Monday, January 29, 2007

This Year My Blog REALLY Wants A Pony

Happy first birthday, blog! Only a few more years until you're potty-trained!

Vegetarian Philly Cheesesteak

Here I go with another sampling of Philly’s contribution to the sandwich world – the cheesesteak. I do it meatless, though, ‘cause I swing like that.

All of the veggie Cheesesteaks I’ve eaten have either been made with tvp or seitan. I’ve never had or even thought of making a Cheesesteak with portobello mushrooms, but why not? They have a meaty and hearty texture, and are commonly substituted for ground beef burgers.

The veggie cheese cteak at Washington Street Ale House, an American pub-food restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware, uses portobello mushrooms along with Swiss cheese, and sautéed onions, and peppers. The smoky, char-grilled mushrooms and veggies make an excellent sandwich, although I’m sure it tastes nothing like a real cheesesteak (thank god). I was quite pleased with the mushroom version of the cheesesteak. I ended up dipping my sandwich in the ketchup I dumped on my plate for the accompanying fries, because all sandwiches need a sauce or a spread. Are you listening to me, great sandwich-maker in the sky?

Wahington Street Ale House, 1206 Washington St., Wilmington, DE 19801
Phone (302)658-2537
11am-1pm daily; Sunday brunch 10am-3pm

Friday, January 26, 2007

Baby Challah

My boyfriend has been blessed with the super power to tolerate old, moldy food in the fridge. He’ll even leave food out overnight and swear that it’s still good. I kid him about it, and have even gotten him a plushy of a moldy piece of toast. Really, though, I’m concerned for his health.

He buys loaves of challah for the Sabbath, pinches off a piece to have with wine and a prayer Friday night, and then the loaf sits around, goes stale and moldy. He resists my suggestions of putting the loaf in the fridge - ya know, because it might make it last longer. So, a large loaf of bread is wasted every week.

No longer! Jeering and deriding have had no effect on his behavior, so I completely changed my tactics - I made him baby loaves of challah. (Yes, I am the best girlfriend on this planet.) These things are so damn cute. I made some loaves with raisins, some with sesame seeds, and some plain. They’re sitting in the freezer, so he can just pull one out on Friday, have a pinch with the prayer, and there’s just enough left over to have as a pre-dinner snack or with dinner. I strive for maximum cuteness, so next time they’ll be even smaller – and cuter!

The last time I posted about challah, some one asked about vegan challah. I’ve never tried it, but PPK has one, and there’s also something called water challah.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I Love You, Pumpkin

I love pumpkin browsing in the fall - going to markets to ogle, point, and ooh and ahh over the many varieties of pumpkins. There are teeny-tiny pumpkins, red pumpkins, white pumpkins, warty pumpkins, speckled pumpkins, round pumpkins, long pumpkins, crook-necked pumpkins…well, some of these are technically gourds and squash, but all are in the cucurbit family.

I have a dream…of one day growing a record-breaking pumpkin. Ok, it doesn’t have to win a prize at the state fair, but nursing a pumpkin to obesity is on my to-do list. I currently don’t have the room or sunlight where I live to realize this dream. One day.

At Halloween, I can’t bring myself to carve my pumpkins; they’ll collapse within days to a mushy, stinky pile. I prefer to keep my orange orbs around as long as possible. Others ditch the pumpkin as soon as the holiday is over. One year I drove around on trash day and collected a trunk load of uncarved pumpkins that were kicked to the curb. That was a good year.

So, why am I writing about my love of pumpkins now? I just sacrificed the sugar pumpkin that has cheerily been sitting on my kitchen table since October to make pumpkin soup. The soup was good, but I appreciate the beauty of the pumpkin much more than its flavor. It’s going to be many months before I get to fawn over pumpkins again. Sigh.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


Presto is the newest addition to Darius Mansoory’s virtual monopoly of downtown Wilmington’s 1200 block of Washington Street. (He also owns Washington Street Ale House and Mikimotos.) I can’t blame the guy for lining up his businesses; he’s reducing his commute and he’s reducing pollution!

After watching the slow construction of Presto over the past year or so, I finally walked all of two blocks from my house to check out the sandwich, pastry, and coffee shop. My first visit was about a month ago for Sunday brunch. Sunday brunch, you say? In downtown Wilmington? Inconceivable! All sandwich and coffee shops in the immediate downtown area close the second the suits go home. Not any more. Presto is open seven days a week from the crack of dawn ‘til long after the sun has gone down. I predict Presto is going to do well due to its operation hours alone.

