August 30, 2010

Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Now that I hope you have that annoyingly funny song stuck in your head, we can move on to the real focus for today: Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars. As "gourmet" as I like to eat, simply put, there really is nothing like a good peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Classic, unpretentious, just two pieces of soft white bread filled with creamy (our preference over crunchy) peanut butter and sweet, sticky jelly. Really, anything with peanut butter is good by me (we usually have two or more containers of various nut butters open at any given time, and we're lucky if they last a week).

Many years ago, we sampled a delicious dessert based on this oh-so-popular sandwich at a potluck dinner, and thankfully, J was smart enough to ask for the recipe. Barefoot Contessa herself was behind the addicting peanut butter and jelly bars that we have since wanted to recreate. However, it is difficult to make an extremely rich dessert and justify keeping it around the house until it is gone (unless it's snowing outside, of course). This past weekend, we were invited to attend a bridal shower in honor of one of our very best friends, and asked to bring a dish to share. We debated many items but finally settled on the PB&J bars... really, four years of dreaming about them was long enough. As the bridal shower was taking place in Gainesville, we had the pleasure of using our parents kitchen (and all of the memory evoking baking apparatuses (apparati?): hello, big yellow mixing bowl and old wooden spoon!)

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bars

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1.5 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups (18 oz; a small jar) creamy peanut butter (recommended: the fake kind)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1.5 tsp. kosher salt
1.5 cups (18 oz; a small jar) jelly or jam
2/3 cups peanuts (we used honey roasted), chopped

Preheat the oven to 350. Prepare your baking pan, a 9 by 13" cake pan. The directions from the website linked above were very vague, so we did a little research to better understand what we needed to do. Basically, you want to line the pan with parchment paper. However, if you just stick the paper in, it doesn't stay put very well. To aid the process, butter or grease the pan, bottom and sides, and then smooth the paper onto the now sticky surface until it fully lines the pan. Then, butter the top of the parchment paper (the whole thing, bottom and sides) and coat with flour. If you aren't too concerned about the appearance of your bars, you could skip the parchment paper and butter and flour the pan itself. However, the parchment paper makes it very easy to remove the bars for the last bit of cooling without ruining them.

The recipe also calls for the following mixing to be done using an electric stand mixer. Our parents don't have one, and we considered using a hand held electric mixer, but in the end used old-fashioned "elbow grease." Cream the butter and sugar together until it is a smooth light yellow (delicious) mess. Add the vanilla, the eggs, and the peanut butter, and mix until everything is incorporated well-- it takes a few minutes. Ina Garten (is that really her name?) recommends Skippy peanut butter, but we couldn't bring ourselves to do that-- we wanted to use organic, pure peanut butter but the price difference had us choosing Publix brand regular creamy peanut butter (Note: Peanut butter really should be peanuts and salt, nothing else. But perhaps we are nut butter snobs).

Oh, yeahhh.

In another small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In small batches, add the flour to the butter mixture, stirring to combine after each addition. Your dough is now done! Spread approximately 2/3rds of the mix into the prepared pan, using spoons, spatulas, butter knives, and fingers to create a smooth, even surface.

Then, spread your jelly or jam on top of this layer. We chose Polaner's grape jelly (with fiber! Yeah, nutrition!)- we typically eat apricot jam, but wanted a dark color to be visible against the brown bar base, and the recipe suggested raspberry (which may have made a more "sophisticated" bar), but we wanted the classic of all classics- grape. We used a bit less than the recommended amount- a jar is only 15.5 ounces instead of the requested 18, but it worked out fine.

After spreading on the jelly, take the remaining dough and place small pinches/balls/blobs of dough all over the jelly. It doesn't have to be pretty, or perfect, but it should be fairly well covered when you're done. The baking process will settle these blobs down a bit, but not completely. Finally, sprinkle the peanuts over the top (or leave them out if you wish), and bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

Allow to cool, and then lift onto a smooth surface using the parchment paper as "handles." Cut into bar size pieces- the recipe states that it yields 24 bars, but these would be pretty large bars (about 2" by 3.5"). We cut each of the suggested bars in half, allowing many more pieces of peanut butter and jelly delight.

The final outcome: delicious. As desserts go, these aren't too sweet, but in this case, it works well as it allows the peanut butter flavor to really shine. The base of the bar is a bit like peanut butter fudge- dense with just a bit of crumble. The jelly flavor is present, but does take a back seat to the peanut butter, and the chunks of dough and peanuts on top are a little crunchy. My mom wondered what they would be like with crunchy peanut butter- I am sure just as delicious, if that's your thing. I highly recommend taking the path we chose, and making these if you have an event or a large group to disperse them among, because you may or may not want to consume the entire pan yourself.

