October 29, 2011

"Everything" Cookies

Every couple of months, A & I hit up Nuts to You, a wholesale chain with stores scattered around the city.  We stock up on various kinds of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and grains by the pound, some of which invariably disappear within a week or two.  With a well-stocked pantry, I got a mid-week urge to make cookies.  I initially wanted to make a rendition of our favorite "Hao's Chocolate Chip Cookies" but I ended up changing it a little too much.  Even though they're totally different, they turned out great!

1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 eggs (I used flax eggs)
1.5 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup dried cherries

As the title suggests, these cookies seems to have everything in them.  "Coconut Pecan Oatmeal Cherry Cookies" is sort of a mouthful.

 I melted the butter in a mug in the microwave, then mixed it with the sugar, salt, vanilla, and "eggs."

Flax eggs making another appearance.

In another bowl I stirred together the flour, soda, and spices.

I added in the oatmeal and coconut here as well- optional ingredients that could be replaced with a bit more flour.  The Trader Joe's oats are coarser than typical "quick" oats, which I was excited about- I like my cookies chewy.

Typically I mix the dry ingredients into the wet, but I wasn't thinking when I chose my bowls, so they went in the opposite way.  It made it a little harder to incorporate, which may have changed the texture of my dough.  After everything was mixed together, I added in the good stuff: pecans and cherries.  Chocolate chips, other dried fruits or nuts would also work just fine.

I refrigerated the dough for 20 minutes while my oven preheated to 350F.  Again, I was trying to mimic our original cookie recipe, but at this point the ratios were so off that I'm not sure the refrigeration made a difference.  I did keep the tradition of making enormous cookies- golf ball sized rounds of dough, eight at a time into the oven.

The bake time on these was excruciatingly long- about 18 minutes.  The dough didn't seem wet in the bowl but the cookies just looked so gooey I knew I couldn't take them out early.  They also spread out considerably, and as soon as I deemed them to be cooked through, they fell pretty flat.  So sad.

However, all was not lost.  Even though these were in no way the thick and crumbless cookies of my dreams, they were caramelized on the bottom, quite chewy, and full of good flavor.

A compared the texture to the cookies served at the chain bakery Au Bon Pain, thin but not crispy.  The edges had a bit of a crunch, and each mouthful contained a little bit of sweet dried cherry or piece of pecan, while the cardamom and nutmeg provided a spicy flavor throughout.  Very autumn-y!  Glad I could use up some of the stocked goodies too, now maybe I can ignore them and make them last a bit longer...

October 26, 2011

Sweet Lucy's Smokehouse

Recap: I'm getting married. We want to eat barbecue on our wedding day. We're looking for a caterer!  Review of the first option we tried can be found here.

Our second barbecue-based outing sent us to a restaurant that has been highly recommended by many people-- Sweet Lucy's.  The trip once again required a car, this time just a ways up I-95 to the northeast part of the city.  Sweet Lucy's (named after a cute black puppy) is located just off the highway, in a fairly quiet, industrial part of town.  The bright lights and country atmosphere seemed a little out of place, but it walking in was like entering a time/travel warp to the South.

Barn decor inside.
Monday nights find diners feasting on an all-you-can-eat buffet- and for only $19.95 it's absolutely the way to go, especially if you want to try all of the items.  The setup is fairly simple: enter, pay at the counter, get a camo wristband (amazing), find yourself a table, go to town on the food.  Everything is steaming hot and frequently replenished, leaving no qualms about freshness.  On my first go at the buffet, I tried to get a small sample (1-2 bites) of a variety of sides, as well as a few bites of some of our meat options.