The interior of the corner café is funky, yet clean. Green and orange tiles cover the lower half of deep red walls, and spiral backed chairs with bright green seats are tucked neatly under metal-edged tables. Blown glass lights, shaped like jellyfish, hang from the vaulted ceiling. The L-shaped counter features a glass case displaying sandwiches, sides, and pastries. An open cooler by the door holds beverages and ready-to-go foods like salads, dessert, mac and cheese, and even sushi from neighboring Mikimotos.

The pastries are made in house by a pastry chef, and are displayed up front under glass so you won’t drool on them. So far, I’ve had the sticky bun and white chocolate raspberry cheesecake square. I stopped myself from eating the cheesecake square with my hands and got a fork because it was so good; I felt it deserved decorum. The muffins look delicious, and I’m sure they’d compliment an afternoon coffee while typing on the computer (they have internet access).

The breakfast menu features bagels and panini grilled omelet sandwiches. I tried to order a sandwich from their lunch menu (times when breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served are not clear on the menu) at ten minutes before eleven, and was unable. I think they would have accommodated, but the person in the back kitchen was m.i.a. Instead, I ordered the spinach and feta omelet on ciabatta, which was tasty but could have used some special sauce.

I returned the other night to order the sandwich I originally wanted – warm, marinated and grilled eggplant, and roasted peppers with chili jack cheese, and cilantro aioli on a banquette. This sandwich smelled wonderful and was flavorful (see what special sauce can do). The marinated eggplant, along with the cilantro aioli, was tangy, and the cheese has just a hint of hot pepper. After trying a few sandwiches at Presto!, I’d advise getting a bag of chips or a cookie to go with your sandwich if you’re a Hungry Man, as I find the sandwiches on the small side.

Presto offers a dinner menu with appetizers and entrees. The sandwich shop atmosphere doesn’t seem to fit the pricey dinner menu ($16-$24), but, hey, they’re open and it’s out there as an option if you feel so inclined to order scallops or lamb chops. If not, you can order a sandwich from the lunch menu ($6-$10), which I feel is a tad over priced. (Am I cheap?)

Presto has a liquor license, so sidle up with a little hair of the dog in the form of an espresso martini for brunch, or a glass of wine with dinner...or lunch!

My one complaint with Presto is their packaging for to-go orders – lovely yellow paper gift bags, and sturdy plastic containers. It’s very nice packaging, but it’s so wasteful. I can recycle the paper bag, but the #5 plastic containers can’t be recycled in the area (if you know of a place, drop me a comment). They even put small, single pastries in a huge plastic container. I wouldn’t complain if they wrapped everything in paper. Whadda ya say, Darius? You’ve already cut down on emissions with your work commute, how about cutting down on trash?

Presto, 1204 Washington Street, Wilmington, DE, 19801

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Mac And Cheese Throwdown

Just the other day I made a written note to myself to check out Dilalah Winder’s famous Mac and Cheese (report coming when I get around to that list), and today I read that a mac and cheese bake-off happened in Center City Philadelphia between Food Network’s Bobby Flay and Philly’s Delilah Winder. Oprah has declared Delilah’s dish the best, but the judges for the yet-to-be-aired Throwdown With Bobby Flay say,”Nuh-uh”. I call foul on that tricky Flay-ster for throwing pancetta in the mix. Who can resist bacon?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Seed Starting Chart

It’s time to start planning your vegetable garden – browsing seed catalogs, circling interesting varieties, and even getting some seeds started! Yes, some seeds need to be started this early; namely, onions. Onions started from seeds (as opposed to sets) need to be grown in a greenhouse or indoors about 10 weeks before they go outside into the ground.

I’m familiar enough with vegetables to know when to start seeds, but if you’re not, there’s a really cool tool, the Lazy Gardener’s Automatic Seed Starting Chart, over at You Grow Girl to help you. Just plug in the last frost date for your region and sow dates will pop up on an Excel spreadsheet. There’s nothing more painful than sitting down with all your seed packets and counting the days on a calendar between sow dates, germination dates, transplant dates, and harvest dates in order to plan a perfectly timed harvest. I can attest. While at school, I was required to keep an extensive and anally detailed journal of such things for my vegetable garden.
I noted a few things from my experience to share if you plan on using this chart.
  • The chart doesn’t account for planting a fall or second crop, so you’ll have to do the math if you want veggies into the fall.
  • Some veggies have an easier time of it if sown in cell packs in a greenhouse and transplanted to the ground when a bit larger.Conversely, some seeds are better sown directly in the ground.
    • In my experience, I would not transplant corn, as the You Grow Girl chart recommends, but start corn directly in the ground when the temperatures are warm.
    • Also, I would not direct sow onion seeds, but plant in cell packs and transplant.