August 23, 2010

Oven Baked Ribs

The joys of city living are many: quick access to great shops and restaurants, being able to live car-free, being 15 minutes away from a major airport, and having a cute and cozy condo within a recently remodeled brownstone. But truth be told, we sometimes long for those things that only life in suburbia can offer: big box stores, malls, running and biking trails, and fresh air. Our kitchen set-up also reflects this city/country divide. We have a fantastic, well-equipped kitchen, but there is really only so much space. We also lack all ability to grill (minus our very handy cast iron grill pan), which is particularly sad in the summer. I sometimes feel as if I "miss out" on creating some excellent meals just from the lack of a grill; I despise recipes that begin with instructions to "Pre-heat your grill." For some time, into this category of "no-can-do's," I mentally stored ribs.

Then, a casual comment from J to her boyfriend resulted in an eye-opening discovery. You CAN make ribs in the comfort of your own home, withOUT slaving over them for hours (and sometimes days, as it seems like all those cooks on TV do). I quickly did my research online and then headed to Whole Foods (a special weekend treat). There, I was faced with the option of baby back ribs or St. Louis ribs. I asked the meat man what the difference was, and he informed me that St. Louis ribs are from the front or side of the animal while baby backs are from the.. well, back. This results in St. Louis ribs (also known as spareribs) to be meatier, but perhaps not as tender. I like meat, and the St. Louis ribs were practically half the price, so I brought home a full rack- surprisingly only about $8.

I first examined the rack of ribs for any extra fat or membranes to remove-- apparently on the back (or bone) side of the ribs there is a membrane that can cause for some extra chewy bites. I didn't see any pleura that looked removable, so I forged ahead. First, sprinkle both sides of the ribs with salt and pepper and place on a sheet of aluminum foil (the non-shiny side). Next, cover both sides of the ribs with a dry rub- basically, a mixture of lots of different spices. You can buy these pre-made at the grocery store, but I was lucky enough to have been given a homemade rub leftover from a meal that J's boyfriend had made us (hey, two props to him!). The recipe, found here, is as follows:

Emeril's Southwest Dry Rub Recipe

3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. coriander
1 Tbsp. granulated garlic
1 Tbsp. granulated onion
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. cracked black pepper

This gives you enough rub for many meals. Don't be sparing. And also, don't be shy. Rub it in. Then, wrap your ribs in the aluminum foil and place in the fridge for a minimum of one hour. Seeing as I'm impatient, I went with the minimum, and it turned out just fine!

After your long wait is over, preheat your OVEN (!) to 425. Remove the ribs from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a baking sheet with a lip (a flat cookie sheet will not work!), bone side down. Mix together 3/4 cup chicken broth, a few splashes of white vinegar, and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce (it's not science people), and then pour around your ribs (I avoided pouring directly on top to prevent disturbing the rub). Cover the entire thing with aluminum foil and carefully place into the oven.

If you are making multiple racks on multiple sheets, some recipes suggest switching the sheets from the top rack to the bottom rack halfway through your cooking time, so I figured one sheet = middle rack. Again, it worked out just fine. After about an hour and a half to two hours later, your ribs should be done and almost ready to eat. If you wanted to slow cook them, I would recommend a lower temperature (about 250) for four to six hours, but ninety minutes works just as well.

Carefully remove the pan, peel off the foil and drain the liquid (without losing your ribs). At this point I noticed my ribs had shrunk-- the bones were now sticking out (providing perfect handles). I also noticed the pan juice was a bit shiny- the fat and grease from the ribs had literally melted off, leaving a leaner, meatier rack of ribs. From here, turn your oven from bake to broil. Smother those ribs in barbecue sauce (the meat side), and place under the broiler for five to ten minutes. This allows the sauce coating to brown up a bit and form a more solid covering-- less mess when you eat.

Post-cook, pre-sauce

Remove from the oven and cut each rib loose. Serve with whatever Southern-style sides you desire-- and you may just forget that you live right downtown in a Mid-Atlantic metropolis.

August 22, 2010


Replacing the standard-but-not-special sushi restarant Misso, Muntin is a promising Pan-Asian fusion-esque restaurant just a hop, skip and a jump down Spruce Street from where we live. Recently reviewed by Philly Weekly and with 4.5 stars on Yelp, Muntin seemed like a tasty new addition to the neighborhood. Written a mere two weeks ago, the PW review promised me a delicious meal of scallion pancakes and crispy red snapper. Looking for a casual place to have dinner with friends before catching the Phillies/Eagles games on a Friday night, Muntin hit the convenience, price range, and fresh-face trifecta that we are constantly seeking out.

Or so we thought... Arriving at around 7 PM, we found that the only real change from its predecessor was a different name and a cute pagoda style logo. Identical decor, the same smooth jazz, and very quiet- only one or two tables of diners. Seated at a table in the window, we were informed that Muntin had recently come under new management, which corresponded with a "different" menu. Not thinking much of it, we settled in and began to check out our options. At this point, we quickly realized that the new management had reverted Muntin back into a more expensive version of Misso- the menu was very short, consisting of 95% sushi and 5% unoriginal and overpriced entrees. Unfortunately for us, no one thought it might be a good idea to change the online menu, luring us and other unsuspecting diners into their trap.

