Friday, January 30, 2009

Beer Review - Goldstar Lager from Israel

I saw a mention of this beer over at BROG, a fellow Philly beer & food blogger, in his review of Zahav, the Israeli mezze restaurant in Old City. The waiter suggested it to him, explaining "It's like Yuengling, but it doesn't totally suck."

Imagine my delight when I saw this little beauty sitting on the shelf at the Foodery over on 10th & Pine. The guy at the counter mentioned it might be a new arrival when I asked for his opinion of it.

Elizabeth & I have upcoming reservations at Zahav next week, so I wanted to try this beer out ASAP to see if (1) the waiters know thier stuff and (2) I can enjoy a beer at dinner that doesn't 'totally suck' and is a good match for the spicier dishes they serve.

It pours a little foamy, but settles down quick...left plenty of lace going down. The golden honey color hinted at the slight sweetness of the first few sips. I don't know if I've been too long at the hop-heavy beers or if the lack of any strong hoppiness is what's letting this tinge of malty sweetness peek through.

Decent mouthfeel, no assertive flavoring, and a smooth finish all tell me that Goldstar definitely would be a decent choice to pair with something strong like the spicy Lamb Merguez at Zahav. Stay tuned for more details on this.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SliCE Pizza - Thin Crust Classic

What else can be said about SliCE? This place is pretty much the gold-standard of thin-crust pizza around South Philly.

Great thin-crust pizza. I had the pepperoni & goat cheese toppings. Pepperoni was spicy and weak little grease discs here.

The cheese & sauce meld into a perfect blend...the goat cheese, while flavorful, really didn't bring much more to the time I'll try the sausage."
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Prosciutto Wrapped Hake Filet & French Green Lentils

Whole Foods on South St. has been running an on-again/off-again sale on Hake for 8.99/#

I've used the fish as a cheaper alternative to cod when I do tapas, but I'd never cooked the fillet whole.

A friend of ours recently gave us a cookbook for Christmas of recipes from the C.I.A. that highlighted Hake...wrapped in prosciutto and served atop French green lentils. Elizabeth's recently tried lentils served in this manner from Cochon and they made for a great side, so that sealed the deal on this recipe.

We still had a little less than an eighth of a pound of prosciutto hanging around from the weekend that we'd picked up at DiBruno Bros., which was just enough to wrap two fillets.

First we started the lentils, also from the bulk section of Whole Foods. Sauteed a quick mirepoix of carrot, onion, celery & celery leaves in butter, then threw in the lentils, covered with vegetable stock and brought to boil then simmer. Leave that alone for 5 minutes the recipe said.

5 minutes? Some varities of lentils CAN cook that fast, but there was no way5 minutes could be correct...them I re-read the recipe and saw the lentils should have been cooked before adding to the broth & mirepoix mixture. 25 minutes longer than I had anticpated, the lentils were still firm, but had soaked up the hearty & buttery flavor from the soup-starter that is a good mirepoix.

The fish itself couldn't have been easier. The hardest part was peeling off the sheets of prosciutto without destroying them. Wrapped and into a skillet on medium heat, I kept a watchful eye on the fish, only turning them once.

Waiting for the lentils gave Elizabeth plenty of time to whip up a salad of goat cheese, blackberry & walnuts. With tomatos drizzled in olive oil and the cheese dusted with grated toasted walnut, the salad had both oily nuttiness and tangy acidity.

Here's the finished product. The hake is riding high on a wave of lentils. True to form, the prosciutto had shielded the fish from drying out and given back some of it's cured flavor to the moist white flakes of the hake.

The lemons not only married with the fish, but brightened up theeartier, richer flavors of the lentils.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fast Food His Way - Jacques Pepin's Scallops Grenobloise

OK, I'll admit...about 10 years ago watching cooking shows on a Saturday morning was the last thing I would ever consider fun.

Then I watched this guy Jacques Pepin carve out & re-build a roast chicken in a few easy yet deliberate cuts, then make decorative mushrooms & olive rabbits with a paring knife, and finally slap together a delicious unpretentious appetizer in under 15 minutes flat. He was like a walking culinary encyclopedia of technique.

I realized that I could learn something from this guy; knife techniques, tricks of the trade, revealed flavor combinations, and essential how-to's of cooking...he was old school but reminded me of a professor the way he approached his 'lessons'. Here's the link to THE book on cooking if you're like interested observer & home cook.

