Sunday, September 30, 2007

Persian Layered Seitan Polo

Last week I made Spanish paella, and this week I made Persian polo. I’m on a one-dish rice kick it seems, which suits me just fine as a single diner. No one to impress with multiple courses, I can curl up with one bowl by myself.

Polo is an Iranian rice dish traditionally including cinnamon, turmeric, other aromatic spices, and dried fruits. Meat is optional, but fish, chicken and lamb are the most common proteins. Variations of polo have made it to other regions and have been renamed. In India, you’ll find “pulao” on menus, in Morocco, “pilaf”, and in Spain, the distant relative “paella.” I'm guessing that the Southern "purloo" stems from these dishes, as well.

I stumbled upon a recipe for Persian polo searching randomly through cookbooks for dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever had a rice dish with the name polo attached to it. I’ve certainly have had pulao, pilaf, paella, and purloo, so I knew sort of what I was in store for. This dish surpassed my expectations with the meaty seitan really rounding out the dish into a meal, the prunes and apricots bursting with sweetness, and the cinnamon and onions leaving my house smelling like Thanksgiving dinner.

Persian Layered Seitan Polo
Adapted from a recipe in The Essential Rice Cookbook
Serves 4

1/2 stick butter or margarine
1 onion, finely chopped
20 ounces seitan, cut into chunks
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper
1/2 cup pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped
2 cups spinach, blanched
2 cups basmati or long grain rice

  • In a large saucepan, melt 1/4 stick of butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes. Add seitan, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste, prunes, and apricots, then pour in enough water to cover the seitan. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. Let the seitan stew simmer while preparing the rice.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium pot, bring 3 3/4 cups of water with remaining 1/4 stick of butter and pinch of salt to a boil. Add 2 cups of rice. Return to a boil, cover, turn heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then turn off burner, keeping lid on, and steam for another 5-10 minutes, or until rice is tender.
  • In a large, heavy-based casserole dish or pan with a lid, spread half of the rice over the bottom of the dish, top with spinach, then stewed seitan, and finally the remaining rice. If the rice is dry add a few tablespoons of water. Cover with the lid and steam over low heat for 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and has absorbed some of the juices from the stewed seitan.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Monk's Cafe

Beer. I hate beer. I’ll drink anything else alcoholic – except a Bloody Mary, because tomato soup should be eaten from a bowl with a spoon. So, how did I end up at Monk's Cafe, a Belgian gastropub in Center City that prides itself on its extensive beer list?

In short, I was hungry and turning into a monster, so ducked into the first place I saw that had something on the menu I could eat. Without a snack or a little nibble every three hours, I become irritable and emotional - even to the point of crying. So, into Monk’s we go.

Stepping into the dark, dirty (more on that later) bar atmosphere of Monks on a beautiful, sunny afternoon for lunch just didn’t feel right. Maybe if I were an alcoholic that spent my days recuperating and recharging in the low light of bars, Monk’s would have felt like a warm, friendly blanket. Or maybe if it were cold and overcast outside, so the transition would have been less drastic. No matter, I was just happy to be minutes away from eating.

Seated in the nook across from the bar, we look at the paper drink menus on the table, only these paper menus look like they’d been trampled on the floor at a concert. These drink menus were dirty waaay beyond a few splatters of beer. Should I touch this? Does Monk’s not have the money to go to Kinkos?

On the food menu (not nearly as dirty, but still in need of replacement) they’ve got your standard vegetarian pub offerings: basic salad, French fries, portabella sandwich, and a veggie burger. They’ve also got a vegan burger, a vegan tempeh sandwich, and vegan portabella “lasagna.” It was these last items on the menu that got me in the door, not because I necessarily wanted to order them, but I thought that since these items were present, Monk’s at least aims to please vegetarians and vegans.

Hmm…veggie burger or portabella burger? I rarely (ha) see these on menus, so was torn. I went with the veggie burger. Monks has lots of paired toppings to choose for your burgers, though. Do I want the Abbot with Boursin and sprouts, the Antwerp with Sottocenare truffle cheese and shitake mushrooms, or one of the other seven (not all vegetarian) specialty burgers?