At this point we could have chosen to leave, but our server swiftly brought out water and some complimentary edamame, making an early departure difficult. We decided to forgo the awkwardness and give the food a chance. I started with the "Hasu salad"- mixed greens with goat cheese ($10). While the price was a little steep for a simple salad, it was actually quite tasty. The greens were fresh and the vinaigrette light with a hint of ginger. The goat cheese was served as three flattened-golf-ball-sized chunks, deep fried to provide a crispy casing around the creamy cheese. These were reminiscent of the goat cheese "crouton" at City Tap House, and equally as enjoyable. Still not quite worth a ten spot though...

A opted to start with a spicy tuna roll ($7). Standard mix of spicy sauce and mushed up tuna bits, it was a little on the boring side. Not that we have any reason to expect anything more, it was just plain old sushi.

Our table split the fried calamari ($10) as our go-to favorite. As a general indicator of restaurant quality, Muntin missed the mark on these big time. Very thin rings of calamari had a greasy and out-of-a-box uniformly colored look. Served with a side of mayonnaise with a splash of soy sauce for dipping, the overall presentation was unappetizing and the taste mediocre.

The one true positive note of the meal was the "Sashimi Regular" ($20), which A and I split as our entree. Eighteen generous pieces of sashimi satiated my need for raw fish. Though the menu advertises this as a "chef's choice", the types of fish were never revealed to us. However, even our amateur eyes picked out salmon, yellowtail, and at least two cuts of tuna. The other two types remain a mystery... Overall we felt the quality of the fish was good and the portion well worth the price.

Vastly disappointed that we missed out on some potentially delicious Asian fusion cuisine, our trip to Muntin was not at all what we were expecting. The PW review highlighted the general quietness of the restaurant- not typically a good indicator for success. Unfortunately, Muntin is now just another second-rate sushi joint. I do have to point out the quality of the service- our three servers really had nothing better to do than be at our beck and call. The food came out quickly, but again, those sushi chefs had only one or two other plates to fill. Otherwise, our stop at the nearby Rita's for dessert was more of a culinary excitement.

1326 Spruce St

August 16, 2010

Mango Moon

The recent creation of websites such as Groupon and Living Social is (in my opinion) a true stroke of genius. If you aren't familiar with these sites, you should be. The basic premise is that the managers of each site partner with various companies throughout each host city in order to provide customers with deep discounts while guaranteeing the businesses more customers. Each day, I receive an email from both of these sites (although there are a number of new ones popping up all the time), each advertising the "Daily Deal." These deals usually provide 50-90% off of some sort of good or service, ranging from spa or salon services, restaurant gift certificates, coupons for yoga classes, and even a sky-diving discount. You purchase the coupon at the advertised discount, and if a certain number of customers also purchase the deal, it's "on"-- basically ensuring that the company advertised each day will receive a pretty large influx of customers (I think every deal usually gets plenty of buyers!)

Anyways.. while I enjoy getting these emails, I have only found one that I just HAD to have. The coupon offered $50 of food and drinks at Mango Moon, a Thai restaurant in Manayunk, for $25. Since this is a restaurant I've been meaning to visit, I jumped at the chance to go and eat at a 50% discount. This restaurant, as well as it's sister restaurant Chabaa Thai (just down the street from Mango Moon), have received consistently good reviews, and the general concept is enticing- according to the website, "It's Bangkok streetfood without a map." Also, the chef/owner's name is Moon, which I find both odd and awesome.

J and I made reservations just a few hours before we showed up, but then were at the mercy of a stalled SEPTA train (thank you, SEPTA, for being 30 minutes late). Thankfully we planned in plenty of extra time, and showed up a bit before our reservation. The hostess was very accomodating, and even sat us next to the large window upstairs (did she know we wanted good natural light for taking pictures?). The upstairs of the restaurant also holds the bar, and the bartender ended up doubling as our waiter- which meant he was always close by!

The majority of the menu consists of small plates- which makes sense if the restaurant is focused on street food. We decided to stick to these options and pass on the larger entree size portions (which also served to maximize our sampling of the menu with our $50 budget). We ended up ordering five small plates and one "side," which our waiter deemed an acceptable amount of food. The dishes were brought basically in order of how they appear on the menu, which is a little odd, but perhaps just a coincidence. First up, Meang Khum. Oh right, I don't speak Thai... this dish is translated as "Roasted Coconut in Green Leaf" ($8). It almost reminded me of the array of small bites that come at the beginning of a Korean meal- a variety of little bits of food in tiny bowls, accompanied by a quarter of a head of iceberg style lettuce. In the bowls were: toasted coconut, small slices of lime, roasted peanuts, minced ginger, red onion, sliced Thai chilis, dried shrimp crumbles, and a sweet syrupy sauce. Each component is sprinkled into one of the lettuce leaves and then wrapped up into a little bundle. There were SO many components, but they all came together to form a really lovely start to the meal- crunchy, spicy (those chilis are HOT!), sweet, and savory, somehow all in one bite.

