Friday, March 30, 2007

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

My friend’s birthday is five days after mine. She always requests a cake - I think because she knows I’ll actually make it. (Reliable is my middle name.) Last year the request was for red velvet cake. This year it was for chocolate cake with chocolate icing. I guess if it’s your birthday, you get what you want. So, I obliged and made a chocolate cake with chocolate icing.

What I did not do was make a cake. I made cupcakes for a myriad of reasons:
  • Small always wins the cute contest.
  • Cupcakes are easy to eat when you don’t have a fork and plate.
  • Individual cakes allow you to taste your handiwork without leaving a gaping wedge announcing you’ve been there.
  • You can scarf down six of the twenty-one cupcakes and claim the batter only made fifteen!

I don’t have a standby chocolate cake recipe, so I searched food sites and blogs. I landed on the Chocolate Stout Cake over at Smitten Kitchen. (She actually snagged it from Epicurious, who snagged it from Bon Appetite, who snagged it from Barrington Brewery in Barrington, MA.) Pictures always help seal the deal with uncharted recipes, and Smitten Kitchen’s pictures are awesome.

This chocolate cake contains Guinness Stout. Reviewers at Epicurious said they could not taste the beer, but I could! I hate beer, so am very sensitive to its distinctive smell and taste. The good news is that chocolate and sugar makes beer taste good. (Next time someone thinks they’ll convert me with a sip of the most awesomest awesome beer, I’m going to ask for a fun size Snickers bar as a chaser.) The beer just adds a deeper flavor to the chocolate, and is not offensive to even those most offended by beer.

I used half of the original recipe, and baked the cupcakes for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. I ended up with twenty-one cupcakes. My friend’s getting cheated out of six cupcakes, but she doesn’t have to know. Shh.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Black-Bottom Cupcakes, You Make The Rockin' World Go Round

Help! I need more time. I need to wear a bikini in about three weeks. This is very bad timing, because I normally put on about five pounds in the winter. I don’t gain this weight pigging-out at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I gain this weigh at the beginning of the year when winter really hits hard. This is because my activity level drops in relation to the plummeting thermometer.

My job (gardener) requires me to be outside, so, when the mercury hits the 20’s, I stay home and waste countless hours sitting on my ass in from of the computer. I do other things – sew, knit, read, and work on little projects. (Sounds like a dream, but it’s quite boring. Without riches to travel the world, retirement is gonna be a fat drag.) Unfortunately, all of these home activities don’t qualify as aerobic activity, and have never helped anyone get a smaller ass.

Let’s just say that February was COLD. I worked about five or six days the entire month. I also gained about five or six pounds.

Now that I’m back to work full-time, I’m burning loads of calories as I squat down to pick up sticks, push wheel barrows filled with mulch across lawns, rake the last lingering leaves, and contort my body to prune the branch juuust out of reach.

Because of work, I can now have my cake and eat it, too. What a relief! I saw David Lebovitz's black-bottom cupcakes featured at Apartment Therapy recently, and knew that this was exactly what I wanted to break my unsuccessful sort-of-trying-not-to-eat-everything fast.

These black-bottom cupcakes are a grown-up cupcake, in that they are not overly sweet. If you’re one of those weird people that doesn’t like dessert to be too sweet (Isn’t sweet part of the definition of dessert?), this is for you. The cream cheese filling studded with chocolate chunks also makes these cupcakes more sophisticated than the iced cupcakes you bake for a kid’s birthday party.

I love these cupcakes the way they are, but if you want things sweeter, add some ice cream. I’ve been loving the new Häagen-Dazs Extra Rich Light Ice Cream. (Two pints in the last two weeks!) The carton reads,” We spent ten years with European scientists perfecting our Extra Rich Light ice cream.” Time well spent. Time well spent

With all the cupcakes and ice cream, I’m afraid I’m just running in place getting no where fast with these five extra pounds, but, damn, it tastes good. I guess I need to go to work eight days a week.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Update: no longer open

For my birthday, I was treated to a “fancy” dinner – right after we finished watching the NCAA basketball game between UCLA and KU that ended exactly at our reservation time, and was playing at a bar conveniently located around the corner from my birthday destination. (Hmm, funny how things worked out so perfectly.) The end of March is no longer about the advent of Spring and my birthday, but about KU basketball and their quest to win the tournament. (I'm actually a NCAA basketball convert now, so I was into it.) Their quest was painfully ended on my birthday. Sorry boys. Better luck next year, but it’s off to my birthday dinner at Gayle.

