Monday, August 27, 2007


While I have not really been on “real” vacation the past few weeks, I have been busy taking long weekends outside of the city D.C.; Podunk, PA; and the beach the past three weekends. Eating out at new restaurants (at least any where relevant to Philly) just simply hasn’t happened. Neither has elaborate or tale-worthy cooking. This trend may continue for a while. Like most people, this next weekend is a long holiday weekend for me, and I’ll be in Texas before I have time to even post about food or restaurants that I don't have time to get to. So, I’m announcing a sort of blog vacation. See you sometime after Labor Day.

Until then, here’s what I was doing this past weekend instead of heading out in the city to chow down. If you couldn't tell from the photos, I went to the beach...and evened out my sock tan!

This dog is obsessed with balls. Does not stop. Ever.

All the vegetables brought to the beach house were grown on my friend Stephanie's homestead. (That's her hand over the platter of grilled vegetables. She wanted her hand to make it into the blog. Her husband is stoking the coals with an empty beer bottle. I don't think he wanted in the blog, but he made it in anyway.) We grilled corn in the husk and marinated eggplant as side dishes to accompany fettuccine tossed in garlic and lemon and topped with feta and grilled squash, zucchini, and red peppers. That's about as exciting as things almost collected blueberry-on-steroid-esque beach plums that grow in the sand dunes to bring home you know, to cook somehow and impress but then I was like,"Nah, I'm going to be gone in a few days." Plus, they have pits, and I'm too lazy to extract the pits.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Too Many Tomatoes!

Oye, the tomatoes! In the winter you dream and pray for that mid-summer day when you pick your first tomato. By the end of summer, you’re thinking of hosting your own Tomatina festival.

I don’t think there is a single person who has ever under estimated the amount of tomato seedlings to plant in the spring. Growing tomatoes is sort of like cooking; you always overcompensate and have more than enough. It doesn’t help that your gracious friends over planted tomatoes, too. I swear it was just a few weeks ago that I was groaning about slow tomatoes.

I had the gorgeous array of tomatoes you see above sitting on my kitchen table, so I just accepted my dinner fate – tomatoes with a side of tomatoes. The black cherry tomatoes were grown by a friend, and mouth-popping worthy, so I didn’t dare cook these. Sliced, and tossed with vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, onions, and basil, these tomatoes marinated while I took care of the main course.

These striped tomatoes were also grown by the same gracious friend. Earlier, I had cut into one of these tomatoes to make a sandwich for lunch and discovered that the inside of the tomato was practically empty. Not great for sandwiches. Remembering she had forgotten to tell me about the tomatoes specifically for stuffing, she piped up the next day. Well, all righty! These guys are for stuffing. Stuffed they were – with rice, peppers, olives, onions, and whatever else I had on hand.

Coming soon: Too many Squash!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sweet Loaf

This comic* has been brought to you by the Seitan O' Greatness recipe over at Post Punk Kitchen and the Butthole Surfers' song, Sweet Loaf.

*I've been out of work for two days because of the rain. I got bored, I baked, I played with food, and conjured up high school memories. I hope the rain stops soon.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique

After a light lunch at home on a lazy Saturday afternoon, I was yearning for more lazing…but in a cute coffee shop or dessert parlor with a piece of cake in front of me. A last minute invite for an impromptu dinner put a wrench in my plans of lazing, but not my plans of having cake. I’ll just pick up some dessert as my contribution to the dinner – cake for them and me!

On the way out of town, I stopped by Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, a mother and daughter run bakery in Northern Liberties that uses Grandma Betty’s vintage recipes. Like many grandmas, Brown Betty’s namesake, Elizabeth Hinton, was famous for her pound cake. Other family cake recipes, such as carrot cake, cheesecakes, and chocolate cakes are also baked daily with a pinch of love and family tradition. The cakes proudly pay homage to the women in their family with cute names like Hattie Don’t Play™ and Aunt Eva Says™.

Most of the cakes in Brown Betty’s repertoire are available in cupcake form – perfect if you’re prone to eating an entire cake in one sitting (and want to avoid that), or just want to sample all the cakes (one per day, or in one sitting). I had a dozen assorted cupcakes boxed to go for the dinner party. I am embarrassed to say that I ate more than my fair share of the cupcakes (in one sitting), but I'm doing investigative work, and, um, need to do thorough work.

