eating lunch (obviously- its food related!). All the lovely ladies who work in my lab (and one of the guys if he's feeling up to the gender ratio discrepancy) take a break to eat and catch up on non-science related topics. We usually check out what everyone is eating- lots of "ooh what's that?" and "Where did you get that?" fly around the table on any given day. A few months ago, a large quantity of homemade banana pudding was passed around the table, and I immediately knew I needed to get the recipe and make my own batch.

The recipe originates from the "More From Magnolia" cookbook which itself originated from the Magnolia Bakery, made famous (at least to me) by this video. I've had it in my possession for quite some time, but was a little sad because I realized that in order to make the true recipe, I needed an electric mixer to hand make whipped cream (no Cool Whip here, thanks). A & I have been building our kitchen gadget collection for several years now, but we've somehow bypassed the need for a mixer... until this recipe landed in my inbox. I had to take a quick trip to Kitchen Kapers for a baking sheet and promised A that I would pick up a mixer "if they're not like, $50." And what do you know? The two options they had available were both $49.99.

A few weeks passed and the creamy deliciousness of the banana pudding kept popping up in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, the lack of a car in this city makes it a little difficult to make a Target run for cheap kitchen appliances. However, an even better opportunity arose... the parentals came for a weekend visit. As always, our wonderful mom asked us if we needed anything for our place (no visit is complete without them making some appreciated addition to our condo). I mentioned that I was in need of a mixer, and sure enough, we returned home from work to find a mixer in one of the kitchen cabinets. So this banana pudding is with very many thanks to our mom (Happy Mother's Day, Mommy!)

Fast forward several more weeks till now. A & I picked up the necessary ingredients at Whole Foods, so this was a mostly organic and more expensive version of the pudding. To make a half sized batch of the pudding (serves six) you will need:

3/4 c water
1/3 c vanilla pudding mix
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
1.5 c cold heavy cream
1 box vanilla wafers
2 ripe bananas, sliced

The recipe starts out with instructions for making the pudding. My experience with making instant pudding usually just involves the mix and some cold milk, but in this case you replace the milk with water and sweetened condensed milk (which is essentially caramel). Because my Whole Foods pudding wasn't instant, I mixed together the ingredients and popped the bowl into my fridge, setting a mental 4 hour timer. However, when I came back to complete the recipe, my mix had separated into a thick sugary sludge on the bottom of the bowl with a totally liquidy layer on the top. Not pudding. Insert lots of frowns and muttering about organic pudding mix.

Thankfully, since I had halved the original recipe, I had saved the other half can of my milk and the other half of the box of pudding. This time, I took a look at the instructions on the box of pudding. The box directed me to heat the mix with milk, so I again replaced the milk with the water/s.c.milk mixture and brought it up to a boil, whisking rapidly during the entire process (I wasn't risking another screw-up!).

It did seem to thicken up a bit, and the box promised it would continue to thicken further during the four hour refrigeration. It also gave the helpful hint of placing plastic wrap over the top to prevent a "skin" from forming. I definitely wanted to avoid any type of skin, so I covered the bowl, put it in the fridge and set yet another mental timer. I also realized I needed to chill a bowl for future whipped cream making, so I put yet another bowl into the freezer (glad we have an extensive bowl collection!)

Four hours later, my pudding seemed to be a regular pudding consistency, so I whipped up the heavy cream (and perhaps took a small sip or two... liquid butter... so good). I'm not an expert in making whipped cream as I make it about once a year, on Thanksgiving to go on top of freshly baked pumpkin bread, one of our moms truly perfected creations. However, the recipe called for "soft peaks", which formed after just a few minutes with the mixer. Easy enough.

The next step is to fold the pudding into the whipped cream (use a spatula). The ratio seemed way off- small bowl of pudding into large bowl of whipped cream doesn't equal pudding, at least by my math. However, it was what the recipe called for, so I rolled with it. A helped me chop up the bananas and layer them with the pudding and the cookies in yet another bowl, though you can use any deep-ish dish. The recipe specifically directs that the layered concoction NOT end with bananas, as they will brown, so my layers were: cream, bananas, cookies, cream, bananas, cookies, cream, crumbled cookies. We covered this bowl and put it in the fridge to let all the flavors meld together cookies get soggy, and headed off to dinner.