Next up was the Taro and Tofu Combination ($6). A bit of a change of pace from the light lettuce wraps, this consisted of long thin strips of both taro and tofu, battered and deep fried. The smell reminded us of carnivals and fried Oreos- definitely fresh out of the oil. They were crispy, steaming hot, and delicious. It came with a small side of a sweet peanutty sauce, but I continued to use the sauce from the first dish to dip things into throughout the meal (it was so good). I preferred the taro pieces to the tofu- taro has a consistency much like a potato, lending a soft texture to the fried strips. The tofu was a bit tougher (although still plenty soft!), and perhaps a bit gummy. While we liked this dish, it was a little heavy and we were unable to finish them all.

Our third option "From the Cart" (assuming this is in reference to a street food vendor's cart?) were the Spicy Bangkok Wings ($6). Basically, a Thai take on classic chicken wings. The pieces are first marinated, then fried, and finally tossed with a spicy sauce. The flavors were definitely apparent- no dry and tasteless chicken here. The sticky sauce made them very messy, but our waiter preemptively provided us with wet wipes prior to the next dish's arrival.

We then moved onto dishes "From the Boat." First were the Steamed Clams with Sweet Basil and Lemon Grass ($9), which were accompanied by our side selection of Roti Bread. I actually ordered the bread hoping to use it as a dipper into the clam juice, and while they were served together, that didn't quite come to fruition. The clams were our least favorite of the meal- weak flavor, a good amount of grit in several of the shells, and strange bark like items that poked the inside of your mouth and were unchewable. I wanted to spoon some of the broth up to taste, but it was always accompanied by these "sticks", or large pieces of cilantro (not our favorite), or large slices of what looked like whole ginger root. However, it tasted and felt nothing like ginger- and according to the menu, is actually "galangal root," a cousin of ginger with a different flavor profile and a very tough texture. Biting into it is like eating tree bark. Highly unrecommended.

When we ordered the Roti ($3), our waiter got really excited- apparently it's one of his favorites. When I think of roti, I think of an Indian style flat bread, very similar to both pita and naan. At Mango Moon, it's more like dessert. Folded slices of a pastry-like "bread" were served with a spicy aioli for dipping. Each slice was limp due to the high oil:flour ratio- literally these things were total greaseballs. I mean, they were good, but I could feel my arteries clogging. The exterior of the bread is crispy and multi-layered, sort of like phyllo dough. The interior is doughy and chewy, kind of like a thick, raw pie crust. Interesting to say the least- not what we expected, and I would have preferred the bread in my mental image, but we weren't overly disappointed.

Our final dish was the Spicy Salmon ($9). This was somewhat of a take on a salmon salad- the base consisting of shreds of shallot, ginger, mango, mint, and cilantro, tossed with a thin chili-lime dressing and topped with tiny bites of lightly fried salmon belly (think salmon tempura). This was one of our favorites of the meal, and we were happy to end on it. All of the flavors were fresh, the shredded components were nice and light, and the salmon was tender and not too greasy and heavy. In accordance with most of the dishes we consumed, the portion was small but shareable.

As we wrapped up our meal, we realized that we wouldn't be spending our full $50, so decided dessert must be had. The options were scarce (ice cream, sweet sticky rice, and yellow bean custard), and we chose the "safest" option- coconut ice cream. It was served in a real coconut shell, absolutely jam packed in, and sliced perfectly in line with the top of the makeshift bowl- simple but actually pretty impressive. It was a good, cool ending to the meal, not too sweet and still reminiscent of the flavors and ideals of the restaurant.

As our check was delivered, our waiter joked that we must carry a calculator-- we "spent" exactly $50, requiring us only to leave a tip. While we had paid the $25 when we purchased the coupon, it almost seemed like we were getting a free meal! Nonetheless, $25 + tip still equaled an excellent deal. We were able to try a new restaurant, order a good variety of dishes, and keep our bank account happy- leaving us very satisfied. If I lived in the Manayunk area, I would probably visit Mango Moon on a more frequent basis- but I don't see it as a place worth the additional transportation hassle (and cost!). However, on our walk back to the train, we passed by Chabaa Thai-- and now we're thinking we might just need to try it as well.

Mango Moon
4161 Main Street

August 14, 2010

Three Eat Jake's: The 5-Pound Philly Challenge

Jake's Sandwich Board has already made an appearance on our blog, providing a fix for our sandwich cravings in the past. Though not our favorite sandwich place in the city, Jake's recently unveiled a new item on the menu that intrigued us: the 5-pound Philly Challenge. Five whole pounds of classic Philly food for $34.95, or free if you can manage to conquer it in 45 minutes or less, by yourself. Of course I know the capacity of my own stomach and would never attempt this feat alone, but, with our mission to "eat Philly", we knew we had to somehow experience this for ourselves.