I was inexplicably drawn to the strawberry cupcake (forgive me, I cannot remember the names off all the cupcakes), stemming perhaps from fond memories of squeezing Strawberry Shortcake’s head to snort the synthetic fruit vapors wafting from her hair when I was a child. There were two strawberry cupcakes, one with chocolate buttercream frosting, and one with strawberry frosting. I ate both. The cake was moist and light, but the delicate strawberry flavor was overpowered by the sweet frosting.

I then ate a pound cake cupcake. The pound cake cupcakes really are pound cake, so don’t expect a light vanilla cake – these cupcakes are heavy and dense…and oh so good.

I heroically swooped down to finished the chocolate cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting when a dainty person could not bear to finish the beautiful cupper since being weaned from rich, sweet desserts. I was happy to assist her in her shortcomings, as I’m declaring this cupcake my favorite in the bunch.

After consuming three and a half cupcakes, I needed to put an end to the piggery. From there on out, I just took a pinch from the edges of a few more – all in the name of research, of course. The buttermilk pound cake with lemon frosting was my favorite pound cake, simply because lemon and pound cake are a classic pairing. The pound cake with pineapple was also outstanding, and a different twist on pound cake for me. If you like carrot cake, let me just say that you should start here. The carrot cake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting is the lightest and moistest carrot cake I’ve ever had.

Grandma Betty – and all the other fabulous women in their family – doesn’t put out a single bad cake. Betty was obviously one bad ass lady, and her family is doing her – and us – right.

Brown Betty Dessert Boutique, 1030 N. 2nd St., #601, Philadelphia, PA, 19123 215-629-0999 Tues.-Sat., noon-7 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m.; Mon., closed.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Zen Press

As promised, the unveiling of the divinely delish drink sampled the other night at – shock and horror – the chain restaurant, P.F. Chang’s. The cocktail is called Zen Press on P. F. Chang’s menu, and is a gin drink made with cucumbers and lemongrass syrup. The type of gin used is key; they use Hendrick’s Gin, a Scottish gin scented with cucumbers and rose petals. The Zen Press smells intriguingly of melons and honeysuckle – the lemongrass syrup and rose scented gin registered as honeysuckle when I stuck my nose in the glass. The flavors are sophisticated, smooth, and refreshing.

I liked – loved – this drink so much I had my friend and server at P.F. Chang's, who steered us through the night with great recommendations (drink included), ask the bartender how the drink was made: two slices of cucumber muddled in a glass, a shot of lemongrass syrup, and a shot of gin topped off with Sprite and seltzer. I started off with this formula, and after three drinks had the drink down to a science of me. Of course, size of glass, your taste preferences, and how fast or slow you want to get to par-tay will influence your hand.

Zen Press
Makes 1 drink, plus lemongrass syrup to spare

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 stalk lemongrass

  • Place sugar and water into a small pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the sugar crystals have dissolved.
  • Slice the pale, fleshy base of lemon grass into small rounds and add to the sugar and water mixture.
  • Let the syrup cool for at least 30 minutes, or longer for stronger flavoring.
  • Strain.

1 inch of cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch rounds
3/4 shot lemongrass infused simple syrup
1 shot Hendrick's Gin

  • Muddle cucumber slices in the bottom of a glass.
  • Add lemongrass syrup and gin.
  • Stir, and strain into a glass.
  • Add ice, and top with a splash of Sprite and Seltzer.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pretty, Shiny Things

The prettiest tomato mix. Ever. (Freshfarm Market in D.C.)

I took advantage of my boyfriend’s corporate paid hotel room and made a long weekend out of DC. I’m supremely jealous of such perks that come with a corporate job, but, being self-employed, I can take a long weekend without asking for a day off. I guess it all evens out in the end.

We ran into a huge Farmer’s Market on Sunday near Dupont Circle. So many vendors were slicing up peaches and tomatoes for samples; we practically filled our bellies before heading to lunch.Surprisingly varied veggie sushi at Thai Chef. Asian pear and sun dried tomato were two new sushi ingredients for me.

‘Fishnet Stockings’ is my new favorite Coleus.(Smithsonian Butterfly Garden)

For pretty plants, don’t miss the gardens on the National Mall: U.S. Botanic Garden, National Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Butterfly Garden, Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, and the Enid A. Haupt Garden. All Free!