Happy garden planning! May your headaches be lessened with this tool and your harvest be bountiful.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Discover Philly...And Get Drunk On The Cheap

Link dump for tourists and locals…

SoundAboutPhilly is a site that offers “tours” of Philly through maps (Yay, GoogleMaps.) and audio. If you don’t have a friend to show you the non-tourist side of Philly, hit this site up for suggestions - there’s more to Philly than a cracked bell. Do listen to the audio; it contains in depth interviews with locals, and tons more info than the written intros. Need a bite after trudging through the city? The “Philly Flavorhoods” tour takes you to restaurants by neighborhood. Don’t attempt to use the site’s search function; it’s practically useless. Otherwise, nifty site. I wish every town I visited had one of these!I’m an adult, so no longer bring a hidden flask to restaurants. (Bars are another story.) Sometimes though, you just want to enjoy a meal with rosy cheeks and blurred vision, and not go broke! Do it legit with help from this interactive BYOB map (Yay, GoogleMaps, again.) of Philly restaurants. Now, where do I get a bottle of wine? Click on a restaurant and the site also locates the nearest liquor store. Sweet.

Both of these tools are on, the official visitor site for Greater Philadelphia, which is pretty darn informative. I've been here five years and just discovered a few places I've never heard of, so hop on over if you're planning a visit or even if you've been around a while.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Fig Pizza Gone Bad

One of the reason’s I started this blog was to write restaurant reviews. I felt that restaurant reviewers rarely address vegetarian options at restaurants. You always read about how refreshing the shrimp appetizer is, or how succulent the steak is. This info is not relevant to me. I read entire reviews listing six or ten items from a menu, none of which I can eat. I’d like to know if there is anything I can eat?

I also felt that restaurant reviewers were too nice and lenient in their reviews. I’ve read more glowing reviews than glowing experience I’ve personally had. I wanted to tell it how I see it - Don’t we all? Though, I found that bad food and unpleasant restaurant experiences left me uninspired to write reviews. If the food was bad, I didn’t feel the restaurant deserved my time and recognition. I also thought I would enjoy criticizing and revealing unsavory food and establishments. It turns out I don’t. I’d prefer to be nice. I’d rather let you know about great places. So, most unpleasant dining experiences go undocumented. Not this time! I cannot help but write an addendum to a previous restaurant review.Picture of Bad Pizza.

My one experience at Toscana Kitchen and Bar was fairly pleasant, but I really didn’t see myself frequenting the restaurant again. The restaurant does offer an odd, but intriguing pizza of fig puree, honey, and gorgonzola. Since our normal pizza take-out joint liberated our two favorite toppings from the menu – portabella mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes – we decided to order Toscana’s fig pizza for take-out.

We ordered the pizza with explicit instructions to leave off the prosciutto. Of course, you know the following part of this story...we get home to find prosciutto on the pizza. This is a common occurrence, but it always angers me. I’m not one to pick off meat and eat food. I usually throw the food away, and am then out the time and money. There wasn’t a lot of prosciutto on the pizza anyway, and we couldn’t be bothered to drive back and wait another twenty minutes for the pizza, so we decided to pick the meat off.

After the initial disappointment of finding prosciutto on our pizza, we realized that the pizza looked nothing like the one I had before when I dined in the restaurant. (Check out the photo evidence from the previous review.)The in-house version was smothered in cheese with pockets of fig puree atop the pizza. The take-out version was smeared entirely with fig puree with a few crumbles of gorgonzola sprinkled in the center of the pizza. Upon biting into the pizza, we noticed the absence of honey, which actually compliments the gorgonzola quite well. To top it off, the pizza was barely cooked and the dough was soggy. Imagine a soggy pizza smeared with fig butter or jam, and that is essentially what we received.

Toscanna’s fig pizza went from being one of the most intriguing pizzas I’ve ever had, to being the most disgusting pizza I've ever had. This just shows how one can take identical ingredients and end up with much different results. A restaurant with good food is only worth going to if they can produce good food consistently. I don’t want to roll the dice and hope for a good night. Unfortunately all bets are off at Toscana. I’m not playing that game again.