Clockwise from cornbread: pulled pork, collards, cabbage, spare rib/brisket/rotisserie chicken,
sweet potatoes/cheesy spinach/coleslaw

Let's start with the meat.  Throughout the course of the night, I sampled pulled pork, pulled chicken, rotisserie chicken (thigh), beef brisket, baby back ribs, smoked salmon, and a bite of smoked turkey.  No wonder I was still full when I went to bed.  Regardless, the quality and flavor of every meat was more than I could have asked for.  The sweet, smoky hickory flavor was present but not overwhelming, instead letting the cuts of meat speak for themselves.  The brisket was my absolute favorite- with almost a pot roast falling apart texture, I had to go back for seconds (yes, on top of all that other meat!).

The smoked salmon was also a surprise hit- tender and moist.  The rotisserie chicken was perfectly done- skin smoked to a crackling crisp, with the underlying meat coated in its liquified fat.  A little greasy, but incredibly flavorful- which also describes the baby back ribs.  The meat easily fell off the bone on the first bite, and its smoky essence required no additional sauce.  While this meal might be a vegetarian's nightmare, it's pretty much a meat-lover's dream.

Ribs, brisket, salmon, and smoked turkey.
Moving onto the sides: Sweet Lucy's had at least ten for us to sample.  I'm a sucker for the classics: give me baked beans, coleslaw, collard greens and I'm a happy camper.  However, I'm all for experimenting with some other options, and none of the offerings did me wrong.  On my first go round, I grabbed a bit of baked beans, collard greens, braised cabbage, macaroni and cheese, caesar salad (with cornbread croutons!), coleslaw, mashed sweet potatoes, and cheesy spinach.

Sides on the buffet.  Complete with Halloween and more barn decor.
The baked beans make a good segway from meat to sides, since the little scoop I got actually was primarily meat- shredded pork drenched in the sweet, smoky sauce surrounding the beans.  The addition of generous pieces of meat is a sure-fire way to make good baked beans, but even without it, I'm positive these would still be good.  The collard greens (also made with a bit of meat for extra flavor) were slightly spicy, with the greens retaining a good bite- they went on my "must have" list immediately.

Beans, collards, cucumber salad, mac n' cheese.  Sweet potatoes on the left.
The mashed sweet potatoes were also put on my hypothetical wedding menu- smooth, creamy, with just that hint of natural sweetness that gives them their name.  The macaroni and cheese- while perhaps not my favorite rendition- was solid enough to round out our top choices (I mean, what's barbecue without macaroni and cheese?).  The garlic mashed potatoes were one of my fiance's favorites- whipped with bits of red skin keeping textural interest.  However, mashed potatoes aren't a classic Southern barbecue side- so as good as they were, they're simply not kosher.

Some of the other nontraditional options surprised me, though.  The caesar salad was a sleeper hit- I think the cool crunch of the lettuce really offset the warm saltiness of all that meat.  The cornbread croutons added in that spike of the South- I may never be able to enjoy regular Caesar salad again.  The cheesy spinach was another one I loved, although J disagreed- she thought the smooth mixture of dark greens and melted Cheddar cheese sauce was too salty.  Out of an evening of amazing food, I guess we can nitpick about something.

Chili station complete with amazing cornbread croutons.
You're probably tired of hearing how amazing everything was, but I'm not quite done.  Because I must focus on the homemade cornbread for just a moment.  The buffet held a basket of large, square pieces, stacked upon one another to retain some of the heat from the oven.  The bread was a bit crumbly, but the crumbs stuck together, making it easy to get every last one.  Just a little sweet, it was so good that seconds were necessary.

The buffet price also included a drink and dessert.  J took the correct route, mixing 2/3rds of a cup of unsweet iced tea with 1/3 sweetened tea.  The mixture was still quite sweet, meaning they did their job well.  A big glass of good sweet iced tea is the quickest way to get home, if just for a moment.