No matter how many times I’ve been, I have to stop by the gem and mineral collection at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Pretty and shiny.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

P. F. Chang's China Bistro

I hope no one gets up in arms about what I’m about to say. Chinese-American food is probably my least favorite, widely popular (restaurants everywhere) ethnic cuisine. Chinese-American food is not offensive; it’s just that I prefer spicier, more in-depth seasoning. I’ve never eaten “real” Chinese food, and don’t know if I ever will without traveling to China, so I can’t comment on that front.

So, why did I dine at P. F. Chang’s, a Chinese-American chain in the suburbs? Because when I drive past the place, the smell permeating the air is phenomenal. I also have a friend that is a server there who vouches for their food, and added that they have many vegetarian dishes. Plus, I wasn’t hanging in restaurant-rich Philly that night.

I was impressed with P. F. Chang’s before I even stepped in the door. As I often do, I checked the restaurant’s web site to see if there is anything on their menu I can eat. P.F. Chang’s web menu is exceptional. They are up front about the ingredients and nutritional information for every dish on the menu, and make it very easy to access this information. They clearly emphasize that their vegetarian oyster sauce contains no animal products, and they even have a gluten-free menu and an athletic training menu. This is something that, apparently, a lot of national chains do, and I like it. I do understand that this information is absurd to expect from independent restaurants, as they have a much smaller budget, and flexibility as to what comes out of the kitchen.

The wait for a table at P. F. Chang’s sans reservation on a Friday night is not pretty. Our thirty minute wait was more like a fifty minute wait, but out in the suburbs there’s always a Pier 1 and Borders next door in which to while your time away. I also compulsively check all horse statues for anatomical correctness, but only a mere two seconds were spent confirming that P. F. Chang’s overbearing statue was not molded correctly.

Once in, we sat in our friend’s section and took all ordering cues from him. We started with a mighty good mixed drink (a separate post coming on that one), pan-fried vegetarian dumplings (only 40 more calories and 4 more grams of fat than steamed), and vegetarian lettuce wraps for appetizers. The dumplings were like most dumplings at most Chinese-American joints – filled with a mash of various vegetables, mushrooms, and seasonings –not at all bad, but nothing out of the ordinary.

The lettuce wraps were the star of the appetizers. Small cubes of fried silken tofu seasoned with Chinese Five Spice, mint and lime came with four large lettuce leaves in which you spoon as much or as little of the filling on top, and wrap up. A soy and vinegar dipping sauce accompanied the dish. The lettuce wraps were the star because the seasoning had punch, and normally squishy silken tofu was crisp and enjoyable due to the fact that the tofu cubes were small, so had a greater crispy fried surface to squishy center ratio. I’ve never enjoyed silken tofu (outside of dessert applications) more than at P. F. Chang’s. Our friend said that many people order this large sized appetizer at lunch as a main, and I can see why.

Our friend’s most recommended vegetarian entrée is the stir-fried Japanese eggplant in a chili pepper sauce. The tender eggplant melts in your mouth, and while the description “chili pepper sauce” makes you think “hot,” the sauce is more garlicky, and has a depth of flavor that makes me happy.

We decided to go with the Singapore Street Noodles with curry sauce, a dish recommended by our friend but not listed as vegetarian. A quick check with the chef, and we had tofu substituted for shrimp and chicken that normally comes with the dish. I always make the mistake of envisioning Thai coconut curries when I see curry on a Chinese-American menu, and am disappointingly awakened when the dish arrives with a curry that tastes like generic curry seasoning from a spice jar. P. F. Chang’s Singapore Street Noodles are such a curry, but one of the better Chinese-American curries I’ve had. In fact, I went straight for the noodles the next morning for breakfast (we had plenty of leftovers).

Even though I regularly discount Chinese-American cuisine, I would definitely choose to dine at P. F. Chang’s over other national chains that populate the suburbs. The food we had at P. F. Chang’s was good, and there are an impressive amount of vegetarian options – many more options than say…Chili’s or Applebee’s.

Other top vegetarian recommendations from our friend: Sichuan green beans, and vegetarian ma po tofu.

P. F. Chang's China Bistro, PA locations and NJ locations.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ice Cream Link Dump

I've been posting lots (it seems to me) of ice cream recipes, simply because that's all I eat (it seems to me) since the advent of my purchase of a second-hand ice cream maker at a garage sale earlier this year. As I peruse the food blogs out there, I've been bookmarking ice cream related articles and recipes, and I thought I'd share. I've got tons of recipes still to try out, but I don't think I'm going to make it to all of them before the summer is over unless I quit my job. Help me stay employed. Make some of these.

