Friday, September 30, 2011
Thursday, September 29, 2011
It's been a whirlwind of a week for us. My new website is in its final stages of development. We've been spending some good quality time with family and friends, too. We started off last weekend by taking a trip down to my mom's to start my birthday celebration and celebrate my father's wedding, and throughout the week, extended the partying for a few days here and there.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
Billed as Philly "Grilled Cheese Steak Sandwiches, they start with two pieces of golden Texas toast with two pieces of cheese and your choice of three add-ons:
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions, sautéed portobello mushrooms and two slices of Swiss cheese
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions, jalapeños, hickory BBQ sauce and two slices of Cheddar cheese
• Marinated sirloin Philly steak, grilled onions and two slices of American cheese
With a hyper awareness of where our food comes from, home cooking arts like canning, baking, and gardening have become hot topics that bind many like-minded home cooks. Besides reading blog posts about garden harvests and delicious kitchen adventures, there really hasn't been a way to share in each other's creations.
That's where the idea of "food swaps" comes in. A food swap is typically a small event where people get together to socialize, but, most importantly, to swap homegrown or homemade foods.
Other cities like Brooklyn and Portland have already established a strong food swap community, and it was only a matter of time before Philly got their own food swap.
Thanks to the organization of Georgia, Marisa, Alexis, and Amanda, Philly's own food swap group, Philly Swappers, was formed earlier this year. Philly Swappers aims to hold food swap events a few times a year to bring together like-minded food lovers and food crafters. The best way to find out about upcoming events is to "like" Philly Swappers on Facebook. How does a food swap work?
Events usually last no more than a couple of hours. The first 30 minutes involve checking in, getting name tags, setting up your wares on tables, and filling out swap cards on the items you brought. The next 30 minutes involve making your way around the room to see and sample what other swappers are offering, making bids on items, and socializing.
In the second hour, swaps are made "freestyle." You look at the bid sheets of the items you brought to see if you would like to swap with anyone who made you an offer. You are not bound to swap with those who made you an offer, though, and can politely decline. The whole process of swapping is a sort of controlled chaos (bid sheets give you a bit of direction, but swapping can be fast). Somehow, it works out in the end.
To get a better idea of how a swap works, this video is a good introduction.I must say, as a first time food swapper, I was beyond curious as to what people would bring and how the actual swapping would work.
I brought canned jams, fruit butters, relishes, and chutneys I made this summer, as well as herbs I grew and dried to swap. There were lots of canned goods in the house! Above are an assortment of jams from Marisa. Providing samples is encouraged, although not required. Above are samples of peach salsa and habanero jelly from Lee.Baked goods also made appearances. The above chocolate peanut butter cookies and quiches from Corey and Jason, as well as pop tarts, plum bites, and pumpkin bread from others are just a few baked goods that I can recall off the top of my head.At the end of the night, I ended up with about half of the items I had my eye on. The other items that ended up in my basket I gladly swapped for (I pretty much like all foods, so was in good company and surroundings).
My take home haul for the evening included sauerkraut, horseradish vodka, vanilla sugar, cherry fig chutney, peach chutney, pear vanilla jam, tomato jam, chocolate peanut butter cookies, black tea blend with spiced simple syrup, molasses cookies, granola, and hot buttered rum batter.
The best way to describe a food swap event is to compare it to a Christmas gift exchange, except you come home with gifts that you actually appreciate and can use. I can't wait for the next one, and am already dreaming about what I am going to make!
Other resources on food swaps:
Rules For Effective Food Swapping. Food swapping etiquette.
How To Host A Food Swap. A how-to, plus directory of food swap groups in the US and Canada.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Back in elementary school, when I got an allowance of 2 dollars a week, much of that money was spent on bubble gum from the grocery store a couple blocks from my house. There's just something so fun and frivolous about bubble gum, and I still blow bubbles to this day, no matter what kind of gum I'm chewing.
These days, I tend to stick to sugarfree gum, but every now and then, something like Hubba Bubba will jump out at me. When I bought this gum at the supermarket last week, my exact words to my husband were, "This girl I can't resist a mystery flavor." I love a good gimmick, and I think I have a pretty good guess at this flavor.
The two-toned gum smelled like almond extract. Right away, it tasted like lemonade, and as I chewed, cherry flavor emerged. My guess is Cherry Lemonade. It was juicy and sour, and not too sweet. When I blew bubbles, the woodsy cherry flavors really emerged, reminding me of amaretto and cherry Starbursts. The lemon wasn't at all like a cleaning product, just sour and tangy.