I went for the Monk’s veggie burger with caramelized leeks and blue cheese. Sounds good, right? Imagine hot, sweet, caramelized onions and tangy blue cheese on the top a warm burger – kinda like this visual here.

I was fully expecting the flat, perfectly round veggie burger you get from the freezer section, so there was no surprise there. I didn’t expect a burned veggie burger – it’s not meat, you barely have to heat the thing. I also wasn’t expecting cold leeks that looked like someone pressed firmly onto the burger, and tasted like, well, nothing. That blob of blue cheese was insulting. I drenched my burger in the spicy sauce that came with the fries to add flavor that the leeks and blue cheese should have contributed, but didn’t. The bun was good, but they get those from a local bakery.

My partner ordered the vegan tempeh sandwich on whole wheat bread. The sliced sandwich bread could not stand up to the heft of the smoky tempeh, tomatoes, and few leaves of lettuce. The sandwich had to be secured by two hands pinching all sides to keep the contents from falling out, and the bread from flopping. This sandwich needed a heftier bread. As one who takes a sandwich to work almost everyday, I don’t ever care to see sliced bread when dining out, and would have asked for a substitution, but…this was not my sandwich.

The side of Belgian fries was limp and greasy. Aren’t Belgian fries supposed to be crisp because they’ve been fried twice? Also, every single fry was no longer than an inch or so, and many were mere nubbins. These fries were only suitable for drunks who didn’t care what greasy carb they threw down their gullet – with a fork, off course, because they were too tiny to hold.

After our dissapointing meal, I was at least filled with food and back to my normal self. I was able to focus on other things than filling my belly, so turned my focus to the interior of Monk’s. The small windows beside me were covered in torn plastic, and the window sills were covered in dust. The walls were splashed with all sorts of food and there were twelve or so gnats perched on the wall about three feet above our table. I expect dirty walls and general filth at concert halls and dive bars, but Monk’s serves food! Ick.

Monk’s cares enough to get us vegetarians and vegans in the door, and oblige us with something to gnaw on, but they don’t care to actually give us something of any worth. I will only be back to Monk’s if I’m dragged there by beer-drinking friends, and then only to drink. There are much cleaner Belgian gastropubs in Philly that serve better veggie food. And, please, hire a cleaning crew, and send someone to Kinkos.

Monk's Cafe, 264 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA, 19102
Mon.-Sat., 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.; Sun. brunch, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m; Sun. dinner, 5 p.m. - 1 a.m.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Peeved About Basil

The plant that prompted this post.

I have my fair share of pet peeves – people who spit in public, wet sponges left in sinks, your dog's huge balls that should have been chopped off, cops that don’t use turn signals…the list truly go on and on.

I would like to take the time now to prevent future sighs and eye rolling at one of my pet peeves that is somewhat of culinary concern – improperly harvested basil! Trivial? Yes, but…

This post was prompted by a severely stripped basil plant sitting outside a Philly coffee shop that will remain unnamed. I wouldn’t have noticed the plant – ok, I would have – if not for an employee that came out to harvest some of the last few leaves remaining on the plant to construct their mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwiches.

I engaged the employee in conversation, all the while hoping the conversation would lead to why the plant looked so poor. I could have just blurted out why the plant had almost no leaves, and I often do blurt out what is on my mind without thinking of tact, but I didn’t want to seem like a crass know-it-all. Pleasant guy, but he didn't seem concerned about the plant.

My opportunity to right this basil wrong escaped me. But that’s why I have a blog; I can blurt out anything I like here.

Don't do this.

So, here’s how to properly harvest basil and stop me from going ka-ra-zee...

When pinching basil leaves, don’t pinch off individual leaves, or grab a hunk and indiscriminately pull. If you do this, you will strip the plant of leaves without encouraging new growth. To harvest basil and encourage new growth, pinch the stem right above a set of leaves. You want to harvest the tips of the stems, not individual leaves.

And it's not just Joe Schmo who grabs and pulls, I know people who maintain beautiful gardens, yet terrorize their basil plants.