Gayle is a tiny restaurant in Queen Village that serves up creative American dishes by Daniel Stern, the former executive chef of Le Bec-Fin. Crisp, white tablecloths and well mannered wait staff give Gayle a feel of elegance, while the narrow, 35-seat interior with soothing green walls give Gayle a feel of coziness.

Gayle does not take reservations, and serves an ala carte menu Monday through Wednesday. Reservations are required , and a 3- or 5-course menu is served Thursday through Saturday. There is not much to offer on Gayle’s menu for vegetarians, but we called ahead to make sure accommodations could be made for one strict vegetarian, and one vegetarian that eats fish, but no shell fish. They were happy to accommodate.

En route to a sidewalk sale the next day, I stopped in front of Gayle for a shot with light. The interior of was rearranged for a large party.

I do wish I had pictures of the food, if only because I rarely eat at restaurants that serve multiple courses of artfully presented food, but the restaurant was too dim for photography without a flash, and too intimate to annoyingly take out a camera with every presentation of a plate.

We were served a complimentary plate of the tiniest, pinky finger-sized fig and ricotta spring rolls, mushroom spring rolls, and quail eggs. The spring rolls were excellent, but I questioned the quail eggs. Eggs can freak me out, especially if they are not cooked hard, or are wet in any way. The speckled quail eggs were too tiny to dip a spoon in, so I cracked one open in my confusion as to how to eat this thing. Expecting a cooked solid, liquid horrifyingly gushed out over my plate. What was it? Was I supposed daintily pick up the egg and drink from it as if it were a tiny tea cup? Ignorant, unrefined, and a little repulsed, I let the egg juice remain untouched on my plate. Complimentary rolls then came, which I desperately tried to keep from touching the quail egg juice.

My partner and I both started with the Gayle salad of mixed greens listed on the menu. Finely chopped parsley was the dominant flavor of the salad.

For the second course, my partner was able to order the tuna from the menu. I was presented with a vegetarian substitution of a mushroom tasting consisting of sautéed enoki mushrooms, a tiny ramekin of mushroom soufflé, and a mushroom truffle (not “the” truffle mushroom). I enjoy the concept of eating an ingredient in different incarnations, so the mushroom tasting was my favorite course.

Vegetarian substitutions at restaurants invariably mean pasta tossed in a cream sauce and whatever vegetables are on the menu. The third course, eaten by both my partner and myself, was just this concoction – a lovely little twist of fettuccine in a light cream sauce with artichokes.

The forth course was a tasting of three cheeses. Forgive me, for I did not bring a pen and paper to write down the names of the cheeses. My favorite sampling was a soft cheese on a bed of pickled red cabbage and mustard. The second cheese was the driest cheese I’ve ever had. I really wish I had caught the name, so I could do research on its intended moisture content. I wanted to believe it had sat unwrapped in the cooler, but seriously doubted a restaurant of Gayle’s caliber would do such a thing. I wonder what it was? The dry cheese sat on a bed of tart cherry sauce. The third cheese was a blue cheese accompanied by candied pecans.

None of the desserts on the menu called to me. I thought the endive parfait looked intriguing, but I did not bite that hook. Instead, I ordered the ice cream sandwich with pistachio, and rosewater. I was hoping for pistachios in the ice cream, but only three or four nuts sat beside my scoops of cream or vanilla flavored ice cream wedged between crisp cookie triangles. I’m not sure where the rose water was (maybe the squiggle of sauce?), but did not shed a tear, as I find rosewater overpowering. My partner ordered breakfast, a small puck of French toast with a thin white chocolate sauce. He enjoyed the dessert; I thought nothing of it.

I might add that all of our diminutive dishes came with decorative squirts of vegetable purees, reductions, and sauces. Unfortunately, I cannot remember what any of them were or tasted like. I really wanted to be wowed by the little squirts of sauces that food reviewers ooh and aah about, but these were unmemorable. While we found Gayle’s food to be consistently good and “top notch”, the flavors and dishes were mostly unmemorable. (The explanation as to why my descriptions are lacking.) I enjoyed every dish presented to me (with the exception of the quail egg), but there was not a single dish that we fell in love with or gushed over. The neighboring table raved and gushed endlessly, so who knows?