After that gut-busting meal, dessert seemed like a bad idea, but after taking a break to talk though our options with the head of catering, we hit up the dessert bar to look at the options.  Chocolate chip bread pudding looked intriguing but the cinnamon apple crisp called my name a little louder.  A little scoop (picking out extra crumb topping) paired with a side of vanilla ice cream was an unnecessary but completely appreciated end to the meal.  A large basket of assorted cookies and brownies was also available, but after a quick survey, I decided that most of them looked unappealing next to the steaming apple crisp.  A last minute pick of a small chocolate chip cookie managed to occur though, and I'm glad it did, as the cookie tasted like it came directly from my mom's oven.

As we rolled out of the restaurant, I reiterated a request to move to Northeast Philly- this is the kind of down-home Southern cooking I would like to eat on a regular basis (although frequent all-you-can-eat meals might not be the best idea for my health).  We're still waiting on more information from the catering side of things, but at this point I would be more than happy to have Sweet Lucy's on our special day.

Sweet Lucy's Smokehouse
7500 State Road

October 23, 2011

Day By Day

A good brunch never fails to hit the spot- we've waxed poetic about this late morning meal more than once.  After a few days in Florida being slaves bridesmaids in our older sister's wedding, we needed to spend the day catching up on errands and putting in a few hours at work. We decided to treat ourselves to a meal out to start the day.  There is a little weekend brunch spot that I occasionally pass on my way to Trader Joe's, but I had never really heard anything about it.  The name "Day By Day" doesn't do much for me either, but its convenient location between home and work made it a good option for the occasion.

We walked in a few minutes after they opened at 10 AM, and it was already almost full of diners- a good sign right off the bat.  While we were waiting to be seated, I scanned the baked goods menu- each section of the menu is posted at least once on chalkboard menus scattered throughout the space.  In order to cram as many patrons in at once, we were seated awkwardly close to another duo... practically at the same table.  Oh well, I hear communal dining is the new thing.

DBD serves La Colombe coffee, but I had about eight cups more coffee this weekend than I typically do, so I opted to start with a pick-me-up of the sugar variety.  We chose to try the pumpkin bites (2 for $1).  The mini-muffin/donut hole hybrid had a subtle pumpkin flavor that gave way to more of a cinnamon and nutmeg spiciness.  A generous coating of cinnamon sugar added sweetness to balance the spice, as well as giving the moist and fluffy cake a crunchy exterior.

The menu has all the brunch staples- from pancakes to poached eggs to Huevos Rancheros- as well as a specials menu that I assume changes from time to time.  A ordered from the "regular" menu- the potato pancakes benedict ($12.50).  DBD keeps it simple- no heaping sides of hash browns or toast come with each dish, just a few pieces of fruit.  Two flat palm-sized potato pancakes were made with shredded potatoes cooked to a crisp.  I really enjoyed the crunchiness of the pancake, as the toppings are on the soft side.  Poached eggs released their golden yolks over a bed of smoked salmon.  The ultra savory yolks were well complemented by the salty salmon.  A very thin Hollandaise sauce was undetectable, which was actually a nice change- no overpowering flood of butter.

Since A's dish was savory, I was "forced" to order something sweet.  This was a no-brainer for me- the special french toast of the day- caramel apple stuffed french toast ($10).  Four super thick slices of challah sandwiched a gooey cream cheese, cinnamon, dried apple, and walnut filling.  Fried in an egg batter and served hot with a glazed apple topping, this was the definition of indulgence.  I've tried my hand at stuffed french toast, but DBD definitely out did me here, especially with the pool of caramel butter sauce at the bottom.  You had me at gooey cream cheese.

Although the food wasn't anything new or particularly exciting, I think that they seem to excel at making very solid versions of all the brunch classics- and I'm not really looking for anything more.  Judging by the steady stream of customers, Day By Day already has a large group of loyal regulars.  You can call ahead to save a spot if you're planning a mid-brunch-rush visit.  They also serve lunch during the week, and run a catering business.  I need to stop in again soon, if only for some baked goods!