Luckily, we have a good friend who enjoys food as much as we do and happens to have a wing eating competition win under his belt (no pun intended). We figured between the three of us, we could easily take down the following:

1 two-foot sandwich- pork, brisket, or steak
4 pretzels from Philly Pretzel Factory
12 TastyKakes (one box/6 packages)
24 Peanut Chews
1 Champ Cherry soda

As Jake's requests 24 hours notice for this event, our friend called in and let them know we would be splitting it- no official timing needed as we would obviously be paying for it. At this time he also picked pork as our meat-of-choice, complete with shredded sharp provolone and sauteed spinach. A ordered this sandwich in the past, and our memory of it deemed it the best option for mass consumption. We also got to pick what type of TastyKake's we wanted to eat. A & I don't have a ton of experience with TastyKakes (not exactly the healthiest thing...) so our friend chose his favorite: Butterscotch Krimpets. Obviously our general healthy eating mantra was going to be thrown out the window for an evening.

We arrived at Jake's on a weeknight at 7 PM- it was generally very quiet while we were there, and the two employees were incredibly accomodating, even offering to put on some "eating music" of our choice. It took about ten minutes to get everything together and on the table, and at this point, a small pang of concern hit me: the sandwich was HUGE. This wasn't a standard Jake's sandwich... they pack three pounds of meat into the two foot long roll. We had the sandwich cut into sixths for ease of eating, and supplied ourselves with forks, plates, spicy mustard and lots of water. The timer started and we began eating.

With 24 Peanut Chews to eat, we knew we should spread them out over the meal, so this is what we started with. With our love of pretzels, we also began to tackle this portion of the challenge. However, one of the employees gave us some important advice: eat the sandwich first. As a male and previous competitive eating partaker, our friend knew he had to take on more than his share of the sandwich. He probably ended up eating a little less than half of it, which was certainly the hardest part of the challenge. A took on more than her share of the pretzels as well as the soda, leaving me to help out with the TastyKakes.

As I ate my portion of the sandwich, I intermixed it with bites of pretzel and more Peanut Chews. The Peanut Chews were probably my favorite part of the event- chocolate covered peanutty rectangles of goodness... A agreed that we probably enjoyed them a little too much- we don't typically gorge ourselves on candy. I began to feel full towards the end of my sandwich- thankfully I was eating the "butt" end of the sandwich, so I got a little less meat and a little more bread.

As A finished up the pretzels I ripped open the first package of TastyKakes. These are a little like Twinkies but more dense and without filling. The cakes themselves were ridiculously moist- I actually blotted one of them on a paper towel and was a little disturbed by how much grease came off of it. The butterscotch flavored icing is insanely sweet- A actually had difficulty eating them- she thought it was overly sweet to the point of "cloying". I, however, had no trouble polishing off my share, and then some.

Finishing off the sandwich proved difficult. As A & I made a huge dent in the rest of the food while our friend slowly worked his way through, there was an increasing number of breaks as he came to the end. We saved him a few packs of the Kakes to finish off with and slowly munched through the last of the Peanut Chews. We were certainly all in a great deal of pain at this point. When asked "How does it feel?", A simply groaned and said "It hurts!". I stood up to snap a pic of the conquered scene and decided that standing made the intense fullness more apparent.

Thankfully we were allowed to sit and bask in our success as well as fight through the urge to lay down, well past Jake's closing time. I realized that we probably picked the wrong type of Kake's- shouldn't we have gone for the least caloric option? With the Krimpets at a ridiculous 240 calories per pack, I had to make an effort not to calculate the full meal's content. Using my Blackberry to look up lower calorie TastyKake options, I started reading "Low Fat Chocolate Iced Vanilla Cupcakes" (170 calories per pack) and "Low Fat Raspberry Filled Koffee Kake" (180 calories per pack)- A protested this with "Stop saying food items!"

Our final time was 39 minutes- embarrassing considering someone has done this challenge alone in 24 minutes. But it was a lot of fun, and the food was a good range of Philly classics that were very enjoyable (until the end...). We were actually the first to attempt this challenge as a group, but hopefully more hungry friends will consider this as a fun thing to do. On our roll walk home, we decided a fourth eater should have been procured to minimize stomach-exploding pain. So round up your friends and head over to Jake's (but don't forget to call in advance!)

Jake's Sandwich Board
122 S. 12th Street

August 12, 2010

Vacation Recap

Every summer calls for a vacation, and I recently got to spend a week traveling around New York and Massachusetts with my boyfriend. Since we both like to eat, food was definitely a highlight of our time together. Of course, traveling sometimes calls for some on-the-go meals, but for the most part we ate lots of fresh home-cooked food complimented by a few delicious restaurant dinners.

A view off the Appalachian Trail

We took advantage of not having any real agenda and utilized a charcoal grill to make several meals. Hamburgers and grilled chicken were pretty standard summer BBQ, with leftovers perfect for salads and sandwiches. Onions, mushrooms, peppers, zuchhini and broccoli also made an appearance on the grill.