A couple of hours later, the pudding was ready to be eaten (finally!). As a warning, the creaminess from the heavy cream and the sugaryness from the sweetened condensed milk makes this a VERY rich dish. We each had a small bowl of it, and by the end I felt a little overwhelmed by the intensity of it. However, it is a perfect summer dessert and we HIGHLY recommend it (great option for a make-ahead dinner party dessert as well- you'll knock the socks off your guests!) Next time I will try to use instant pudding to avoid the issues I had (and to save about 8 hours of time...). However, the "vanilla wafers" we got at Whole Foods were actually more like shortbread cookies, and they were a unique change-up to the more boring "Nilla Wafers" you usually see in banana pudding. Also, make sure to use super ripe bananas- it makes for a better flavor AND texture.

May 8, 2010

Maru Global

A & I are always inspired to try to find the little niche restaurants that are often overshadowed in a city like Philadelphia. We have our favorite place for calzones (Gusto) and our favorite place for pitas (Hummus) and our favorite place for Mexican food (MadMex)- places that don't get a lot of attention because they don't have big name chefs or a fancy menu. Maru Global recently opened near Jefferson and offers a totally unique cuisine in the "hole-in-the-wall" setting that so often gets overlooked. Advertising "All-Natural Fast Foods Inspired by Japanese Street Vendors", this place definitely had our attention.

Although it hasn't gotten many good reviews, we knew that these were mostly complaints about the lack of atmosphere as well as the fact that the food wasn't a good replica of true Japanese food. As atmosphere is really what you make of it, and we've never been to Japan, we kept an open mind. Reminiscent of your average sushi shop, there were a few tables. However, the majority of the space was taken up by the open kitchen and a big case of premade food as well as lots of really fresh looking vegetables and a variety of Japanese beverages and packaged snacks. The menu is designed for take-out, so we were essentially getting take-out food and eating it inside the restaurant.

We started out with a couple of the "small" salads (other "big" salads are also available). Our first choice was the octopus salad ($2.99). This was served to us right away since it was literally just taken out of the case and put on a tray. The portion was incredibly small, with each of us getting a few bites of greens tossed with shredded carrot, spiralized cucumber, noodles of daikon and a small blob of a dark green Wakame seaweed. Decent mixture of ingredients, but it was just... so small. And the octopus was literally one piece that I had to bite in half so A could try it as well. In its defense, it was actually very good. Cold, but with a firm texture and subtly meaty flavor. The dressing served alongside the salad was a little too mild to provide any real contribution. I know I shouldn't expect much from a $3 salad but... I wasn't too impressed.

We also tried the seaweed salad ($2.99). One of our favorite bloggers has recently touted the health benefits as well as the interesting flavor of sea vegetables, so I wanted to take the opportunity to try out several different types in one go. This salad had three different kinds of seaweed, and I suppose in this case the quantity was just right for a little taste-test (but not for if you're hungry!). The three seaweeds had varying colors and textures- different levels of crunchiness versus a more slippery feeling. I ended up enjoying the dark green one the most- it reminded me of my typical greens with a little extra saltiness. A enjoyed the light green one as it had the most crunch. The dressing for this salad was advertised as "sweet" but it was made with a good amount of sesame oil, giving the seaweed another dimension of flavor.

Although there are a few noodle and rice dishes, we decided to primarily focus on the "Takoyaki" portion of the menu. Also called "maru balls", these dishes are described as bite-sized crepe balls with various fillings. There are three serving sizes, but as we wanted to try a number of the flavors, we ordered the smallest size (6 balls for $3.25). Of course we had to try "the Original", which we ordered with an octopus filling. The balls were extremely light and airy with almost no crispiness on the outside, probably due to the way they are cooked. The octopus was practically non-existent, but the general flavor was good, thanks to the sweet sauce that was glazed over the top. The balls were also covered in a pile of shaved bonito flakes which looked and tasted like weird flaky wood chips- we scraped them off after the first taste.

The second type we tried was the Spicy Shrimp. This was essentially a spicy shrimp sushi roll in maru ball form. Replace the dense rice with a fluffy sweetish dough and that was what this was. Because we enjoy shrimp, and spicy sauce, this was a hit. They weren't overly greasy at all- even though its cooked in oil it really was just a lighter version of a spicy tuna roll... This was actually a problem, however, because the food just wasn't in the least bit filling.

The densest of the choices was the "corn and salsa verde balls" ($5.99). We love cornbread, and these really had potential. Made with cornmeal and covered in a mildly spicy green salsa and a dab of creamy crumbly cotija cheese, we tried to appreciate these as much as we could. However, we really love a gritty cornmeal, and this was probably made with masa, or a finer powdered form of cornmeal. It made for somewhat of a mushy texture- definitely needed some more time in the pan. Also, for twice the price of the balls with meat, but without meat, we're still scratching our heads over the pricing tactics...