21st and Sansom

October 19, 2011

Zachary's BBQ

After a couple of months of enjoying the post-engagement bliss, I've jumped feet first into wedding planning.  We're trying to keep it a casual affair, but obviously good food is pretty important to me!  We thought barbecue would be a good option- nothing fancy, just some good Southern down home eats.  In order to keep things as tasty as possible, we're in the midst of researching as many barbecue-based catering companies in the area as we can.  First on our list: Zachary's BBQ.  Unlike many caterers, Zachary's also has a restaurant of the same name- perfect for taste testing.  The restaurant is actually quite a few miles out in the burbs, in a quiet area of Norristown, slightly awkwardly adjacent to a gas station.

View from the street  Source

The place was pretty quiet on a weekend afternoon, so the man behind the counter had all the time in the world to chat us up.  He gave us a full "tour" of the food options available-- free samples of most items are offered to help you make your decision.  We each chose a meat platter, which comes with two sides and the option of a roll (to make a sandwich) or cornbread.

I chose the beef brisket, which is thinly sliced and coated in their signature barbecue sauce ($9.95 for the platter).  The beef was soft and flavorful- with a blackened edge and inner pink rim that are the sure signs of authentic hickory smoked meat.  A touch of fat along the middle added to the flavor without being too greasy.  The sauce gave it an extra spicy, salty zing- not really necessary, but a good addition nonetheless.

J chose the pulled pork platter ($8.95), which is always our favorite barbecue option.  The pulled pork came in a funny jumbled pile-- perhaps I'm used to it on a bun.  The crispy edges and the soft inner strands of meat were done just right- I can't say enough about the quality of the barbecue here.  Zachary's does their pulled pork (and chicken) Carolina-style, with a good dose of a vinegar-based sauce.  We usually wouldn't choose this style, but here it worked perfectly- just a hint of vinegar let the hickory smoke flavor shine through.

I picked an assortment of sides- there are at least a dozen options, but I tried to stick with the classics, since they will most likely be what we will order for our wedding day.  The maple mashed yams (top picture) were one of the only disappointments of the day- overly sweet with an artificial maple flavor. If there is one thing I'm a real food snob about, it's real maple syrup.  The cole slaw (above) was simple, sticking to the classic combination of shredded cabbage and carrots in a thin, mayonnaise based sauce.  I don't love super-thick-mayo coleslaw, so this hit the spot- cool and refreshing.

The collard greens were my absolute favorite side we tried.  Collard greens tend to be either too plain or too salty, but these found a happy medium.  The bite sized pieces were boiled until soft, but not wilted, and the addition of smoked turkey countered the earthy flavor of the greens.  I find it weird to be waxing so poetic about collard greens, but these things were great.  The BBQ baked beans- one of my favorite traditional BBQ sides- were done with a Caribbean twist (the head chef and owner, Keith Taylor- not sure who Zachary is- is of Caribbean descent).  Bits of canned pineapple added textural contrast to the beans, but also provided a saccharin sweetness that I didn't love.  To each their own- props for lending your own touch to a dish, but I personally prefer a more classic flavor.

Even though we probably won't serve ribs at our wedding (what do you think-- too messy?), my fiance chose to order the pork ribs as his meat of choice- and I don't blame him.  They looked delicious!  A half rack (5-6 large ribs) runs you $16.95 for the platter, but is worth every penny.  Dry-rubbed before a long, slow roast, the ribs were also coated with the signature sauce (I really should have bought some of the stuff to go!).

We also tackled an additional two sides, the macaroni & cheese and Hoppin' John.  Mac n' cheese is a necessity for Southern barbecue, and this one was spot-on.  Creamy, cheesy, chewy noodles without a dry spot to be seen.  I'm skeptical about the claim of FOUR different types of cheese, but whatever they're using, please keep on using it.  The Hoppin' John is a bit untraditional for a barbecue, but is classic Southern... plus, I have a secret obsession with black eyed peas.  The little beans are mixed with rice, chopped onion and bell pepper, bacon, a touch of vinegar and a variety of spices.  Super flavorful and very hearty, I could easily eat this as a main course.