In our explorations of Western Massachusetts, we stumbled upon the Otis Poultry Farm, where we picked up some pancake mixes (looking forward to sweet potato pancakes!) and jams. We obviously had to try out what they're famous for- the poultry. There were huge freezers chock full of whole chickens, sausages, and pot pies. We opted for the chicken pot pie- conveniently in two individual sizes: small for me and large for him. Though the meat was precooked, the fluffy crust covering the gravy and chicken was not, requiring a solid hour in the oven. While this was baking, we grilled broccoli and peppers.

For an appetizer, we recreated a version of one of our favorites- the Portobello Fiorentino from Capuano's near Princeton, NJ. Spinach sauteed with garlic and olive oil over grilled portobello caps drizzled with a balsamic reduction... the perfect start to a summer meal. We cheated and used a balsamic viniagrette, and a bit of mozzarella would have kicked it up a notch, but it was easy and delicious.

When the crust on the pot pies began to brown, it was time to eat. As a lover of all things pastry, I was very pleased with the flaky pie topping- crispy, with a touch of gravy coating the bottom. Some pot pies have a bottom crust that usually just ends up a soggy mess, so I was glad that OPF left that out. Beneath the crust, bite-size pieces of chicken swam in a thick peppery gravy. Plain grilled vegetables balanced out the richness of the pot pie.

Early in our travels, we stopped at a grocery store for a few necessities, and spotted a bag of giant marshmallows the size of my palm. This prompted us to eat s'mores for dessert every night (and some afternoons...). We're not sure how Hershey's won the s'more market, but there really is nothing better than a melty, mushy marshmallow squished between two crunchy grahams with a bit of cool, thick Hershey's chocolate. Somehow these marshmallows made the BEST s'mores ever... seriously.

In between hiking on the Appalachian Trail and swimming off the shores of Long Island, we found a minute to refuel at a Peruvian restaurant located in the very small town of Lee, MA. With Chifa as the only Peruvian restaurant in Center City, our primary experience with this cuisine came through one of Spinal Tapa's dinner events. The food at Alpamayo Restaurant reflected some of the highlights of that dinner, including beef heart and causa (cold potato puree), in this case served with a creamy chicken salad. The beef heart was more savory than I remembered, with less chewiness and more flavor.

For entrees, we both chose red meat- both of which were served with the same potato + rice combination we enjoyed during the Spinal Tapa's meal. Though I prefer a little less done-ness, the meat was well cooked and had similar flavors as the heart (though with a different texture). Overall, I feel that the experience was relatively authentic which was surprising considering our location at the time- Smalltown, USA.

Since we had many other excellent meals including some terrific French food and Long Island seafood, this is just a brief recap of a weeks worth of eats. Vacation's provide a great opportunity to enjoy new cooking styles, dishes, and restaurants regardless of your destination!

Quogue, NY

August 9, 2010


Somehow, growing up in the midst of North Central Florida's abundant farmland, we never took the opportunity to go to a "U-Pick-'Em"-- basically, a farm where instead of migrant workers doing all the work, YOU do all the work. We became minorly obsessed with this phenomena in college when we were introduced by a friend to apple picking near his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island during a fall break. Crisp weather, beautiful colors, the fun of wandering amongst apple trees- plus all of the delicious apples you can pick- really, what's not to like?

We then sought out our own local version-- Linvilla Orchards. Located about half an hour outside of the city, it offers apple picking for several months during the fall. However, for much of the rest of the year, you can get your fill of plucking your own produce straight off of the tree/plant/bush at Linvilla, depending on what is in season. This past weekend marked the "Peach Festival" at Linvilla, basically the height of peach season, with plenty of peaches for the picking. I coerced a few friends to join me, and while the festival wasn't nearly as big as the annual Fall Festival (complete with pumpkin patch), it was still an entertaining experience. The peach orchard is located a short distance from the center/parking area, requiring a short hayride to get there. From there, the tractor pulls you to the pond (for anyone interested in fishing from a stocked pond) and then on to another field where peppers/tomatoes/grapes/eggplant all grow nearby. There were several pepper varieties to choose from, as well as both grape, plum, and regular sized tomatoes. Everything was a single base price per pound (about $1.50), or you could load your little box as high as possible for a single set price.

We ended up with about 12-13 pounds of peaches (with a few tomatoes and peppers thrown in there), of which I took ten pieces. I knew I could probably eat ten peaches in about a week or so (between J and myself and a few guests we were expecting), but figured I'd make it a little easier on myself by baking some peach goodies. However, it seems that most peach-based baked goods are pies and cobblers- both of which I've tackled recently. So I searched some more until I found a good substitute- peach cookies!

Three yellow peaches, and one white peach were used in the production of these cookies.