I did feel special eating a five course meal of expertly prepared food on my birthday, but Gayle is not a place that I would regularly frequent. For everyday dining, Gayle is a little expensive for the average person, or, at least, someone like myself. (The two of us left with a bill slightly over $200 after tip and minimal drinks.) I would recommend the ala carte menu for those of us who are cash-strapped, and want to see what Gayle has to offer. The good news is that Gayle will be making the warm weather menu that comes out in a few weeks a la carte all week long. They'll also be opening up an outdoor dining area.

Gayle, 617 S 3rd St., Philadelphia, PA 19147, (215)922-3850
Open House: Tues.-Thurs., 5:30-10pm; Dining Out: Fri.-Sat., 5:30-10pm

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kosher For Passover Coke - Sweet!

The bulletin that Coca-Cola makes a limited batch of Coke with sucrose (real sugar) available once a year during Passover comes as news to me. Apparently, people go ape-shit this time of year, and stock up on Coke made the original way – before Coca-Cola replaced expensive sugar cane with cheap high fructose corn syrup in the mid '80's. Nostalgia and a better tasting product are people’s reasons for searching out bottles of Coke distinguished by yellow caps printed with the OU-P symbol.

I rarely drink carbonated beverages, or Coke (except bourbon and Coke at bars), but I thought I’d give it a try. This is going to sound like a fib, but, with the first sip, I was instantly reminded of fetching colas from my granddad’s garage, and sharing a cola with him when I was a child. It tastes just like that! There’s definitely something softer, and less harsh about Coke made with real sugar.

In my parts, I’ve only seen 2-liter bottles of OU-P Coke – and Sprite! (Pepsi fans, don’t fear; look for Pepsi with KP on the cap.) I wish smaller sizes of OU-P Coke were more readily available, because I’ll never drink a 2-liter bottle before it goes flat. However, I would stock up on smaller cans of Coke made with sugar once a year to make mixed drink.

The official OU website lists what sizes of OU-P Cokes are available, and in what cities. Large metropolitan areas with large populations of Jews are the target distribution areas. My city is not listed, but I found some; just keep an eye out for yellow caps with the OU-P symbol.

Pleased To Meet You, Claytonia

While making relish a couple of weeks ago at a friend’s house, I got to meet, interact with, and fall in love with a new vegetable. My introduction came after many hours of canning, when we, then, turned our attention towards dinner.

Where does dinner come from? Well, some of it comes from the grocery store, and, if you’re lucky to live on a farm like she does, some of it comes from right outside your door. The farm she lives on provides the owners and farmhands (my friends) with organic and humanely grown meat, and organic vegetables.My friend just waltzes out to the greenhouse (I so wish) to cut some greens for a salad, and comes back in with a bowl of the cutest, spade-shaped variety of spinach I’ve ever seen…except, it’s not spinach. I’m embarrassed to ask what it is. Think, think! I should know this! “Its claytonia”, she replies.

Claytonia? She explains that claytonia is a salad green that grows well in the cooler months and re-seeds itself readily (weed!). It has a mild taste, so is excellent for tempering bitter salad greens like arugula or endive. Claytonia even stands up to boiling or sautéing. After running the leaves under the water, I ask if I should cut the long stems off before throwing the leaves into the salad bowl, and she says, “Nah.”

Naturally, I did a little pokin’ around on the computer when I got back home, and found that claytonia is native to North America, and grows throughout the West Coast. One of its common names is miner’s lettuce, due to the fact that during the Gold Rush, miners gathered this winter groundcover and used it as a source of vitamin C to stave of scurvy when other plants were scarce. The basal leaves (lower leaves) are spade-shaped (like my pictures), but the cauline leaves (borne on a stem) circle the stem and look entirely different.

Of course, Europeans have been cultivating this winter annual native to America for years, and selling it under the name of winter purslane. Figures. We’re too stupid to cultivate our own weeds.