I have no computer graphics skills.

  • Plants put on new growth from buds at the tips or tops of the plant. These buds are apical buds, and have apical dominance. These buds will always be dominant, and be the place of new growth, unless...
  • If the apical bud is cut, pinched, or damaged, plants can also put on new growth from axillary buds at the base of leaves. These axillary buds stay dormant until the apical bud is cut, pinched, or damaged. (This is the basis of all pruning.)
  • By pinching basil right above the node (leaf and axillary bud), you have removed the dominant apical (top) bud, and sent a message to the plant to push new growth from the axillary bud.
  • Wrong Way - Pinch directly underneath a node or in the middle of the internode (stem between the leaves and buds), and the plant does not get as strong of a message that the axillary bud should kick into growth. This is the scenario that happens when you just grab and pull.
  • Right Way - Pinch or cut basil directly above the node to encourage new growth. Once substantial new growth develops, pinch (harvest) the new tips to encourage further growth and branching. If you continue this, you will have a rounder, fuller plant...that actually has leaves on it!
See the pinched stem and the baby leaves at the top starting to get larger?

As the plant continues to grow, the once baby leaves and stems grow in size. What once was a dormant bud is now a large stem with leaves (out of the picture) all along it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Paella with Tomatoes

Paella has been on my list of dishes to make for almost a year now. Like most things on my list, they either get done that second or they get pushed to some time waaay off in the future. Paella got pushed into the future. Way off.

Thoughts of paella were originally prompted by a gift of saffron from Spain, even though I know this traditional Spanish dish is chock full of seafood and other meat goodies that I do not eat. Like most dishes, even paella can be vegetarianized.

A kick in the butt came a few weeks ago when Mark Bittman (man of many food fads in the blogosphere No-Knead Bread and list of 101 simple meals) posted a recipe a few weeks ago in The New York Times of paella with tomatoes that’s fit for a vegetarian.

I know what you're thinking. What's the point of paella without the seafood? The point is the saffron rice. The other point of this recipe, at least is to make use of some of the tomatoes that are overwhelming your kitchen. To bring some of the meaty heartiness of the dish back, I added veggie sausage. I don't think the sausage added to the dish, but it didn't detract, either. For me, this dish is more about the rice.

At this time of year when tomatoes are still abundant, and the weather has cooled off to the point where you no longer fear your kitchen will spontaneously combust if you turn on the oven, this quick, one-dish meal is perfect.

Paella with Tomatoes
Adapted from Mark Bitman’s recipe in The New York Times
4 to 6 servings

3 ½ cups vegetable stock
1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes, cut into wedge
salt and pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
large pinch of saffron
2 teaspoons paprika
2 cups Spanish or other short-grain rice
7 ounces veggie sausage
minced parsley for garnish

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • Warm stock in a saucepan.
  • Toss tomatoes in a bowl with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  • Put remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Make sure the skillet is oven proof, as it’ll be going in the oven later.
  • Add onion, garlic, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until vegetables soften.
  • Stir in tomato paste, saffron, and paprika and cook for a minute more.
  • Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for another minute or two.
  • Add stock and stir until combined.
  • Put sausage and tomato wedges on top of rice, and pour remaining juices in bottom of bowl over top of rice.
  • Put pan in oven and roast for 15 minutes, or until rice is dry and just tender. If rice looks dry but is not quite done, add a small amount of stock and return to the oven until done.
  • When rice is cooked turn off the oven, and let the pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes in the oven.
  • Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with parsley, and serve.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bar Ferdinand

Clockwise from top left: White wine sangria; eggplant and lentil empanada with romesco sauce; tortilla; Manchego Frito.

I found myself, yet again, at Northern Liberties Walk for some grub-getting’ – this time at Bar Ferdinand, a Spanish tapas restaurant. They hype on Bar Ferdinand is that they have authentic Spanish tapas at reasonable prices ($3-$9 per plate), and, during the warmer months, a huge pan of paella is cooked out on the front walk during Sunday brunch.