Our final food to tackle was the cornbread, a true test of Southern baking.  Each chunk of bread was individually wrapped in wax paper and served warm.  The texture was a good mix between crumbly and cake-like, but a bit lacking in the corn flavor.  Little bits of red and green pepper studded each bite, adding a tiny dose of heat.  The bread was fairly sweet- again, I'm a bit more traditional and prefer a more savory cornbread, but I DID manage to eat my entire slice (plus, cornbread at all is hard to come by in Philly).

Overall, we left very satisfied with the meal- delicious, quality meats and a large variety of solid sides.  I would be more than happy to eat this on my wedding day.  I'm still not completely sold on the catering side of things, but I definitely recommend Zachary's as a good spot for barbecue- perhaps the best I've had in the Philly area.  While it is forty minutes from the city, if you're craving true Southern cooking, it's worth the drive.

Zachary's BBQ
1709 Markley Street
Norristown, PA

October 15, 2011

Curried Red Kuri Soup

It's officially the Season of Soup.  There's really nothing like a piping hot bowl of hearty soup on a cold, wet day.  Refreshing salads have their place through the steamy summer, but as soon as it turns fall... helllooo soup.  To kick off the season, I made a simple mid-week soup that had an extra warming quality- curry!

Of course, our recipes are still being dictated by CSA items (sadly for only two more weeks), and this week, we got something a little different- a red kuri squash.  This winter squash is similar to a small, ridgeless pumpkin, but with a slightly darker color and a sort of bumpy surface.

While she was menu planning for the week, A found this recipe, gave me a "loose interpretation" of it, and basically let me make it up as I went along.  This doesn't always work out well, so I made a mental ingredients list and made sure to get everything ready before I started- nothing like getting halfway through a recipe and seeing you have 45 seconds to get two onions chopped and three potatoes peeled.  The squash was pretty easy to handle- a quick peel, cut in half, seeds scooped out, and chopped into bite size pieces.  The hollow part is quite large, and completely packed with seeds- almost no pulp (a great squash for making baked "pumpkin" seeds!)

I also diced two small white onions, a cup of carrots, two large garlic cloves, and a small piece of fresh ginger.

Once I had all of my ingredients ready to go, I fired up the stove, heating a couple tablespoons of sesame oil in a cast-iron pot.  I sauteed the ginger and garlic- the "aromatics"- for about a minute before adding in the onion and carrots.  A & I have found that this initial base of flavor- sesame, ginger, and garlic- makes a great start for any spicy, savory dish, especially if you're trying to build an Asian flavor profile.

As the onion and carrot cooked down without needing too much attention, I organized the remaining ingredients of the soup.  The initial recipe called for the following:

1 ½ tablespoons of Thai green curry paste
2 tablespoons Indian curry powder
1 can of coconut milk
5 cups of chicken broth
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce

We're pretty much pros at improvising when a recipe calls for a long list of ingredients- we mostly make due with what we already have one hand instead of purchasing all new items.  My ingredients list included the following:

1 1/2 T Thai red curry paste
1 1/2 T curry powder (the last bit we had!)
1 can coconut milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup water
2 T oyster sauce

I added the curry paste and curry powder in with the cooked veggies and let them absorb a bit of the flavor.  The concept of combining different types of curry was rather novel- the original recipe calls this pairing "complex and delicious," so I was willing to give it a shot.

After a couple of minutes, I added in the remaining ingredients.  I felt that the five cups of liquid that the original recipe called for was rather extreme- two did the trick for me.  The last thing in the pot was the squash.  I gave everything a good mix, popped the lid on, and let it do it's thing.