The recipe, found here, is as follows:

Peach Shortbread Cookies

2 cups peaches, peeled and diced (I used 4 peaches, which may have been overkill)
9 Tbsp. granulated sugar (separated)
pinch nutmeg (I used about 1/2 teaspoon or so)
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (I used 1 cup regular whole wheat and 1 cup bread flour.. more on this later)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
6 Tbsp. cold butter, diced into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 375. Peel and dice those peaches, and then sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the sugar over them, stirring to combine evenly. Combine flour, the rest of the sugar, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. The recipes calls for 2 cups of pastry flour, which I didn't have on hand. Pastry flour is low in protein (8-9%) and gluten, which lends to a softer texture than using all-purpose flour (10% protein). I assumed bread flour was similar-- however, it is not. It in fact has a HIGHER gluten and protein (12-13%) content than regular flour. Whoops.

"Cut" in your butter (or mix in however you like to do it, pastry blade, two knives, with your fingers, etc.. just get it incorporated!). The flour to butter ratio is pretty high, so it should incorporate quite easily. Next, carefully stir in the heavy cream. At this point, I made a fatal mistake. As I mixed the cream in, the dough began to form, but remained crumbly and dry. My solution? More cream. I added a dash here and a dash there until I formed a heavy ball of dough. Someday, I will learn to follow these recipes exactly.

Fat, NOT fluffy.

Then, I added the peaches. The added sugar had begun to bring out the water in the fruit, making this a considerable addition of liquid. The soft, juicy peaches did NOT want to mix with the dense dough, therefore requiring lots and lots of mixing. The more mixing you do, the worse your final product will be. Fact of baking (at least for soft pastries).

My final dough product was a bit of a wet mess, making the portioning out of cookie sized balls a two-handed task. I formed the balls out of 2-3 Tbsp. of batter, but if I was to repeat the recipe, I would err on the smaller side. Particularly because of the large moisture content, the cookies flattened and spread during the baking process, leaving me with a pan of smushed together cookies. Sigh. I baked them for about 25 minutes, until the bottoms began to brown and the tops were nice and set.

Thankfully, while the final product looked nothing like what I imagined, they tasted delicious! The peaches had cooked to the point that they reminded me of those in a peach pie- soft, sweet, and still quite juicy. The dough formed a very soft base, which my boyfriend compared to the fluffy texture of a pancake. I'm not sure I would eat these for breakfast, but he may be on to something.

I definitely intend to make these again, and next time I will make some adjustments- stick to the 2/3 cup cream (and perhaps substitute light cream or half and half), use pastry flour (although my final product was soft, this was due to my inability to follow directions), and perhaps use cinnamon as well. The nutmeg gives the cookies a distinct spice, and while I enjoyed it, I think the flavor would be more balanced by the addition of cinnamon. Also, I would refrigerate the cookies after cooling them. The moisture and sugar in the peaches simply screams for mold to grow on them, leaving them inedible in just two days time.

Hope all of you are enjoying the fruits of summer!

Linvilla Orchards
137 W. Knowlton Road
Media, PA

August 8, 2010


This past week I was on a dining quest: find a reasonably priced brunch at a nearby, quiet, "romantic" restaurant. My boyfriend and I were celebrating three years together this weekend, and since he was taking me to dinner (we experienced some "melting pots" together), I decided to extend the celebration as an excuse for another decadent meal. After some trolling around online (thanks, Philadelphia Mag!) I decided on Tinto.

I think it's fairly obvious that we are Jose Garces fans, but I have never had brunch at any of his restaurants- even more incentive to check out what he's got. We have eaten at Tinto once before, thanks to the parentals, and I remember loving the meal but feeling a sense of disappointment from the 'rents. Which may be why we've never returned? Yet another reason why I was increasingly excited about this meal. Oh, wait... and one more thing. While it has not always been this way, Tinto currently offers a pre-fixe brunch- no other options. I've realized I kind of have a "thing" for fixed price meals. When I dine out, I often struggle to make decisions on what to order based on three questions: What do I truly want to eat? What offers some sort of value in terms of health/nutrition? How can I minimize the damage to my credit card? These three questions come into play at different strengths depending on a variety of factors (How hungry am I? What else have I eaten that day? Which dishes have been reviewed positively? Am I prepared for a monetary splurge? I could go on...) Fixed price meals remove one of those questions-- I know exactly how much I will spend regardless of what I order.

The restaurant was fairly deserted when we showed up (reservations completely unnecessary, unless you are, like myself, trying to rack up points on OpenTable), somewhat upping the romantic factor. Our waiter was very nice and attentive, and knew the menu well, and as it was a quiet morning, we had constant water refills and speedy dish clearance. But, service is really never an issue at a Garces establishment.

The menu offers choices for three courses, plus an additional "side" to come with the second course. The first course (breakfast appetizer? I like it) had a handful of options, of which I really had no problem choosing from. The Cured Salmon Plate was a wonderful take on a classic breakfast dish: bagel, cream cheese, and salmon. The "bagel" was actually a bialy, which I am informed by Wikipedia is a Polish take on the bagel, prepared slightly differently. The boyfriend commented that it was a mix of a bagel and an English muffin- much flatter than a typical bagel and with a rougher consistency. For such a flat pastry, it was quite chewy/doughy, and a perfect way to transport the other items on the plate into my mouth. I topped one half of the bialy with egg salad- which at first I thought was hummus, as it is blended to a slightly grainy paste. It was a bit bland, but topped with sliced tomato, made a good open faced sandwich. The other half of the bread I reserved for the chive cream- whipped until it was spreadable but still softer than cream cheese- the house-cured salmon, and the rest of the tomato. Perfection. The salmon portion was admittedly small, but for my first course, it was just right.