We went for dinner mid-week, and sat outside – along with everyone else in the city, as the weather was perfect. Nighttime and no sun, I played with the ISO on my camera in order to get pictures that were not pitch black. It worked, but the picture quality is horrible. The food is much prettier in person.

I had the white wine sangria, but was a little disappointed to see only citrus and one lone strawberry. You know how you get excited about fruit salad and it comes out all cantaloupes with two grapes? That’s how I felt. I ordered another one, though.

Bar Ferdinand’s tapas menu is divided into sections, and I was happy to see that each section contained at least one vegetarian option.

The roasted eggplant and lentil filled empanada with romesco sauce was probably our least favorite item we ordered. The empanada was not bad, it was just not memorable. We’ll let lentils take the blame.

The Manchego Frito, skewered Membrillo-stuffed fried Manchego cheese and frozen apple foam sitting on walnut Membrillo puree was delicious – and memorable. I’m a sucker for savory and sweet in the same bite, so loved these. I dissected the fried Manchego cheese cube, but could not detect the Membrillo. The Membrillo and walnut paste was sweet enough, though. The frozen apple foam was…interesting. It had the texture of silken tofu, but cold.

The traditional Spanish tortilla with aioli was spot-on.Clockwise from top left: Bacalao and stewed chickpea special; vegetarian bocadilla; churros and chocolate; saffron rice pudding.

The only major upset of the night was one of the specials. The server didn’t disclose all of the ingredients (although she listed many) in the bacalao special. My partner was ready for salt cod, but not the chorizo in the dish. Pork can be a big deal for people of certain religions – not just vegetarians. It’s best for servers to remember if pork is in a dish and mention if it is.

Tapas plates are small, so after our first four dishes – one of which we couldn’t eat – we were still hungry, so ordered the eggplant, roasted tomato, arugula, and Manchego cheese bocadillo with sherry vinaigrette. I was surprised that out of all of our dishes, I liked the seemingly mundane eggplant sandwich the best. I fiendishly swabbed up any vinaigrette dripped on my plate with the sandwich. I’m a firm believer in sauce making or breaking a sandwich, and the addictively tangy sherry vinaigrette made this sandwich. The sandwich is actually filling, so if you’re looking to shave some dough off your bill, start with the sandwich.

Tapas are great because there’s always room for dessert. I had my heart set on the saffron rice pudding, which the server warned that some people don’t like because of the overriding saffron flavor. I found the saffron just fine, but the orange liqueur-soaked dried cherries were bitter and off-putting. I’m not fond of orange-liqueur, though.

The churros came highly recommended, and what’s not to like about fried dough? The accompanying chocolate was too thick, though, and on the bitter side – similar to straight melted bittersweet chocolate.

I enjoyed everything at Bar Ferdinand, even though I had small qualms with a few dishes. The Manchego Frito and the eggplant bocadillo were the stand-outs of the night, and will definitely be ordered again. With other vegetarian tapas missed on the first go round, another trip is warranted.

Bar Ferdinand, 1030 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA
Sun.-Wed, 5p.m.-1a.m.;Thurs.-Sat., 5p.m.-2a.m.; Sun., 11a.m.-3p.m.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hospitable No Reservations

A la Bourdain on his Top Chef blog, I’m commenting on last night’s South Carolina episode of No Reservations, as South Carolina is my home state and my Dad – yes, Lake Erie is his name – was that fat man showing Anthony around Sweatman’s BBQ.

I braced myself (three glasses of wine in one hour) for the worst after my Dad forewarning me that he hammed it up for the cameras, and seeing previews rife with Southern clichés the week before. I thought for sure Tony would use his wit and sarcasm to rip South Carolina a new hole in between praising Southern food. Actually, he always seems very gracious and thankful to his hosts on camera, and my Dad wholeheartedly proclaimed Tony and his entire crew the nicest bunch of people ever. It’s just Tony’s bread and butter snark that can sting if you take everything he says to heart. You shouldn’t. And I shouldn’t have expected the worst.