I've always felt that soups take hours to build flavor, but this combination of spices made for an almost instant depth of hearty spiciness.  It only needs enough time to cook the squash through, which is dependent on how small you cut your pieces.  I gave mine about twenty minutes at a low boil.  To finish the soup, I added 2 T of brown sugar, a can of chickpeas, and a teaspoon of salt- this enhanced the sweet and saltiness of the oyster sauce, as well as bulking up the soup and adding a bit of protein.

I garnished with a bit of chopped cilantro and a drizzle of Sriracha- two ingredients whose quantities are highly dependent on the individual palate.  A little of each does the trick for me. 

Let me just say, red curry paste is my new best friend.  They should just call it "magical paste"- I really think it was the key ingredient in this soup.  However, I loved that the recipe was versatile- I certainly didn't follow it to a T, but it still came out great, with a real sinus soul warming quality.  While I loved the super smooth texture and slightly nutty flavor of the red kuri, it could be easily replaced by a small butternut squash.  The original recipe included chicken, but I think a little bit of lamb may fare well in this soup.  The quantity of broth could be decreased to make more of a stew to be served over rice or naan... OK, I'll stop.  The options are pretty much endless.  Like I said, we're all about improvisation!

October 12, 2011

Apple Hand Pies

The start of fall means several things popping up on our agenda.  Rooting for the Florida Gator football team, watching the Phillies blow it in the playoffs (ugh), enjoying the perfect outdoor running weather, incorporating pumpkin into any and every dish possible, and picking apples.  Pick-your-own apple orchards don't exist in Florida, so we've become enamored with it since moving north.  After a lovely (but extremely crowded) afternoon at Linvilla Orchards, we came back with a box full of apples and a urge to bake.

I wanted to make a dessert that wasn't a classic apple pie.  While I enjoy pie, I wanted to make something a little neater, baked in individual portions, and able to keep in the fridge for several days (a pie wouldn't last long around here!).  I combined all of these ideas into one: apple hand pies!  Even though I'm a self-professed horrendous baker, these came out great- not the most attractive, but oh-so-delicious.

For the crust:
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled
1/4 cup ice-cold water

Just in case you need a visual.

Combine flour and salt, stir to combine and to ensure any flour clumps are broken up.  Roughly chop butter into 1/4" cubes and add to flour, incorporating with a pastry knife or by crumbling with your fingers, until butter pieces are about the size of a pea.

Add the water a tablespoon at a time, stirring to combine.  To make it easy, add two ice cubes to a measuring cup and fill to the required volume, then use a spoon to add the water from the cup to the dough.  Once all of the flour is incorporated, do not add additional water-- this will just make the dough sticky.

Pat the dough into a circle and wrap in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least thirty minutes while you work on the filling.

For the filling:
2 small apples (or 1.5 large), peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg (we used fresh)
a pinch of salt

We selected two apples (not really reducing our stock much..), one Granny Smith and the other a sweet, crisp red variety.  You can use whatever apples you have- regardless, these will turn out great.

After peeling and chopping them, we added them in a bowl with the remaining ingredients.  I'd recommend creating the filling immediately before your dough is ready, as the sugar and salt brings out some of the liquid from the apples and makes for a drippy filling.  It'll still work, but definitely makes things slightly more difficult.

Once the dough was sufficiently cold (chilling it is essential for rolling and shaping it), we unwrapped it and rolled it out on a non-stick surface (using a Silpat, but you can just as easily use a floured countertop).  The dough should be uniformly rolled out, to about 1/4" thick.  Rolling too thin will result in tearing; rolling too thick will create a more bread-like crust.

We then cut the dough into eight equal portions, using the back of a butter knife.  To make these more visually appealing, I would recommend using a large, round cookie/pastry cutter to make sure the shape of the finished product is uniform (my lack of kitchen utensils may be one reason behind my poor baking skills).

Each of these pieces is then shaped into a hand pie.  First, add 2-3 tablespoons of filling to the center of the piece.