My friend sent me home with a large bag of claytonia. I fixed a fresh salad of claytonia, dried figs and shavings of Parmigiano cheese. You might want to trim the stems a little, on second thought. When left on the long side, the stems stick out your mouth, making for a potentially embarrassing dinner when amongst certain people. Also, my cat stalked my meal just waiting for one of the green “strings” to jump off the plate. She’s not a people-food lover, so there was no confusion about her motive.

Keep an eye out, and I bet claytonia will appear in a salad of mixed greens when dining out – especially since many restaurants are now designing their entire menus to follow seasonal and local produce. You can, then, smugly point out the claytonia to your dinner guest, and not confuse it with “cute” spinach like I did.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

New Look

Welcome to the new look of my blog.

I've been wanting to get rid of the generic blog title header and insert an image for some time now. I wasn't going to fux with it until I switched to New Blogger, and I wasn't going to switch to New Blogger until I was forced. (I wanted as many of the bugs worked out first.)

I was forced to switch to New Blogger about a month ago, so I knew it was time to get moving. The only thing is how? I'm computer illiterate. (That's why I use Blogger.) Hell, I used a typewriter and Wite-Out to type my college papers, so computer code is not my native or even secondary language.

I called in the Geek Squad (my boyfriend), and he helped get that image up there. He gets the pat on the back, not I. I am capable of pushing a camera button, so I'm at least responsible for the original image.

Enjoy. Recommendations welcome.

Friday, March 16, 2007

My Kitchen

For the first time ever, I’m participating in a food blogging event, Peeking Behind Closed Doors. It’s not that I don’t like them (memes), it’s just that I don’t like to do what I’m told, when I’m told. And it’s not that I’m a procrastinator or a lazy lout, it’s that I’ve got a bit of a problem with authority. I like to do it my way. Maybe that’s why I’m self-employed.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve climbed out of my shell and have become a bit of an exhibitionist. Isn't that why many of us write blogs? So, I'm more than happy to bare all. I’m not going to show pictures of my feet (eww), but you can look at what’s behind my cupboards.

My counter space is tiny. These are all the cabinets I have. I’ve put up railing from Ikea to hang cups, my dollar store wine glasses(use when clumsy), and large cooking utensils that won’t fit in my two drawers. A cast iron skillet always sits on the stove and is my main cooking dish. If you look closely you can see a picture of me with my mom on the fridge. At 5’3”, I’m the tall one in the picture!

The other side of my kitchen looks like so. I collect folk art, and I luvs the kittahs. That plant is a recent purchase. He’s hanging out waiting for warmer weather, so he can chill on my back porch with wine in a $1 glass.

Behind door #1 we have glasses. They’re orderly, or else they would not fit. The second shelf has decent wine glasses. The top shelf has assorted Riedel wine glasses and butt-loads of champagne glasses, because my dad forgot he gave me a set as a gift, and gave me the same ones the next year. At least they match! He keeps me well stocked with wine accoutrements – and folk art.

Behind door #2 (the high cabinet) we have all the items that I rarely use. I can’t bring myself to throw away my Sanrio Keropi mug, so he’s stowed away. The funny thing is that even with the low cabinets, I have a hard time reaching things. My landlord hung the cabinets just a tad higher than norm. The bottom shelf is above my head, I have to get on my tip-toes to reach the second shelf, and the third shelf requires jumping up on the counter or using my step stool that I’ve had since I was a child.

Behind door #3 we have dishes. I have a set of mis-matched Fiestaware and a set of cheap dishes from the Asian Market. There’s another Sanrio bowl in there I can’t throw out, and a sushi platter a friend made from Redwood.

The fridge has more food in it than I am comfortable with. I like it bare, but it’s never that way. I always have 3 or 5 boxes of Ricedream. My condiments have outgrown the door and are now taking over the top shelf. For the record, I hate beer! Those are my boyfriend’s.

The pantry is a godsend if you don’t have a lot of cabinets. To the left of my fridge is a narrow pantry. Again, I’m uncomfortable with the amount of food in there. It makes me feel guilty about gluttonous consumption - food or otherwise. I’m always looking in there in amazement, and justifying all that food by telling myself that if hell broke loose, I’d at least have food to hold out for a couple of months. (Paranoid?)

I’ve hung a narrow shelf I found on the side of the road (I love trash piles.) on the pantry wall. It helped the clutter for about a month, then I just acquired more food.