The gum itself was large and very soft, making it easy to chew and blow bubbles. I had to be careful of my glasses, because the bubbles I could blow could have easily overtaken my nose. As expected, the flavor started to wear thin after just a couple minutes, but the delicious initial favor won me over.
Check out another review at Gum Alert, and from reading the comments, it seems like this "mystery flavor" is a simple re-release. Well, it worked on me.
Hubba Bubba website
Friday, September 23, 2011
Is anyone else anxiously awaiting access to Pottermore? Is anyone already exploring the site? I was accepted for early access, but with barely over 2 weeks until it's open to everyone in October, I've just about lost hope of getting that sneak peek. At least the wait is almost over for all of us! Just because I needed a Harry Potter fix, it seemed like a good time to sample the Chocolate Frog I purchased during my trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In the books and movies, Chocolate Frogs are presented as lithe, enchanted chocolate creatures that could slip through your fingers with ease, or, if you're quick and lucky, wiggle all the way down to your stomach. Of course, there's no way to reproduce that experience for a mass market, but I was surprised by how the Chocolate Frog was brought to life for Universal Studios. There's no way the Chocolate Frogs sold at the actual Honeydukes inside the park could slip out a window. They're solid, huge, and surprisingly hefty! At an equally hefty theme park price price of $9.95 US, maybe Universal Studios was going for the value angle, but they didn't really hit that mark, either.
The solid chocolate frog filled the entire box, but unfortunately it smelled a bit dusty, like a cheap Easter bunny. The easiest way to serve the frog seemed to be cutting into it with a knife, which was fun for my husband. Much to my dismay, the chocolate tasted like it smelled: dry, grainy, and a little chalky. The cocoa flavor was mild and very sweet, and even though it was a one-note chocolate flavor, I did appreciate that there were no sour or otherwise unpleasant aftertastes. The chocolate wasn't very milky, and although I dislike the overly sticky quality that milk chocolate often has, this frog could have used some creaminess. Now, I must disclose that I did wait a couple of months to eat this, but the package was sealed and far from the sell-by date, so it was a bit of a letdown.
I'll admit that this blog has spoiled cheap chocolate for me, but for this price, I'd rather have less chocolate of a higher quality than this giant brick of disappointment. But, as Ron Weasley pointed out to Harry, It's the card you want, and in that respect, the Chocolate Frog was pretty cool. The package was gorgeous and well-constructed, and finding the holographic trading card inside really made me feel immersed in the Harry Potter universe. I got Rowena Ravenclaw (and I think I'd be a Ravenclaw), but I can't see myself trying to collect them all at $10 a frog.
The packaging is absolutely an A+, but overall, this is a C. It's still a good souvenir because of the card and box, but the chocolate left a lot to be desired. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter blog reviewed Chocolate Frogs and really liked them. Please remember, this is just my opinion. If you've got your heart set on a Chocolate Frog, I think the box and card alone will make you happy, and if you enjoy the chocolate, even better.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
According to the prestigious publication, Convenience Store Decisions, this debuted in July after a positive response to the homestyle Muddy Buddies flavor and is the first salty snack mix to incorporate a cookies and cream flavor. So stop dreaming, Funyuns. As excited as I was to try this, actually eating it was just disappointing. Let me put it to you this way. I originally bought this as a small treat for Keepitcoming Love on our drive to Mohegan Sun, but had the foresight (hunger) to try it ahead of time. Miss Love is our resident cookies and cream aficionado, and this was so weak that giving it to her would have seemed like an insult.
It was awful. For a product that has the potential to incorporate a variety of textural and flavor nuances throughout a bite or two, this was upsettingly one-noted. Each piece was coated in a filmy substance, a finely ground dust in greyscale that I'm assuming is the cookies and cream condensed to a powder with the texture, but not the expertise, of a dessert at wd-50. Even on the pieces that seemed to be more grey, as though they contained more cookie, the flavor was overly sweet and lacking in any chocolate flavor. The package screams that there are "real cookies" in it, as opposed to the plastic "my first kitchen" ones I use when I make Chex Mix. I've already called witness protection and the FBI, as it appears as these have been processed through a woodchipper and slid into my plastic bag. Real cookies, my ass.