Dip your forefinger in water and add a bit of moisture to the edge of the dough.  Then, fold one side over to meet the other, sealing along the edges.  Holes in the seal will result in bubbling over of the apple mixture upon baking, so be sure not to overstuff.  Carefully transfer the completed product to a greased cookie sheet.  If you want to get fancy, use the back of a floured fork to add crimps to the edges.  Extra fancy? Brush with heavy cream and sprinkle coarse sugar on top.  As you can see, we don't really do fancy.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until dough is slightly browned and hard to the touch.  Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.  These are best stored in the refrigerator, and are good for 4-5 days.

The finished product was just what I wanted.  A bit of spicy and sweet baked apples, with a hefty dose of light pastry (the crust is my favorite part of any pie!), individual portions (super easy to transport if you want to carry one with you for a spontaneous snack/dessert), and so much neater AND easier to serve than a messy pie.

It reminded me of a cross between an apple turnover and apple pie (my fiance equated it to a TastyKake personal pie- I'm slightly offended).  I will definitely be making these again next time I want to make a quick, easy dessert- the ingredients are pantry staples, and you could fill them with whatever fruit you happen to have on hand.

Hand pie in the hand!

October 9, 2011


If you know us, you know that we're sticklers about planning ahead.  At any given time we know what we're going to be doing for the next six to eight weekends, we make meal plans and grocery lists before doing our weekly shopping, and we always like to have some good eats on the docket.  Before we left Charlottesville, we made reservations for the next time our C'ville friend would be in town.  Cochon came up as a match on our lists of restaurants we all wanted to try.  Fast forward to this weekend, and we were headed down to Queens Village to check it out.

Wide-mouthed pig.

The space is warm and inviting, playing on their eponymous animal without being kitschy- from the pervasive, mouth-watering smoky pork smell to the brightly colored pig-themed posters and decor. It's the type of place that you just instantly feel comfortable in, with an open yet cozy floor plan.  Our group settled in at a side table and started discussing the menu.  On the smaller side, but with each item sounding more delicious than the last- a handful of specials made decision-making even tougher.

I embraced the French influence of the menu and started with the escargots ($12).  Served in a small ceramic crock, the fat snails were immersed in a sage-scented sauce- the base of which was a chunky fresh tomato and fennel broth.  A compound butter melted in to the mix added garlic, herbs, and a creamy richness.  Chewy bits of salty pancetta complemented the soft, delicate escargots.

A started with the sausage cassoulet ($12), a simple bowl of slow-cooked beans topped with several thick, crisp sausage patties reminscent of breakfast sausage.  The sausage oozed a spiced oil that coated the beans .  Definitely another rich and hearty dish that is perfect for fall.

Another app that we got to taste (sharing was encouraged) was the crispy chicken livers ($11).  This dish has gotten a lot of positive press, and I really enjoyed the piece that I ate.  The outside of each piece of liver is crunchy crispy, while the inside is firm and smooth.  The actual flavor of the liver is certainly present but not alone- a sweet sun-dried cherry and balsamic reduction coated everything, with some pine nuts thrown in for crunch.  A didn't enjoy the liver flavor but appreciated the sauce- we love all things dried cherry.  I think liver is an acquired taste, but the cooking technique and flavor pairings were spot-on.

One of our favorite starters was the fried oysters ($14)- four enormous oysters in a thick coating of batter and fried to perfection.  The golden crust was a flaky jacket around each sea-salted bivalve.  Bacon aioli never hurts either.  I appreciated that these could be cut into pieces without losing their structure- an interesting characteristic that I have yet to see on a fried oyster.  Our well-versed foodie friend moved these to the top of his Best Fried Oysters list, and I can't argue with that.

Our table also ordered a special app of the evening- gnocchi with braised hare. Our waiter made a slight "mistake" in our order, which we actually appreciated- we ended up with the special gnocchi as well as the "regular" gnocchi-  the same soft potato pillows with pig cheeks, peas, and a Reggiano cream sauce.  I really loved the lighter pork and pea version- the flavor of the shredded hare meat was pretty intense.  The gnocchi weren't my favorite- texturally, I prefer them crispy and pan-fried.  