I was browsing in the Philadelphia Free Library the other day and saw Jacques had come out with a follow-up to his 'Fast Food' series More Fast Food My Way.

The series is built to appeal to those people too smart to fall for Rachel Ray's schlock but who know they are seriously lacking inspiration and need to spice up their drop-of-the-hat, guests-popped-by or clear-out-your-pantry repertoires.

I spotted a dish I wanted to try out using none other than a favorite ingredient on Top Chef...seared scallops. (If you've been following the show, you'll know that Top Scallop Jamie seems to be the chef that can't leave the scallop behind, compulsively cooking them up in every challenge).

We started with another little recipe in Jacques book, Goat Cheese Toasts. Make sure you use good quality bread here...this baguette was from Metropolitan Bakery in Reading Terminal Market.

I highlighted the one thing that caught my eye about this...using a vegetable peeler to get a paper-thin sliver of garlic to press into the way to impart a kiss of garlic.
Preheat the broiler. Cut as many 1/4-inch slices from a baguette as you need for serving. Arrange the slices side by side on a baking sheet. Cut enough 1/4-inch-thick slices from a tubelike container of goat cheese (dental floss is good for slicing the cheese) for each of the bread rounds. Press a slice of cheese on each slice of bread, taking care to cover the entire surface of the bread so it doesn't burn under the broiler. Sprinkle a small amount of herbes de Provence on each toast and a bit of freshly ground black pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, remove thin slices from a large peeled garlic clove and press 1 sliver in the center of the cheese on each toast. Sprinkle each toast with a few drops of olive oil. Slide the toasts under the broiler, so they are 4 to 5 inches from the heat source, for about 2 minutes, or until the tops are bubbly, hot, and lightly browned. Arrange the toasts on a serving platter. Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.
The dish that interested me the most was a Seared Scallop with a Grenobloise sauce. I'd never heard of this sauce, but I noticed the recipe called for wedges of lemon flesh or supremes...we'd just used clementine supremes for a scallop salad, so this seemed to me to be the next step.

I've never had Grenobloise sauce, but the main elements seem to be:
  • Lemon
  • Butter
  • Caper
We liked Jacques version because instead of throwing everything into a sautee pan, you combined on the plate, allowing for more flavor separation. The bread-cubes soaked up the browned butter and were a great contrast to the soft sweet scallops, but the salt of the caper & sour of the lemon cut through the dish to create a great balance...taking the time to get a little bit of each component on one fork-full yielded a flavor-bomb...crunchy smooth seared sweet buttery salty bright tang.

Here's how the prep went down
  1. Made bread cubes (1/2 inch)...rolled in oil and then crisped in 350 oven till crunchy, not brown
  2. supremed out the's a vid on that, but once you've seen it down once, you get it.
  3. Heat some butter and then sautee mushrooms...leave it going while you do the scallops
...and the main steps
  1. Next sear your seasoned (S&P) scallops in some peanut or olive oil
  2. Plate the scallop, sprinkle on a fair amount of bread-cubes, capers & lemon pieces
  3. Pull your butter & mushrooms when the butter starts to brown and spoon it over the scallop salad.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cochon BYOB Redux

Elizabeth & I returned to Cochon with another was still delicious, with a minor complaint on the cassoulet.

My wife's duck confit was served in a rich mahogany broth...very good on a cold Winter night. We spotted Chef Garces of Amada fame at the next table over enjoying the same starter...I wonder what he thought of it? After all, he beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America!

The crispy skate & frisee sald with lardon was the perfect crispy outside, flaky inside...the small potato wedges served in the salad were a little undercooked, but easily overlooked by the quality of the skate.

The rack of lamb, served with French lentils, was cooked precisely medium-rare...none of those skimpy little lamb racks here. The lentils were a surprise hit...they were 'al-dente' and delicious...not mushy at all (I've usually had bad luck with lentils)...I think they were the du Puy variety, tiny and green "like capers" my dining friend commented.

Cold night, what better to order than cassoulet, right? I'd never had it before so I was looking forward to Cochon's preparation. It was kind of 'meh'...served in a warm crock-plate, the beans were well seasoned, but seemed like they'd been sitting out a little long and were dry. The pork belly was also dry and the duck confit was a little over-salted. I could see how some people complain about the salt. The garlicky pork sausage saved the day..spicy and well-ground.

Finished with the chocolate cake. The server let us know it may take 10-15 minutes to prep, which was great because you know they were made to order and would be warm and oven-fresh. The molten chocolate cake erupted with syrupy sauce as we tore it apart with our spoons...well worth the wait.