The last choice was BBQ chicken. These were probably the favorite of the bunch, which may or may not be based on how much we love BBQ. The sauce was definitely on the sweeter side, but still had the tangy vinegar flavor that makes a great sauce. These seemed to be a little crispier on the outside, while the airy middle made a great capsule for shredded chicken and sauce.

When we first placed our order, we asked the server if it was an adequate amount of food for two people. She definitely made it seem like we were on the "too much" side of the spectrum, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Because the balls have so much space inside, they aren't at all substantial. We thought about ordering dessert, but just didn't want more takoyaki (though the Almond Joy takoyaki sounds like it might require a second visit). Due to the inexpensive nature of the meal and the proximity of Whole Foods, our dinner ended up being bolstered by a few things off the delicious Whole Foods salad bar as well as a couple of their terrific desserts (WF vegan peanut butter fudge is SO GOOD).

Overall I think we were both glad we checked it out. It was certainly different, and because we had nothing to compare it with, we were satisfied. I also would like to try out the Japanese Beef Curry Burrito, and because Maru is right around the corner from my lab, I might have to take a lunchtime excursion in the near future!

Maru Global

10th St between Spruce and Locust

Vegan Banana Pancakes

Pancakes are a specialty in our house. Sometime during college, we started making pancakes on the occasional weekend. Any time someone came to visit us, we would end up making pancakes for breakfast. Every once in awhile, we'd have pancakes for dinner. During our senior year, we had a pancake party at our apartment where we fed over twenty of our friends (true story). J is the official pancake maker-- I'm responsible for a majority of the cooking but J has a few designated duties, including this one. We used to always use a Bisquick mix- nothing special, but guaranteed delicious. Recently, we have been branching out- last fall, J made pumpkin pancakes almost every week under my insistence (we'll have to share that recipe this fall!). She also started always making them from scratch and incorporating extra ingredients such as flax meal and granola.

A few weeks ago, I was home alone and had a major pancake craving and no twin to make them for me. I was also missing a few key ingredients, but I figured I could whip up something that would satisfy. Somehow, they ended up being utterly fantastic, and I couldn't wait to share the new recipe with the official pancake maker. After receiving her blessing, I decided I needed to share it with you! The recipe isn't all that original, but the combination of ingredients makes wonderfully dense delicious cakes.

Vegan Banana Pancakes (serves two hungry people, can EASILY be doubled or tripled if needed)
1 cup Bisquick HeartSmart pancake mix
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 ripe banana
1.5 T flax meal
4.5 T water
2/3 cup almond milk (or any milk of your choice)

Not being the pancake expert, I resorted to using the mix. However, at the time, I also had a ripe banana that needed eating. I despise ripe bananas by themselves, but they are great for several uses: smoothies, banana bread, and smooshed into oatmeal. I have a semi love affair with oatmeal mixed with banana and peanut butter, so using this as an inspiration, included oats and the ripe banana (mashed) in the mix. The key ingredients I was missing were milk and eggs but had solid backups: almond milk and flax meal. You may think this is odd but hear me out. First of all, J and I don't drink cows milk. We aren't lactose intolerant or vegan but the only thing we use milk for (for the most part) is cereal. We find that "alternative" milks have a much sweeter flavor that helps spruce up our usually boring/healthy cereal (not hating on these, we truly enjoy them). Almond milk, soy milk, whole grain milk (from TJs), rice milk... extremely delicious. These milks are also perfect substitutes in pancakes- although they are a bit lower in protein than cows milk, apparently this is not important.

Eggs on the other hand- how can you take out the egg?? We have been consuming flax meal for a few months now (great health benefits and easily added to cereal or oatmeal for a little extra boost of fiber and healthy fats) and we originally bought the Bob's Red Mill brand from our grocery store. On the side of the bag, a helpful hint instructed us to use flax meal instead of eggs for baking purposes! I'm not sure how this works but.. just trust me. It does. As well as serving as a substitute for eggs it also adds an extra touch- it provides the pancakes an additional nutty wholesome flavor. The trick for flaxseed "eggs" is to mix 1 tablespoon of the ground meal with 3 tablespoons of water and allow it to sit for 2-3 minutes. This makes one egg. Need an egg and a half? Totally possible.