The hare version.

I didn't eat much of the gnocchi because I was saving room for the next round of food.  For my main course, I went with Cochon's Choucroute Garni ($26).  French for "dressed sauerkraut," this dish incorporated three different types of pork atop a bed of warm, mustard-y sauerkraut, fingerling potatoes, and a few crunchy pickles- an incredibly hearty meal (and completely shareable- tons of food).  The two spare-ribs were my favorite- thick slabs of smoky meat falling right off the bone.  The waitress who brought this plate to the table encouraged me to use my hands.  No problem!  The thick-cut, fat-marbled ham had a subtle sweetness to counter it's salty juiciness.  I embarrassingly mistook an enormous slab of pork belly for a piece of crusty baguette, which actually would have been a nice addition to the meal.  I'm not a huge fan of the super-fatty meat, but the rest of the table raved about the pieces I slipped onto their plates.  I loved that I could get a good feel for what Cochon could do with a pig with just this one dish- it was wonderful.

Too many meats to focus: spareribs in foreground, ham on right, pork belly in the back.
Although we had been encouraged to order the pork shank (and it looked amazing from my view of neighboring tables), A & I both wanted to try the Berkshire Pork Shoulder Steak ($25).  The base of the plate was incredible- a pile of al dente green lentils and charred Brussels sprouts in a red wine reduction.  I could eat that every day.  A generous slab of tender pork shoulder was pre-sliced (don't know why, but we love that), revealing a pink meat with a darker, seared edge.  Similar to a pork loin in flavor and texture, the meat was a tad too salty for my enjoyment, but A was in salty meat heaven.  A fried egg on top for good measure tied the rustic elements of the dish together.

Our dining mates ordered the Bacon-fried Pork Chop and the Pan-seared Skate- the former was thick cut, fatty, and incredibly juicy- a truly decadent chop- while the latter was really the only disappointment of the night- dry and salty.  After the requisite break to chat and digest (love that we were not rushed at ANY point during this almost three hour meal), our waiter told us about the dessert menu.  Because there were four options ($8/each), and four of us eating, the decision was pretty easy.  One of each, please! 

I can't say enough good things about these desserts.  They truly were the perfect ending to the meal.  After a barrage of salty, savory, meaty goodness, the desserts were each sweet in a subtle, complex way.  My favorite was the "Poor Man's Pudding"- a rich, maple syrup pudding topped with a thick layer of shortbread dough cooked to form a flaky biscuit-y top.  A scoop of creamy bacon ice cream on top, and this dessert became my new "pure food genius."

My second favorite was the bread pudding- somewhat similar to the above, but with a crumbly top, butter pecan ice cream, and an absolutely mouth-watering caramel sauce- it was like someone made caramel.. and then used the caramel to make caramel.  If that makes any sense- it was just ultra thick and ultra rich and ultra amazing.

Number three and four on my list were a raspberry compote topped with a nutty granola and a simple chocolate torte.  Good, but nothing spectacular.  I prefer a denser, darker torte- this one was a bit lighter, and the flavor was a little too subtle for my overly stimulated tastebuds.

The service was another highlight of the meal- at one point while we were waiting for dessert to come out, I realized there were spoons placed at each setting.  When I asked "When did these spoons get here?", one of our friends laughed at me... and then admitted he had no idea.  Subtle service is a true art form.  As I mentioned before, the coursing of the meal was timed well, giving us enough time to enjoy, thoughtfully analyze, and discuss each dish without a rush.  We all agreed the appetizers and desserts were our favorite parts of the meal- book-ending a fun evening of feasting.  

Cochon recently celebrated their four year anniversary- here's to many more!  I can't wait to return.

801 East Passyunk Avenue (Passyunk & Catharine)
BYO & cash only