I’ve even taken over the window sill in the pantry. I have a wicked sweet tooth and must have chocolate candy available at all times, or else I will combust. Those Trader Joe’s Chocolate Raspberry Sticks are always present; they're an instant shot of sugar to the system. I’ve got a butt-load of interesting Pocky flavors to review one day, the last of my Girl Scout cookies, and a bag of chocolate covered pretzels.

That's it. Except for pots, pans, trays, mixing bowls, cutting boards... They're stacked in the lower cabinets, with no room to spare. It's a royal pain in the ass to get the dish in the back, on the bottom. I'll spare you that picture.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Artichoke Relish

Firstly, let me just squeal, “artichoke relish!”

I’m not talking about the green, unopened flower buds of Cynara scolymus - ya know, the artichoke of famed artichoke dips. I’m talking about the brown, knobby tubers of Helianthus tuberosusJerusalem artichokes. To avoid confusion between the two, Jerusalem artichokes are sometimes referred to as sunchokes.

Jerusalem artichokes are the sweet, edible tubers of native North American sunflowers that were commonly eaten by North American Indians, and then settlers. Jerusalem artichokes grow easily (no-brainer crop) almost any where, and make a pretty vegetable crop when covered with yellow, daisy-like flowers. Heck, stick it in your flower garden!

Neat factoid: The main storage carbohydrate in Jerusalem artichokes is inulin rather than starch. Inulin is converted in the digestive tract to fructose rather than glucose, which can be tolerated by diabetics.When I was younger and lived in the South, Jerusalem artichokes appeared in the fall and winter at farm stands, marquees proudly posted their arrival. If you were lucky, a neighbor would bring over a jar of homemade artichoke relish as a Christmas gift.

I didn’t start eating Jerusalem artichokes any other way than in relish form until I was older. Fresh Jerusalem artichokes are crunchy and subtly sweet. Don’t bother peeling the knobby tubers – it’s laborious and unnecessary.

I looove artichoke relish. It's tangy and crunchy, as the artichokes retain their crunchy quality. It’s definitely a Southern thing, but I haven’t met a person that doesn’t like it - kinda like boiled peanuts. I couldn’t help but laugh at my boyfriend’s endorsement of, “Mmmm. Damn!” If you like relishes and chutneys, you’ll love this. I eat it on sandwiches, crackers, vegetables, and by the spoonful. It's spectacular on hot dogs.

It took all fall and winter to get around to visiting my friend who has a patch of Jerusalem artichokes, but I finally did so a couple of weeks ago. She has all the canning equipment and a large kitchen. Thanks Steph!

Dig the tubers when the plant is dormant and the soil is not frozen. It’s just like digging potatoes – stick a fork in the ground, and tons of tubers appear. You won’t get all the tubers, but that just ensures a crop for next year.

All the little knobs of the tuber make cleaning the dirt off difficult. Cut off the bad spots and pop the fingers off to make cleaning easier. I think we went through three stages of cleaning. Once clean, you’re ready to eat the tubers, or better yet…make relish!

Artichoke Relish
Adapted from A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South

Makes 17 or 18 pints

5 quarts Jerusalem artichokes, chopped
2 gallons water
2 cups non-iodized salt
3 pounds green cabbage, chopped
1 ½ pounds onions, chopped
6 large green and red bell peppers, chopped
3/4 cup flour
1 (24-ounce) jar prepared mustard
2 quarts apple cider vinegar
3 pounds sugar
3 tablespoons mustard seed
2 tablespoons turmeric
2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon hot sauce

  • Soak artichokes overnight in 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of salt. In another container, soak the cabbage, onion, and bell peppers in the remaining 1 gallon of water and 1 cup of salt.
  • The next day, drain the artichokes and vegetables. Spread the artichokes on one towel, and the vegetables on a separate towel.
  • Combine the flour and prepared mustard in a bowl, avoiding lumps.
  • In a 10-quart or larger pot, add the vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, turmeric, celery seed, and black pepper. Bring to a boil, then add the cabbage, onion, and bell peppers. Bring back to a boil and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat.
  • Reduce heat to low. Add and mix about a cup of the cooking liquid to the flour and mustard mixture, then add the thinned mixture to the pot of cooking vegetables, and stir.
  • Add the hot sauce and artichokes. Raise the heat and stir until almost boiling (about 5 minutes).
  • Remove pot from heat, and ladle hot relish into sterilized jars, wipe rims of jars, apply sterilized lids and bands, and process for 15 minutes in a hot water bath.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Urban Gardening

I was enthralled (jealous) with the CSA boxes people were getting and reporting about last year. I seriously thought about signing up for the program at a local farm. The only thing is that I live by myself. What would I do with all that produce?