Perhaps the most aggravating element in this was the "sweet creamy coating" on the Chex. I'm not stupid. I know that any substitute or clever wording for chocolate (in this case, white chocolate) is a way to imply chocolate without having it in the ingredients. At the very least, I expected white mockolate. This didn't even rise to the level of Palmer-esque confections. The coating caused it to fail as a portable snack, as it left a cocaine-like residue all over my desk. That wasn't so bad, because at least the cocaine-esque stuff made me look like a cool, edgy person, but the flavor was downright unpalatable. As a cereal, the powder sank to the bottom and left an oily sheen on top. It was creepy stuff and made my teeth hurt.
I'm annoyed that the essence of the Chex Mix in itself is an endearingly haphazard, thrown together sort of affair and with that philosophy, neglected to include its flagship ingredient. Would it have been so hard to throw some pieces of Hydrox or co-brand with Kraft and use "real Oreo pieces" in there? I'm disappointed that a snack like this had so much potential and then dropped the ball. With a slim market for cookies and cream snacks, this isn't helping other brands branch out into similar versions.
Swapped out beets (I have so, so many) from our Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA half share for an extra share of apples.
These apples from Three Springs Fruit Farm mark the beginning of my fall and winter-long apple eating. When I get in the groove, I'll eat an apple every afternoon as a snack. It just so happens that I like to get my apples from Three Springs Fruit Farm! At the end of October (or maybe it's the beginning of November), I get an entire crate of mix-and-match apple varieties for just $20 from Three Springs Fruit Farm at Headhouse Market when they have their crate sale. The Italian eggplant went into eggplant Parmesan with tomato sauce made from the last of the frozen CSA roma tomatoes. This was soooo good!
I almost made a batch of ketchup from these tomatoes, but knowing that it would probably be the last of summer tomatoes, I decided to savor them sliced and uncooked alongside some French bread slathered with goat cheese and pear chutney.
There was broth left over from the veggie pho made the previous week, so I turned it into an off-the-cuff soup creation with rice, CSA bok choy and the last of my homegrown cherry and pear tomatoes. The delicata squash and bell peppers were used in a pumpkin curry inspired by Circles' pumpkin curry. Very good, but I must confess that with so many great premade curry pastes out there, I rarely bother making my own.
Week 19: sweet potatoes, dumpling squash, crimini mushrooms, onions, beets, apples.
Swapped out bok choy (just had it two weeks in a row) for an extra share of sweet potatoes (I got a little excited to see them).
Honestly, with the exception of the mushrooms (the boy ate them at some point without my knowledge), I haven't touched anything in this share. Because of just a few social engagements, it has taken two weeks to get through most of week 18's share. It really does take dedication to cooking and eating at home to go through a CSA share. Even a half share!
How did you use your CSA or farmers' market haul? Are you excited for the dishes that the cooler weather brings?
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
As we tour the restaurant, the boyish Mr. Tunney points out in a flustered, yet noticeably pleased manner, the pieces of the restaurant that were recently finished yet appear as though they took months to create. The name of the restaurant spelled out in carved metal on the floor. The slender decorative touches on the Corinthian columns. All small details that make a big splash in the atmosphere of Ballo.
High-profile customers can have their library lounges and butler doors if they so choose, complete with hired security, yet with the option to hang out at the bar or dance in the back as well. A middle coffeehouse-style area has comfortably zany zebra print chairs and candlelit tables for close contact and a comforting oasis from the bustle of the casino. No one room feels staid or added on at the last minute. Each area presents its own set of unique possibilities for customizing your dining experience.
A little dark in the afternoon, but not cavernous. This area was where we ate our meal, a special tasting menu presented by executive chef Matthew Adler and chef de cuisine Shaun Golan.
I started off dinner with a quartino of the house red, a tangy Cabernet Sauvignon. Ballo serves wine in 8 oz. quartinos, a pleasant and generous portion compared to the standard 5 oz. restaurant pour and priced like a typical glass. This is poured in 2 oz. portions from an individual pitcher that prevents the likely dribbling that comes with great, galumphing glasses of wine. With this, I was able to replenish as I pleased (though our server was so attentive there was no need to) and pace myself throughout the lunch. I enjoyed the cab. For a house wine, it was neither overly complex nor hiding poor quality under the house name. It is worth noting that Ballo boasts a wine list of over 60 wines, 16 of them offered by the quartino, and all of them Italian.