Tony starts off in Charleston, the rightfully tourist-packed historic seaside city of palm trees and stately mansions. First stop is Hominy Grill. I think everyone stops here first, and for good reason. Hominy Grill serves up classic Southern food that’s made correctly and with care. You don’t have to fear gallons of grease and slop.

I can’t get Tony’s comments about Rachel Ray dining on $40 a day out of my head, though. At $40 a day, Rachel's a cheap ho... uh, cheap-0.

Next up, is a stroll through the side alleys and church yards of Charleston with Southern foods catalog proprietors, and prize-winning Southern cookbook authors, the Lee Brothers. Tony and the Lee’s are on their way to a party dressed in tuxes. Don’t let Tony’s observation that Charleston dresses up at night fool you. You’re not going to find guys crowding the streets in tuxes unless someone’s getting married, it’s a fancy-dancy party, or a lets-get-dressed-up-for-shits-and-giggles party.

What you should brace yourself for while in Charleston are men (old and young) in pale blue seersucker suits...or pink polos with khaki Bermuda shorts, and Docksiders without socks. Women (mostly older) will be sporting fugly hats, sleeveless polos, theme-embroidered (palms, martini glasses, frogs, etc.) Capri’s, and bedazzled and bejeweled kitten-heeled sandals – all coordinated to the enth degree. Your black dress and leather thigh-high boots are going to be out of place. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While at the party, the Lee’s discuss Southern foods offered in their catalog – boiled peanuts, green tomato pickles, and Jerusalem artichokes – that those who have left the region yearn for and miss. It’s true. I’ve written about each one.

Oh, oh. There’s my Dad on the screen. My Dad ran down the way to cook barbecue, the wood used, the difference between barbecue and grilling, the four types of barbecue sauce, and the history of barbecue, all the while creating great soundbites in an enthusiastic Southern Accent. His secret: emphasize two words in every sentence – it doesn’t matter which two. I’m glad to say that I laughed, not cringed, through the entire segment. Fittingly, my Dad is a ham.

Then it’s off to the Civil War re-enactment camp, where Tony couldn’t have summed up better how I think of these wool-clad history enthusiasts – somewhere on the nerd continuum between stamp collectors and trekkies.

Then to visit and learn about the Gullah people of the Low Country and their culture. I think they found the easiest to understand Gullah people ever. It can be hard to understand their language, and I even grew up with my Momma reading me stories written in the Gullah dialect.

Frogmore Stew? Sorry, don’t eat meat and missed it when I did. Drag hunting? Ain’t never experienced that before.

At Jestine’s Kitchen, Tony tries to order the entire menu in an effort to get all the classics in before retreating North. But before they eat, Tim Driggers, a local food writer, irreverently prays and offers up some Ramones and The Stooges albums. Yep, we's crazy, fun, kind people.

Now, I missed who that woman was sitting at the table in Jestin’s, but she mentions chocolate cake with mayonnaise dressing on top? I’ve heard of chocolate cake made with mayonnaise acting like an oil, but on top? Can I get some of what she’s smoking? And a slice of that cake?

Hey, it’s the Lee brother’s again! This time they’re shuckin’ oysters at an outside oyster roast. I swear, no matter where Tony goes he’s always sucking on oysters – and pig.

The show concludes with Tony proclaiming himself a true believer in Southern hospitality, but confused about why the ubiquitous pineapple represents hospitality. I don’t know why either. Without looking it up, I’d say a pineapple is a very nice gift, and you’re a very nice person to give someone a pineapple, and a very nice person if you get a pineapple

So, here’s a pineapple for you, Tony, for not ripping us a new hole and being so very nice to my Dad.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Urban Gardening - Mid-September

It’s been over a month and a half since I snapped a picture of the Urban Garden. This is going to make me sound like a bad plant person, but, frankly, this is the time of year when I start to hate plants. While I can’t stand winter and all the bleakness, I just want the tired, played-out plants to die or get frosted so I can clean them up and put the garden to bed.

The tomatoes (‘Juliet’ and ‘Mr. Stripey’) are monstrous and still kicking. I’m giving up on ‘Early Girl’; she has disappointed two years in a row with minimal fruits.