I’m a gardener by profession, and ironically moved into a house that has no front yard and a shady back yard. Not ideal for growing vegetables. I do manage to eek out a couple of tomatoes, hot peppers, and herbs in containers on my back porch, though.

My boyfriend was lucky enough to buy a house last fall in Philadelphia that has a sizeable back patio. (Don’t laugh at that description and the photo.) Most Philadelphia row houses have a mere few feet between the back of one house and the back of the other house, only large enough to accommodate a trashcan and bits of junk. He was also lucky enough to not have a sun-blocking row of houses behind his house due to a diagonal ally cutting through the block, thus not affording enough room to build a second row of houses at his end of the street.

So, this year we’re turning the small raised bed on his patio into a vegetable garden. It’s not the sunniest or largest of locations, but it’s amazing what you can harvest out of small areas.

I started some lettuce seeds indoors at the beginning of March. They are currently slightly larger than the picture below, and are sitting on my fire escape soaking up sun and enjoying the recent mild weather. The lettuce should be ready to transplant some time in early April. In a few weeks I’ll start seeds indoors for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. If I get lazy, I'll purchase plants at a nursery.

I’m going to keep periodic updates on the little urban garden. Of course, if any thing fails it’s my boyfriend’s fault, because I’m only there two or three days a week. (Just kidding.) Actually, things may or may not fail for a variety of reasons: weather, pests, disease, and culture. I’m not afraid to share my failures. It happens to every one.

Hopefully, these chronicles will inspire you to try your hand at gardening – even if you live in a city without a patch of soil. Because homegrown tomatoes lead to pride and the best damn BLT's!

Edit/Addition: Lazy Gardener's Seed Starting Chart, Find your frost date.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Chew With Your Mouth Closed

Ever hesitate to say what you really think about a restaurant? The following might be of interest to fellow food bloggers.

I’ve been following the news about a recent lawsuit in Philadelphia precipitated by a restaurant critique, as I’ve recently had an “Oh, shit!” moment of regret after discovering that the owner of a restaurant I did not give a favorable review of read my opinions. This is just a hobby of mine, and I certainly don’t need any grief over my opinion!

I was relieved to read at PhilaFoodie (lawyer by day) that restaurants rarely win libel cases against food critics. In fact, PhilaFoodie was on Radio Times the other day with Mary Moss-Coane discussing restaurants, food critics, and unfavorable reviews. Heck, just jump over there to read his thoughts and have a listen to the radio interview. Or just listen here.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Cantina Los Caballitos

Hike a little less than one mile south of Royal Tavern along Passyunk Avenue, and you’ll run into Royal Tavern’s little Mexican sister, Cantina Los Caballitos, which opened up in 2006. Just like big sis, you’ll find a good bar vibe, a well stocked jukebox, and good food at Cantina Los Caballitos.

My partner and I made the hike south one past snowy weekend to check the place out and grab drinks, since we had heard of their specialty tequilas, margaritas, and cocktails. The warm, glowing orange walls and flickering candles warmed us up while we sat at the dark wooden bar. One nice difference between big sis and little sis is that there is a distinct bar side and a restaurant side at Cantina Los Caballitos, affording more elbow room than Royal Tavern.

I ordered a blood orange mojito. My partner ordered the Hervidor, a mixture of tequila, lime, and grapefruit soda. Wow! This drink trumped my mojito, and I love mojitos. It was very tangy, almost like a lemonade, but lime. The Hervidor will be my new summer drink.

Their menu has many vegetarian and vegan options. Upon one visit, all of the soups on the specials board were either vegan or vegetarian, and one of the desserts was vegan. The food is not authentic Mexican, but more of what I call “Californian Mexican.” I think I made that up or mutated that description from somewhere, but think large-ass burritos filled with whole beans and rice instead of refried beans.