Ice cream related links

On the list to make:

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Pear-Caramel Ice Cream

It’s getting to be like the Iron Chef around here. ‘Cause you know, I’m constantly rushing around making six plates of bourgeois food with the help of my sous chef in under an hour. Yeah. What I am doing Iron Chef-like is throwing the secret ingredient into ice cream. Give me an ingredient, and I immediately think ice cream. Thankfully no one’s challenged me with eel or chicken feet.

My friend gave me the smallest, cutest, sweetest, most perfectly ripe pears from her pear trees, along with a jar of home made pear jam. I shamelessly tore into that jam, eating a quarter of the jar in two days. While doing so, I thought, “This jam would make a great ice cream topping…for pear ice cream.” I had to act fast. Those pears were about to melt and the jam was about to disappear.

I changed the original ice cream recipe to make it lower in fat; I substituted half of the heavy cream with half and half. The resulting ice cream is creamy, but not deadly. The best part about pear ice cream is the gritty texture. That is, if you like pear grit.

Pear-Caramel Ice Cream
Makes 1 quart
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Levovitz

3 medium ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced into ¼ inch pieces
cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1cup half and half
teaspoon coarse salt
a few drops of lemon juice

  • Spread sugar in a large, nonreactive, heavy-bottomed pan. Cook the sugar over medium heat. Gently stir with a heat-proof spatula when the sugar begins to liquefy and darken at the edges.
  • When the sugar is melted and turns deep amber, stir in the pear pieces. The caramel will seize and harden, but will melt. (This freaked me out and I thought it would never melt, but it did.) Cook the pears for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in cream, half and half, salt, and lemon juice.
  • Let cool to room temperature, then puree in a blender.
  • Chill, then freeze in your ice cream maker.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Urban Gardening - Early August

The dog days of summer are upon us, and the vegetables are relishing the heat. Unfortunately, there's a bit of a drought going on, so watering every day is imperative.The tomatoes and cucumbers have grown to the top of the fence and are taking up real estate in the neighbor's back yard.
Mr. Stripey Tomoto, Juliet tomatoes, cucumber, and jalepeno pepper.

The garden plot has turned into a cucumber factory; we've got more cucumbers from one plant than we know what to do with. We just started harvesting tomatoes in the last week or so. We waited patiently for the first large tomato, but we were not the only ones with greedy eyes on the tomatoes...And to think, I fed you bagels when it was snowing outside. Good ones from South St. Philly Bagels, too!

We'd come home to find every large, juicy tomato we were waiting on to ripen half eaten and left in ruins on the ground. Squirrels! (Said how Seinfeld exclaims, "Newman!") There are double doors leading from the kitchen to the back patio, which we leave open to catch what little breeze there is. One morning, I came down the stairs and caught one of those ballsy little effers on the kitchen counter eating a banana. He actually peeled the banana, and dug right in; that's how intrepid these South Philly squirrels are!Only hire trained professionals.

That was it! We had to go on the defensive. I brought in the vermin control squad to install bird netting over the garden.Jailed tomatoes.

Thai Hot Peppers, and Chard.

Veggies currently kickin' in the garden: tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, chard, eggplants, leeks, and carrots.

Still waiting on: Sweet peppers (the plant is four feet tall, but aborting all the fruit; could be heat and stress), okra (late start), and squash (late start).

Second crop: Do we want to bother with a fall crop? If so, we need to start acting soon.

Urban Gardening - Early March
Urban Gardening - Early April
Urban Gardening - Mid-April
Urban Gardening -Early May
Urban Gardening - Late May
Urban Gardening - Late June
Urban Gardening - Early July

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Silk City Diner

Searching for Sunday brunch someplace new, we ended up at the newly revamped and reopened Silk City Diner on the edge of Northern Liberties. This decision was not influenced by the recent visit to Silk City by Food Network's bleached-blonde Guy, the winner of a previous The Next Food Network Star, to film for his series highlighting diners, but this visit was by default – the place we wanted to try was closed for vacation. Whaa? The whole staff of a restaurant is not allowed to go on vacation. You do it one at a time, so things keep rolling. Anyway...

I had never been to Silk City, a bar with connecting diner, before it changed hands and reopened this year for either dining or for late night binge drinking and dancing, so I can’t say if the "new" Silk City is better or worse than the "old" Silk City. I suspect in six months, if not already, people lamenting the death of "old" Silk City will have dried their tears.