Toscana Kitchen and Bar, 1412 N. DuPont St., Wilmington, DE, 19806, 302-654-8001
Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30a.m-2p.m., Dinner: Mon.-Wed. 5p.m.-10p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 5p.m.-11p.m., Sun. 5p.m.-9p.m.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

What I Ate On My Christmas Vacation

I drove 600 miles from Delaware to South Carolina, starting in the early a.m. hours on Christmas Eve. Within the first few hours of being in town, I made a bee line to the best Southern Indian restaurant in the US - Touch of India. It truly is Indian home-cooking. This picture of my plate piled with buffet helpings does the flavor of the food no justice. Everything is super fresh and layered with complex flavors. A new location is under construction and should be open later in 2007. The restaurant doesn't have a site, but be sure to find this place if you're ever in town. Touch of India is one of maybe two reasons to stop in Columbia, SC.Christmas Eve evening is spent at my Dad's house. Drinks flow at his place. The first thing he offered me was fresh pineapple soaked in coconut rum. He was so pleased with this "recipe" that was recently passed to him. He had never heard of coconut rum. I popped a handful of these to get me in the mood. Did the job. Tasty, too.The champaign flowed.Our Christmas Eve tradition is to eat an informal spread of hor'dourves - cheese, sausage, olives, dates, grapes, nuts, etc. This tradition was started by my granddad over 60 years ago. At Christmas he would splurge and order a large box of assorted cheeses and sausages from Wisconsin.We finish with a slice of pecan torte. The torte is made with only 2 tablespoons of flour; pecans are ground into flour and make up the bulk of the cake. The story goes that this 200 year-old, family recipe was given to my grandmother in the '50's by a neighbor and Hungarian refugee as a gift of gratitude. We only eat it once a year - Christmas Eve.Woke up Christmas morning and watched my dad make biscuits for breakfast. I'll share the secret to light biscuits once I try it out for myself.Off to Mom's house for Christmas where I had the traditional dinner. Nothing fancy, but all good. Stuffing, sweet potato soufflé, green beans, squash casserole, rice and giblet gravy. (She subbed mushrooms for giblets in my gravy.) Cranberry sauce and rolls didn't make it on the plate in time - I got camera happy. Then off to Charleston, SC to visit my sister. I always disregarded palm trees when I lived in a place that had them. Now, I miss palm trees.Sat by myself, read the paper, and had a "veggie" plate at Hominy Grill in Charleston : Grits, mac and cheese, corn bread, yams, and cucumber salad.
Before I headed back for Delaware, I made sure to pick up some a crap load of wine. PA wine and liquor stores are all state run, so the selection is not great. Almost all the wines I see at home are unavailable in PA. (If you're wondering why I even care about PA liquor laws, DE is so small, I might as well live in PA.)Let's not forget the mayonnaise! I picked up six, 32 ounce jars. That's twelve pounds! I'm hoping not to go through it all in one year. I just got some back up in case I don't make it back for Christmas next year....and some barbecue sauce. Strange color, I know. Mustard-based barbecue sauce, or "Carolina Gold", is one of the four types of barbecue sauce in SC - mustard, vinegar, heavy tomato, and light tomato. I grew up with mustard-based sauce, so... You can't get it anywhere else.Finally, some artichoke relish and assorted chutneys. I'm talking about Jerusalem artichokes, not globe artichokes. So very good, but artichoke relish is also unavailable in DE/PA.

That's my Christmas food foray. Now onto my New Years diet - it includes a real estate dispute. It's enough to make me cry, and I have. I'll either be too frazzled to write or will be writing incessantly to take my mind off matters. Please excuse me, either way.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Hoppin' John And Collard Greens

For a good measure of luck and fortune in the New Year, I always eat Hoppin’ John and collard greens on the first day of January. The green of the collards represents greenbacks and the round, copper-colored black-eyed peas represent coins. With the way my new year is looking, I’m going back to the kitchen for seconds!

Hoppin’ John

Hoppin' John is traditionally made with ham hocks and served over rice. This recipe skips the ham hocks.

8 ounces dried black-eyed peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cups reserved cooking liquid

  • Cover beans with water and soak overnight. Strain beans and rinse.
  • Cover beans with water and bring to a boil.Simmer for about 1 hour or until beans are tender.
  • Drain beans and set aside, but be sure to reserve about 2 cups of the cooking liquid.
  • Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes over medium heat.
  • Add allspice, cayenne pepper, soy sauce, beans, and reserved liquid to onions and simmer for 20 minutes so the flavors marry.
  • Salt and pepper as desired.

Collards Greens
Most recipes for collards call for boiling the greens for an hour or more. I think this is absurd. I’m not sure what you would have left after an hour of boiling other than disgusting, gray mush. The following method yields collards that are green and flavorful with a kick of vinegar and hot sauce.

10 or so large collard leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ½ cups onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
hot sauce

  • Wash and remove the tough, central ribs of the collard leaves.
  • Chop leaves. I find the best way is to roll the whole bunch of leaves and make 1 inch cuts along the length of the roll. Then run the knife through the collards 10 or so times to chop into smaller pieces.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop chopped collards in. Boil for about 5-10 minutes, drain, and set aside.
  • Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes over medium heat.
  • Add collards and vinegar to onions. Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. Sauté for no longer than a few minutes (just enough time to add the seasoning to your taste) and serve.