The eggplant cultivar ‘The Fairy’ is tender and tasty enough, but the fruit is too small – fits in your palm – if you only have one plant like we do.

We just used all of the chard. Yay!

The 5 foot tall pepper plant finally decided to produce, as did the late-planted crook neck squash.

Unsolicited product endorsement: As a gardener by profession, I pack heat daily with Felco pruners and the little scissors in the photos above in a holster on my hip. I’d say I use the scissors as much, if not more, than I use my pruners. These scissors are actually grape scissors by ARS, and are my favorite small scissors (bonsai-type and other small scissors for plants) because the blades are pointed and short – about 1.5 inches long. These scissors are made to get into tight places (grape clusters), so fast and accurate cutting is easy. They’re also light weight, so are much kinder to my carpal tunnel-prone hands than pruners. Take them into the vegetable garden!

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
Urban Gardening - Early August

Thursday, September 13, 2007

La Lupe

The retractable glass garage doors of La Lupe roll up in the summer and invite passer-by's on the sidewalk of the south end of the Italian Market. I’ve always wanted to visit the brightly lit Mexican taqueria, but it wasn’t until the other day that I finally stepped up off the streets into La Lupe.

Looking for take-out to hit up movie night in Jefferson Square Park, we thought one of the many taquerias in the Italian Market would be quick, so chose La Lupe. I've heard service at La Lupe is hit or miss, and we missed.

The woman behind the counter never put down the cell phone while taking our order. She then walked outside to sit on a street-side table and continued her conversation. We sat, waited, waited, and then waited some more. Where’s our food? There were only two occupied tables inside and one occupied table outside. Not a busy night.

Another customer came in to order from the counter and waited, looking around for help for a few minutes. The woman on the cell phone finally decided to enter the building to take her order. Seeing a bag on the back counter, we approached the counter to ask if it was our food. Yep. The kitchen produced food in a timely manner, but the woman was outside on the cell phone, and the kitchen and wait staff apparently doesn’t cover when the counter help is out. We missed the first part of the movie.

I ordered the Quesadilla Texana, a folded flour tortilla with cheese, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. As far as quesadillas go, this quesadilla was fine, but standard. I’m at a taqueria, so not expecting fancy twists and turns. The dish fit the bill.

I also ordered Ensalada de Nopales, thinking that a little cactus and greens would balance out the cheese of the quesadilla. I wasn’t expecting a “big salad,” but that’s what the salad was – big. The cactus was succulent and tangy, but the huge bed of iceberg lettuce underneath was overwhelming, as were the half-inch to inch-thick, roughly cut cucumbers and radishes, and half dozen wedges of lime tucked into the bed of lettuce. The cucumbers and radish were too large to be enjoyed on a fork, and who wants an inch of radish anyway? (I wish I had turned that radish over for the photo. It was obscene.) The lime rinds imparted a bitter taste to the lettuce. I ate the cactus and tossed the rest.

My partner ordered Enchiladas Suizas, three rolled tortillas stuffed with melted mozzarella cheese, and covered with suiza sauce. I would describe this dish as cheese stuffed tortillas drowned in cheese soup – cheese overload. When you don’t eat meat, many times your only option is cheese. Cheese is a great thing, but in large quantities makes you feel heavy and gross, and that's just how we felt from our meal that evening – and into the next day.

The enchiladas came with rice and beans. I stuck my fork into both, but only ate a bite each, as real Mexican restaurants almost always use lard in the beans and meat stock in the rice. Does La Lupe? I don’t know. I wasn’t expecting the side of beans and rice, and didn’t realize they were included until we got home, so didn’t ask. I do know that the beans had burned bits of beans, and the rice was standard fare.

Meat eaters may fare better at La Lupe, and taquerias in general, but we were cheesed out and left feeling gross after our takeout experience. Probably should have ordered the vegetable burrito, but the service that night was just too poor and the food unimpressive to go back and give La Lupe another try.

La Lupe, 1201 S. 9th St., Philadelphia, PA

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tengo Gusto de Paletas

I’m not done with Texas. We're going back.