To make these pancakes, first start by mixing up your "eggs" and allowing them to sit while you continue with the process. Combine the Bisquick and oats with the banana and use a fork to mash it and stir it together. Depending on the size of the banana, you may or may not be able to incorporate all of the dry ingredients into the banana. If you CAN do this, I would suggest cutting down on the milk-- just add until it gives you a thick consistency. Remember, you still have to add the flax, which is quite watery in itself. If not, then the recommended proportion listed above should work just fine. However, this recipe will probably give you quite a thick pancake. J and I prefer our pancakes to be more of a "biscuit" consistency, fat and doughy. If that's not your thing, add your choice of milk until you get the batter the way you want it. You can also always add more Bisquick or oats if it's looking a little too liquidy.

Over medium heat, coat your pan with your choice of oil/butter (we used a small smear of Smart Balance butter-- unveganifying the pancakes, but oh well!). Ladle on small pools of mix, usually about 1/3 cup per pancake. They will begin to fluff up and when the edges begin to look solid, it's time to flip (this really doesn't take long- perhaps a minute or two). Depending on how doughy you like your pancakes and how thick your batter is, finish cooking on the other side.

Serve immediately, if possible. We like to eat them with maple syrup or just plain- the banana gives superb sweetness all on its own. If you're looking for an extra boost of nutrients/calories, these are also fantastic with peanut butter (like I said, love affair...). We hope you like these oat-y thick delicious pancakes as much as we do- they are almost like banana bread in pancake form. The lack of cows milk and eggs make these vegan-friendly AND allow you to eat the batter without worries ;)

May 3, 2010

Hoof + Fin

When A & I get together with friends for dinner, we usually put a decent amount of thought into what restaurant we should patron. Sometimes we like to choose something that we know is good (we recently recommended Garces Trading Co. and Kanella to a couple sitting next to us at a restaurant), but we also are usually on a mission to try something new ourselves. With that being said, we have to make sure that the chosen restaurant will cater to everyone's food tastes while still being interesting blog material and for an affordable price. This past weekend, we decided that the new-ish Argentinian-themed Hoof + Fin fit the bill for a get-together with a good college friend and our boyfriends.

Because my boyfriend was treating me to a Phillies game, we wanted to make reservations for later in the evening lest the game go long. Apparently when A called with a request for 8 PM, the host refused that time, but offered 8:15 instead. This seemed fine by us, though a bit strange when we entered the restaurant to find a majority of empty tables. On 3rd Street just off of South (in the space previously occupied by Gayle, which we never had the chance to check out) the place is small and homey, though very dimly lit. Apparently restaurants do not consider food bloggers when they plan their lighting scheme- I extend my apologies for the craptastic photography in this post.

The meal started out with some "breadsticks" served in a cute glass jar alongside a spicy pepper mayonnaisey sauce. Crunchy, a "different" take on the usual bread basket, and not totally filling which is always problematic for those of us who can never say no to multiple pieces of carby goodness.

Another good thing about eating with more people (besides the great company!) is the ability to try more of the menu. We decided to each order an appetizer and share them amongst the table. I ordered the grilled sweetbreads ($12), which came with a little "criolla" side salad. After the miniature fried version of sweetbreads that I had at Amis, I thought that this was a fabulous rendition- fat chunks of smooth veal thymus glands (which initiated a one-sided T-cell conversation from my med student bf) with a touch of "fresh off the grill" taste. Although Google does nothing to assist me in the meaning of the word "criolla", the salad was a simple mix of spring greens with a light yet surprisingly sweet dressing. There were enough pieces for everyone to try, and its mild flavor and texture makes it a good dish for less adventurous eaters to check out (just don't think about what it is!)

After a conversation about the Louisiana oil spill affecting the seafood harvest and when raw seafood is considered safe (months with an R?), we still opted to order the oysters ($11)- our waitress informed us they were Canadian, which seemed safe enough. Served on the halfshell with an adorable lipped cup of mignonette (vinegar & shallots), the oysters were delicious all on their own or with a touch of lemon and sauce. Their smallish size and tenderness was appreciated- no one likes a giant mouthful of chewy mollusk. Just the right amount of salty without the "I just gulped the ocean" feeling- overall a solid little bite of seafood.