While parked at the bar, we split the vegetarian quesadilla with wild mushrooms, huitlacoche, guajillo chiles, roasted garlic, Chihuahua cheese, and smoked corn crema. I regret thinking the side of smoked corn crema was plain sour cream, and not eating it sooner - it's tasty.

We liked this joint so much; we trekked back the next week to sit down for dinner – and drinks. This time I had a passion fruit margarita with a sugar rim and the vegetarian burrito. The burrito was one of those large-ass rice and black bean burritos. The buritto is a little bland as is, so be sure to ask for sides like guacamole and the smoked corn crema.

My partner ordered a civiche from the specials board, but did not find love. He’s a civiche snob and purist, so wasn’t happy with some creamy substance (sour cream?) in the civiche. He also got the vegetarian fajitas with seitan and smoked tofu. Here he found love – and a bulging belly.

Every one at the table next to us munched on grilled corn in the husk with chipotle butter, queso fresco, lime, and cilantro. We missed this on the menu, but will be sure to order some on our next visit – and there will be more visits! Maybe their weekend brunch will be next.

The best part about Cantina Los Caballitos is the jukebox. I had a rockin’ good time sitting at the bar listening to rock classics like Black Sabbath, The Kinks, and The Cure. Also, the staff is über-cute. They should get together and form a band called Los Caballitos. I’d go watch.

Brunch pictures.

Cantina Los Caballitos
1651 E Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19148

Mon-Fri, 12p.m.-1a.m. ;Sat-Sun, 11a.m.-1a.m.
bar open until 2a.m.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The New Shape Of The Pretzel

Philly is a soft pretzel with mustard town. Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories want to change the shape of the pretzel. My fav is the snail pretzel for the gardener. (Aw, they made one for me.)

Monday, March 5, 2007

Royal Tavern

When my partner and I want to go out to eat, but not bother with the formalities of a fancy restaurant, we immediately think of the Royal Tavern. A relaxed bar vibe, a jukebox stocked with past and present indie favorites, and good food keep us coming back. And thanks to the smoking ban, this popular and often cramped bar is immensely more enjoyable.

The Royal Tavern, an unassuming bar amongst the row houses on Passyunk Avenue in Bella Vista, is brought to you by the same people who own the Khyber. The Khyber feels like a dirty bar, and is good for live music and a drink. The Royal Tavern feels like a neighborhood bar, and is good for food and a drink.

A menu of basics (nachos, salads, burgers, pizza) is supported by a list of specials scrawled on a chalk board above the tall bar tables across from the mirror-backed, dark wood bar. There are also vegan and vegetarian offerings on the menu, and a weekend brunch menu.

My favorite menu item is the vegan sloppy joe. Vegan beef with a satisfyingly spicy tomato sauce is piled high on a brioche bun and served with a side of coleslaw. I recommend a side of onion rings if they have them on special; the accompanying garlic mayo dipping sauce is addictive.

My partner’s favorite menu item is the Tempeh club with vegan bacon, tempeh, lettuce, tomato, basil, and aioli on Texas Toast. This sandwich is huge, and difficult to get in the mouth even with a firm squashing.

I have tried the mac and cheese (of course), and I can’t say that I recommend it. This side dish is creamy (not cheesy) and bland.

Other menu items have been tried, but the sloppy joe and tempeh club are our perennial favorites to chew on while slinging back drinks to wash the work week away.

Royal Tavern,
937 E. Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19147

11:30am-2am; Sat-Sun, 10am-2am; kitchen open ‘til 1am


Friday, March 2, 2007

Wheel Of Lunch

Feeling indecisive about where to eat? Perhaps my boyfriend was subtly make hints about my personality the other day when he sent me a link to the Wheel of Lunch.

Some dude mashed up Yahoo restaurant listings and Wheel of Fortune to create this fun tool. Type in your zip code, a query (such as vegetarian, sushi, tapas), and the wheel will start spinning with related restaurant options. Where it stops no one knows! Don’t like where it stops; spin again. Or stop hedging and confess to where you really want to eat.

This fun search tool is only as good as Yahoo and your local restaurant listings, so take the suggestions with a grain of salt. Some towns and queries fare better than others. (I tested a few.) Still fun, though.