Disappointed that there was no tribute to Billie Jean in Corpus Christi, the city redeemed itself with La Paletera, a chain originating in Corpus that specializes in Mexican street foods. La Paletera’s specialty is paletas (Mexican frozen fruit pops) along with fresh fruit cups spiced with chili powder, salt, and lime.

For being such a good girl (not one tantrum where I kicked my shoes off or screamed at the top of my lungs), my partner took me out for paletas. At first, I was like, “What is this? Like FrozFruit or something?” I was told paletas are better. Yeah, right!

I hate it when I’m wrong. I’d take a paleta any day over FrozFruit.

Freeze your brain with sugar free, water-based, or cream-based popsicles in familiar flavors like mango, strawberry, lime, cantaloupe, and banana; or Mexican flavors like rice, chamoy, mango with chili, tamarindo, fresas con crème, or leche quemada.

I went with a cream-based mango paleta, and it was soooo good. My partner, who eats these things when in Texas (the chain is only in Texas at the moment) and when visiting family in Mexico, went with the strawberry and banana because I couldn’t decide between mango and strawberry and banana. His/mine had visible hunks of fruit.

Another specialty of La Paletera is their banana pudding. I’m not sure if that’s really Mexican street food, but, come on, who doesn’t like banana pudding? It’s one of my favorite desserts. While I was mowwing down my large cup of banana pudding (after the popsicle – ice cream melts, ya know), a man walked out to his car with the largest bowl of banana pudding I’ve ever seen – you could have stashed an infant in the bowl. I did a double take of the menu. For $40 you can get a large bowl of banana pudding. I love La Paletera. I’m thinking of moving to Texas.

So, here’s the question*…without doing any recognizance work of my own (summer is almost over, and it takes forever to get to some things on my food list), where can I get paletas in Philly. I’m thinking somewhere in the multicultural Italian Market?* Well, hot damn! While this post sat in my computer, I was served up some paletas at a catered picnic from La Michoacana, a Mexican ice cream shop in Kennett Square, PA. (I've been there for ice cream, but must have dismissed the paletas.) I had a corn flavored paleta (more cinnamony than corny) and a coffee flavored paleta. The question still stands for Philly, though.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My Dad Just Teleported Into My Livingroom

Aaaaagh! I just saw my Dad on the preview for next week’s South Carolina episode of No Reservations. (I broke down and ordered The Travel Channel for this occasion.) After Tony comments about how he wants to eat a whole lot of barbecue, my Dad says,” It’s all you can eat, so we’re goin’ ta fill you up!” in a lovely, thick Southern accent.

Next Monday at 10 p.m., I’ll be drinking heavily while glued to the tube. Dad (he recently found my blog – ‘cause there was no way I was gonna tell him I write this crap), I hope you were a good boy for the cameras.

I also spied cliché Civil War reenactors and a beat up pickup truck, so am a little wary. I hate Southern clichés.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Greenfest Needs Food

Finally. A good use for monster zucchini.

OK. Could all of you event planners get together and coordinate your festivals, openings, shows, events, picnics, garage sales, etc. so they don’t happen on the same weekend in September. There’s nothing to do all summer long, and then, bam!, there are ten festivals and events in one weekend. I’d love to drop by all your events, but if you put them on the same weekend, it’s physically impossible.

I did drop by Greenfest Philly this Sunday to see how Philly is greening and preening, and picked up lots of fliers. I also went to the event with the intent of picking up lunch from some veggie/green friendly vendor.

The only – only – food stand was Cosmic Catering, a local caterer that used fresh, local ingredients. I could have ducked into Whole Foods, but decided to give Cosmic Catering a go, since they bothered to represent.

The tofu veggie burger had plenty of vegetables incorporated in the patty, but squished out the back side of the bun when bitten into. I think if they weren't so swamped and had more time to cook the burger, the patty would have set up a little better. No condiments were offered. Boo.

The veggie wrap had plenty of veggie variety – broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, carrots, and probably something else – but the herbed tortilla wrap is a pet peeve of mine and a no-no; the herbs in the wrap always overpower what it’s holding.