My dining mate chose the homemade granola, served parfait-style with yogurt and seasonal fruit- in this case, assorted berries. The granola was mostly reserved at the bottom of the glass, making for a bit of a dry finish, but the bite I had was delicious- the granola had good chunks, sugar coated nut (pecan?) pieces, and in my opinion, was almost dessert-like with the sweet creamy yogurt.

The second course is very heavy on the egg and meat options- not vegetarian or vegan friendly, thankfully not a problem with us. I chose the "Padre y Hijo," a clever name Garces enjoys to describe the meat and egg of the same animal served together. At Amada, he has a dish named "Madre y Hijo" (I believe), which involves chicken and egg. I remember this dish distinctly, as it is the single best chicken I have eaten to date. When I saw the option with a similar name, but replacing chicken with duck, I chose it immediately. It doesn't hurt that duck is possibly my favorite meat. The dish comes with an impressive number of items- crispy duck confit atop a bed of "catalan escarole", as well as a pile of "Tinto Hash" topped with a duck egg, sunny side up. Eating a bite of this, and a bite of that, it was definitely an edible experience- so many textures, flavors, and possible combinations. The duck was cooked to perfection, coming apart easily with my fork. The fat content of duck makes it automatically moist and flavorful, so you really can't go wrong. The escarole was my least favorite part- braised in a vinegar sauce with pine nuts and currants. Currants kind of scare me, as they are so similar to raisins, and I mostly avoided them. The escarole lost its bitterness during the cooking process but was then overwhelmed with the vinegar. I appreciated the addition of greens to my plate, but I didn't appreciate this particular take on them. The potato hash and egg combo, however, hit the spot. The hash is featured in many of the main plate options, and is a good take on the classic hash brown- crispy small chunks of potato and onion created a good base for the runny egg yolk. A duck egg isn't much different from a chicken egg- slightly larger yolk, but similar flavor.

My boyfriend decided on the Brioche French Toast, which I didn't get the chance to try (I'm not a huge French Toast person), but it looked delicious. The bread is thick and chewy, not crispy, but he thought it could have used some more time in the pan. It is accompanied with orange marmalade, a little drizzle of orange spiced syrup, and honey mascarpone. I tasted the mascarpone and almost stole the whole pile- very rich and smooth. He also thought it could use more syrup- maybe a tad bit more moisture from something- to even out the fluff of the bread. He also laughed at how the dish (along with his side of bacon) was sprinkled with microgreens- he jokingly wondered if it was prepared outside.

The second course came with a side- classic options such as bacon or chorizo, more interesting options such as maple grits and grilled asparagus, and puzzling options such as piperade. The one question I posed to our waiter- what is this? He explained it as a saute of tomatoes, peppers, and onions, sweated together but not "stew-y." I was sold. I'm glad I asked- it was one of my favorite parts of the meal (but really, they all were). The veggies were finely sliced so that just a quick saute left them soft and flavorful. Slivers of some kind of salty meat were intermixed, providing further depths of flavor. Perfect with a bite of egg, or a few strands of duck meat.

The final course: dessert! Even better than a breakfast appetizer is breakfast dessert. Tinto provides two options: Gateaux Basque or Brulee of Grapefruit. The boy chose the more "dessert-y" one, and I chose the grapefruit. The "Gateaux" were two small, very dense and soft cakes with a slight almond extract flavor, served with a dollop of pastry cream and black cherries. He loved them, but I'm glad I went with the grapefruit.

For some reason, I was thinking I would receive a grapefruit flavored creme brulee, so I was a little surprised when half of a grapefruit appeared on the table. My misjudgment was not unappreciated, however; the grapefruit was first expertly cut so that each segment was easily pulled from the outer rind, and then bruleed to a caramelized sugar crust. Each segment had a little "hat" of crispy sugar which offset the sour grapefruit flavor without completely covering it. I would eat grapefruit for every meal if it was prepared this way! It was served with a tall, thin glass of "creme fraiche gelato with olive oil espuma" (foam), but frankly, it tasted like a vanilla ice cream float- a little fizzy on the top where the foam sat, and- I could have sworn- flecked with vanilla beans throughout. Regardless, it was delicious, and I used the special tiny spoon to scoop out every last bit.

Overall, this was, in my mind, a perfect meal. A quiet, upscale restaurant where I am "forced" to order and enjoy 3+ courses of expertly crafted foods for a single, relatively inexpensive price ($25/person)? Sign me up. Just as J wants me to accompany her to try the Korean Fried Chicken at Meritage, I hope that one day she will come back to Tinto with me to enjoy an indulgent Spanish brunch.

114 S. 20th Street