The front door to Silk City leads into a mosaiked and glassed foyer where one must decide to take the door to the lounge, the bar, or the diner. Too old and wise to even think about drinking at 11 a.m., we chose the door to the diner. Our ten minute wait was extremely reasonable, considering waits at other brunch hot spots (hello, Morning Glory and Sabrina’s). While waiting in the foyer we enjoyed eau de bar, otherwise knows as piss, vomit, and the soap used to wash it away. No worries, once you step up into the diner, the smell dissipates.

I must admit, having a diner connected directly to a club is absolutely genius. When I find myself famished from a night out, I can stumble up the stairs, nosh, still keep my alcohol level at party with the stocked bar in the diner, and then fall back down into the lounge for more dancing. It’s one stop shopping, really.

The long metal dining car is filled with racing-stripe leather booths lining the front and side walls, and a long, blue-tiled counter with a red Formica top and swivel stools against the back wall. The bar in the diner is stocked with beer and alcohol at the ready with your Lager or Mimosa.

The brunch menu has your standard breakfast and light lunch offerings such as pancakes, eggs, and burgers, but is taken up a notch, as most restaurants in Philly, and any where, are required to do to stay in the game. I saw some interesting things on the menu that I would have liked to try, like the French toast stuffed with scrapple and topped with an egg, if only there had been some way to turn that scrapple into tempeh. I did not see one mention of tofu or tempeh anywhere, as an add-on or in an already existing dish. My suggestion would be to keep a block of tempeh in the fridge (it keeps forever), list it as a side, and vegetarians will be able to eat 80 percent of the menu with this one simple substitution. (We always feel slighted when paying for that omitted meat.)

I decided to get the heuvos rancheros – no omissions required. The dish came out with eggs, beans, salsa, and cheese on top of two blue and red fried tortillas with lettuce, sour cream, and canned (?) jalapeños on the side. I requested the eggs scrambled, since I hate runny yolks, and scrambled and dry they were – to the point of rubberiness! There was nothing spectacular about these huevos rancheros, but nothing wretched either.

My partner ordered the corn waffles topped with salmon, eggs, spinach, and hollandaise sauce. I was interested in this dish, but skipped since I did not see a viable soy substitution on the menu, but I should have just sucked it up and omitted the salmon, because... this dish is the shit! (I know this because I took a bite off the edge without salmon.) The corn waffle is essentially corn bread batter cooked in a waffle iron, and fits the bill perfectly for when the devil sitting on your right shoulder tells you to get a sweet waffle, but the angel on your left shoulder tells you should eat something more substantial. My partner also requested his eggs scrambled, but, unlike me, he received eggs cooked perfectly. The mildly sweet cornbread, protein-rich eggs and salmon, and the fat-laden hollandaise sauce cover all your morning cravings. Oh, yeah, there's some home fries on the plate, too.

Silk City’s food scorecard – one great dish and one so-so dish – is even, but they pulled ahead with speedy and friendly service. In all fairness, I might need to give Silk City's food another try – perhaps for dinner or a late night snack after an apertif in the conjoining lounge.

Silk City Diner, 435 Spring Garden St., Philadelphia, PA 19123 215-592-8838
4 p.m.-2 a.m. (food from 5 p.m.-1 a.m.)
Sunday Brunch, 10 a.m-3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

What's For Dinner?

I don’t know about y’all, but this is what dinner has been looking like around here. With all of the fresh, local produce from weekend trips to Headhouse Farmers Market, the yields coming out of our own little urban plot, and baskets of fruit and vegetables from friends with gardens, I’m working overtime just to eat all the fresh food, but I’m not complaining one bit.

I’m not doing anything fancy with the bounty, because it’s all so fresh and tastes so good. I wouldn’t dare think of covering up the flavors with sauces and such; that’s what you do in the winter with grocery store produce. Minimal cooking (if even; it's too hot), and minimal seasoning (salt, pepper, and vinegar) is all I do to prepare the veggies for dinner.

I’m currently trying to eat my way through cabbage (I eat it like candy), corn (try it raw if it’s truly fresh), tomatoes (the king of fresh summer veggies), okra (slime is fun), beets (it does funny things to your poo), cucumbers (slice, add vinegar, and refrigerate), and yellow squash (ok, this one I like to make into a cheesy baked casserole).