Bread was passed around along with the burrata, freshly baked Italian loaves hot from the oven. This was ripped off in healthy chunks, and served with a mixture of herbed garlic olive oil and butter. A traditional start to the meal and like the burrata, an excellent sponge for the leftover pesto. We followed this with another antipasti dish, crispy artichokes with arugula and lemon. These were lightly crispy on the outside and yielding on the inside, and small enough to pop in your mouth. If all my vegetables were prepared in this fashion, I'd likely be more inclined to go vegetarian. The artichokes were not breaded, and I suspect that as a result of this, did not sop up excess oil. Light and tender, the mild flavor of the artichokes was perked up by the addition of tart lemon juice and pickled scallions. More scallions and a hair more salt would have been preferred.
Following this was a dish of pork meatballs with broccoli rabe, ricotta salata, and marinara sauce. Our server said there was pancetta floating around in this somewhere, but any additional ingredient would have died an anonymous death, smothered in the rich marinara and savory cheese. Pancetta or not, these were delightfully nostalgic for all at the table, at least, those of us with marinara running through our veins. The meatballs erred toward the large side with an airy, moist texture and a rush of oregano and garlic. The sauce was equally bold with a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes and a smooth texture. Three of these sat in a miniature skillet. Believe me when I tell you that it took all of my restraint to not inhale each one.
The lunch took a slightly different turn after our trio of appetizers, and we were brought out a communal sweet sausage pizza to share amongst us. With a mozzarella and pecorino blend pooling in crannies left between strings of caramelized onion and chunks of pepperocini, this was a hearty yet controlled pie. With so many unctuous ingredients, one would expect something richer, sopping with oil and overspiced, but this seemed almost delicate. A meat lover's special for the lady in Louboutins. It was sweet and fragrant, with a hearty crust and a light scattering of sausage.
It is worth noting that taking on a pizza project in Connecticut is as risky as taking on lobster in Maine or maple syrup in Vermont. While nothing could replace some of my beloved New Haven eateries, this was a worthy contender and offered up some creative deviation to the by-the-book apizza standard 50 miles west.
Our next dish was a small plate of fresh ravioli, the shell of which is housemade daily on premise, filled with mascarpone, ricotta, and parmesan, and covered in more tasty pesto. A tangy and comforting dish. However, the pasta shell was a little thick for its sweet, milky contents.
From that, we moved on to another pasta dish, a lusty tagliatelle doused in bechamel with chunks of proscuitto, and broiled with an end consistency of a savory toasted marshmallow. This achieved a nice bite to a normally saucy dish and added an additionally smoky note that the prosciutto certainly couldn't have done on its own amongst all the cheese. The flavor was rich and the sauce a bit grainy, but flavorful. We found that the pasta held the sauce well and was cooked just a bit less than most mushy al dente offerings, with a firm structure.There was a brief rest in between the tagliatelle and this steak course, and a well-needed one to digest and chat amongst ourselves. When this came out, a hush descended over the self-proclaimed carnivores of the group as we tucked into a filet mignon with heirloom tomatoes, radicchio, arugula pesto, and a balsamic reduction. This was a steakhouse standard prepared with Italian accents. A great cut of steak, elevated even higher with a thick crust and a buttery, smooth cut, cooked medium rare and very moist. The steak knife was almost superfluous, and the steak was seasoned minimally, as all steaks should be. The fresh tomatoes were sweet, but somewhat excessive. The pesto was the only low point of this dish. This was now the third dish in our menu with pesto, and this manifested itself in a peppery, earthy version that dominated most of the flavors in the steak and vegetables if applied too liberally.
Our savory courses settled in our stomachs, we moved on to coffee and dessert, of which there was thankfully only one course. Illy coffee was served along with miniature cannoli with a double garnish of chopped pistachio nuts and dark chocolate chips, baked by resident chef-of-all-trades, Mr. Adler himself.
The cannoli, yet another Wooster Street facsimile treading dangerously close to its granddaddy, was a slimmer cigarillo-type pastry, lacking the bready, oily crust and choking globs of cheese that make its larger version so delectable. Still a sumptuous offering, with a spiced mascarpone filling and a crispy, wonton-like shell. A quiet, classic way to end the whole affair, as blended and solid as the artful quotes filling the walls, Thoreau interpretations by Tunney's brother.
As our lunch wound down, Tunney lingered, not wanting the party to end and the music to die down. He chatted with us, cards were exchanged, and his smile fell a bit as we left. Tunney expounds upon his ideas as we walk out. "Everyone has a story," Tunney tells us as we wait outside, not wanting to leave the splendor. "And we want to hear it." Hear them he will. The man with the golden restaurant touch opens Ballo tomorrow to the public, ready to whirl Mohegan Sun visitors around the dance floor and delight the senses. Be there, or be square. This is one dance you won't want to miss.