I appreciate Cosmic Catering's presence and the fact that they had two solid veggie offerings, though.

Free food – and pictures of small rodents stuffing their face – makes everyone happy. The chocolate coffee Larabar was my favorite flavor from their line.

Some what timely, as I just decided to eat oatmeal for breakfast (I'm a cereal person, but sporadically go on oatmeal kicks) were the Quaker Oatmeal freebies.

The best score of the day was the Whole Foods' Scratch -n- Sniff stickers. (If only I were going back to school, and had a note book to sticker.) I wasn’t sure if I should inhale popcorn smell after the media popcorn lung scare this week. And I was a little scared to smell the hot dog, but thankfully it didn’t smell like much more than ink and paper. Ice cream sundae and strawberries – sniff-tastic!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

To Grandma's House We Go

What's Cooking Grandma?
I must have been experiencing early onset Alzheimer's while I was writing the last post, as I forgot to include two nifty cooking sites featuring videos of grandmas whipping up their specialties. No longer with any living grandparents, I think these recipe documentaries are fantastic ideas.

What’s Cooking Grandma? has videos of grandmas from around the world sharing their special recipes. Film your grandma and contribute!

Feed Me Bubbe is a site where one boy documents his Jewish grandmother as she oye veh’s her way around the kitchen with kosher recipes.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Kitchen Tips From a 93-Year-Old

Once again, I tacked a not-really-a-vacation weekend onto the long list of such weekends this summer when I accompanied my boyfriend to Corpus Christi, Texas to visit his 93-year-old grandfather. I’ve never been to Corpus Christi, but have always had a soft spot in my heart for this seaside town ever since watching The Legend of Billie Jean the raddest 80’s teenage rebellion and girl empowerment movie set in and filmed in Corpus Christi over and over and over again in the 80's with the assistance of HBO (down in Fraggle Rock...).

I was excited to finally visit Corpus Christi, but Corpus should have stayed immortalized in my little brain as the place where Billie Jean proclaims ,“Fair is fair!,” and rebel justice prevails in the end, as the town is not nearly as exciting in reality. Sadly, there is no statue for Billie Jean in Corpus. But there is one for Salena.

But I was not in Corpus to sightsee; I was there to visit with the gramps, after all. The dear man is 93, undergoing chemo, lives alone, cooks for himself, and can talk Joan Rivers under a table. I don’t know how he does it. He nearly wore me out. While there, he taught me a few lessons in the kitchen that, even though I've heard them before (and ignore them), maybe I should wissen up and do as I'm told.

Zeyde’s Kitchen Tips

  • Organize your kitchen for most efficient use. The man can stand in one corner and reach most things he uses on a daily basis without taking a step. (That’s the corner in the photo)
  • Use a real measuring utensil. The teaspoon in the silverware drawer is not for measuring.
  • One knife cannot do everything. Some cut bread well, some spread butter well, and some cut tomatoes well. Use the appropriate knife.
  • Clean up as you cook, and there will be minimal mess when you’re done.
  • Have a food schedule. For example; eat oatmeal two days, dry cereal four days, and eggs one day during the week for breakfast. Schedules make decisions easy and assure you eat the required food you need.
  • Last, but not least, when you’re 93, you can be as stubborn and set in your ways as you like, and you’re always right!(There’s something to look forward to.)

While milling around his kitchen, I stumbled upon some vintage cooking items in the cupboards. There’s always a few jars in the spice rack you have no clue when you purchased, so they stay. We're all guilty of this. But, if you can remain guilty for a few decades, you might have some eBay material. These goodies were so charming, I had to take photos.

The cocoa and sugar mixture in the small glass bottle with the for-real retro cartoon is for decorating tops of cookies. I don’t think we could get away with the word “midget” to describe these small paper cupcake liners nowadays. I don’t think you could pick up cupcake liners for the faded nineteen cents printed on the yellowing sticker, either .

This paper wrapper held the most beautiful match boxes each covered with a different illustration. Amazingly, these matches have been floating around the kitchen longer than I’ve been on this earth!