A chose the beef tartare ($9)- a totally unexpected twist on this dish gave it mixed reviews. I personally thought that the additional ingredients mixed with the beef completely stole the spotlight, leaving me with almost no perception of the mild flavor of raw beef that I love. The soft texture was also lost among the onions and peppers and possibly mushrooms- A claimed a "meaty texture" that she enjoyed, but I must have missed out on that. If I had tried it without expecting tartare, I would have been pleased with the overall mix of things, but it just... wasn't tartare.

Fried calamari ($10) is always a crowd-pleaser, and the Hoof+Fin version was no exception. Instead of being batter-fried, the octopus was very thinly sliced and then lightly dusted in cornmeal. I couldn't even tell you how it was cooked, because it lacked the deep-fried flavor that I'm used to. It was tossed in a tangy orange-hinted barbecue sauce with a mix of peppers, onions and tomatoes. The vinegar flavor of the sauce mixed with the earthiness of the grilled veggies made for superb additions to the grainy-on-the-outside, smooth-on-the-inside calamari. Also a great appetizer to share due to its hearty portion size.

We also tried out the tuna ceviche ($12)- not something I would usually order (as documented in the Spinal Tapas post) due to the overly limey flavor, but this was actually super delicious. Unlike the beef tartare, the tuna was chopped into sizable pieces and mixed with similar-sized small cubes of watermelon. The mixture of the cool, soft, subtly sweet watermelon was absolutely perfect with regards to cutting the acidity of the fish. It would sort of go back and forth in my mouth between smooth and sour fish and grainy sweet fruit- delicious. There was also some chopped onion and radish to give it a little crunch. Definitely the first ceviche I've truly enjoyed!

The last app was the grilled asparagus ($6). Not entirely noteable- we make this ourselves at home and it tastes about the same. The bacon viniagrette was kind of watery without a whole lot of flavor, and the poached egg was similarly uninspired.

The main course part of the menu gives you two primary options- you can order a true main course dish with multiple components selected by the chef (typically a meat, vegetable and starch combo), or you can mix and match your own meal by ordering a meat "From the Grill" and then choosing the accompaniments that you prefer.

A ordered a dish from the main courses- Pan Roasted Skate Wing with pureed butternut squash and more asparagus ($18). She loved the skate, which makes me a little sad as stingrays are my favorite animal of all time. However, the skate makes for a buttery soft whitefish fillet- this piece was particularly meaty and broke into thick flaky chunks. It was also dusted with a fine cornmeal and topped with a caper sauce that A disliked but "dealt with because (she) really like(s) the fish". She also claimed the butternut squash to be "dessert-like" as it was super sweet with a touch of cinnamon. Light in color, but thickly whipped (gobs of butter I presume?), it was very much enjoyed and seemed a good contrast to the vinegary sauce of the fish. The asparagus was very thin, not in the least bit tough, and generally just a good veggie side.

I opted to build my own meal, starting with the 8 oz mahi mahi and adding the crushed yams and grilled vegetables ($18). The mahi was cooked beautifully, and was perfect in its simple flavor and delicate texture. The grilled peppers, onions and cherry tomatoes were also simply delicious- the heat of the grill really brought out the sweetness of each veggie. In contrast, the crushed yams were a complex starchy side that I'm still trying to decipher. Don't get me wrong- I loved every bit of it. It was essentially a creamy smooth pile of sweet potato with a thin "skin" of broiled crispiness and topped with a cool sour yet sweet cream sauce... every layer was starkly different in taste and texture and made for a very interesting side dish- exactly what I was hoping for from this kitchen.

Our dining mates tried a variety of other dishes from the menu, including a "mixed grill" special and a seafood rice dish reminiscent of paella. Everyone seemed pleased with the entrees- as Argentinians are famous for the quantity and variety of meats that they prepare and consume, we were certainly exposed to a large array of them.

The amount of food that we ate left us open to hearing about the dessert options. There were three selections that evening, yet we all decided on the dulce de leche crepes. Two thin crepes with a simple filling of caramel and strawberries, topped with a whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Perfectly matched by my decaf latte, the dessert was a sweet and light ending to a delicious and hearty meal.

With the courtyard in the back, the restaurant seems to have plenty of space while still keeping its intimate feel, yet we did notice that a group of six was turned away, even with many empty four-tops that could easily be pushed together. Perhaps this was because of a shortage of servers/cooks?? Our service was great- everything seemed well-timed and I felt well attended to without our waitress being at all overbearing. I would love to go back soon, though with our "list" growing ever longer, it seems sadly unlikely. This was just another example of the thriving restaurant scene on South Street.

617 S 3rd St