Beer Note: Bell's Cherry Stout

Bell's Cherry Stout

After gagging down a Sam Adam's Cherry Wheat back in the late 90's I vowed to avoid Cherry ANYTHING unless the bottle came wrapped in paper and was imported from Belgium. This beer changed my mind.

Picked it up at the Foodery on 10th & Pine.

There is not even a hint of sweetness to this's all in the black cherry family and the roasted character of the stout goes nicely with that deep, almost bitter black cherry mid-flavor.

Mouthfeel on this was decent...not too chewy, although as it warmed up the cherry and malt brought out a hint of sour aftertaste..think sour buttermilk more than sour cherry...not an unwelcome taste though, but I'll drink it in a frosty mug next time instead of a wine glass (my mug had just cracked in half yesterday and I was too lazy...errr...thisty to wash my pint-glass)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Christmas Dinner: Ricotta Gnocchi with Butter & Olives

Ahh...pillowy soft ricotta gnocchi. Elizabeth has always done a great potato gnocchi and got a grip on the techniques you need to keep them light, fluffy bites of pasta instead of small, gummy bullets of dough, but when she tried the ricotta gnocchi at Mercado last month, she knew that potatoes are second fiddle to the wonder that is cheese.

We were visiting my family in D.C. and wanted to share with them our new-found primo pasta. I waited in line nearly 40 minutes the day before Christams at Claudio's just to make sure we'd have the freshest ricotta to use for this dish...after all, it's all about the cheese.

Since we were going to do Ricotta Gnocchi with Olives & Browned Butter, I splurged and bought some Italian butter as well. It ended up making a slight positive difference...more on that later

The recipe itself is simple and fun to make. But getting the right dough consistency was crucial and you cant' do a straight potato-to-ricotta swap. After perusing the internet for consensus on how to get a light dough that won't break apart we came to the conclusion that:
  • ratios vary because of the moisture content of the ricotta...start with a firm ricotta (Claudio's FRESH ricotta from the case does it for me) or drain the store-bought stuff over a strainer for at least several hours
  • alot of people load up the dough with extras to overcome runny cheese or to avoid excessive flour...a favorite is to use finely grated Parmesan, some potato or eggs.
We decided to keep it simple and only use ricotta & matter what, you season the ricotta (salt, pepper...some people use nutmeg).

Elizabeth dumped out 1 cup of flour then slowly added it, 1/4 cup at a time, to 2 lbs of Ricotta...I don't think she used all the flour, but I could be wrong. The main thing to remember here is that you get the dough firm enough to be rolled out like a 'snake' or a pretzel...Elizabeth & Taylor played with the dough until it got to that stage, then got to work.

It was great watching Elizabeth and our niece Taylor mixing the ricotta & flour together, then rolling the dough out and cutting it.

Drop your little pillows in a pot of GENTLY boiling water, then pull them after they've floated to the top and bobbed about for a minute. I offered to be the lifeguard and taste them to make sure they were ready to get out of the pool.

So I bought some 'Parmesan Reggiano' butter from Claudio's and sauteed the gnocchi in it as they came out of the boil. The butter added a little more flavor than your average Land O' didn't seem as cloying...more subtle. Plus, it didn't foam nearly half as much, so I guess it has less solid fats in it, which was nice because I didn't have to worry about scorching it.

I apologize for the blurry photo here, but we were plating for a party of 9 and I rushed it...still you can make out the snowfall of Parmesan, the glistening butter-coating and meaty slivers of Cerignola olives all resting on fluffy pasta pillows.

After the pasta course, we served a side of Broccolini & Plucked Brussel's Sprouts, roasted in garlicky olive-oil.

Along with the roasted greens went a heavy dose of veal sausages I picked up from Martin's Meats in Reading Terminal Market.

We had started the meal with a Seared Scallop, Arugula & Clementine Salad...the scallops were bought from Johnny Yi's in RTM as well...and ended it with a Strawberry Panna Cotta.

That's the basic run-down of our "All-Philly Ingredients" dinner that we cooked for the family in D.C....all of which was good...but the gnocchi were my hands-down favorite.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brother-in-Law Scallops

The Thai have a dish called son-in-law eggs in which an egg is boiled then deep-fried...recipe search begins here...the story goes that this was the only meal that a young suitor knew how to make when he cooked to impress the family of his prospective bride.

We seem to have developed a dish that our brother-in-law loves to drool over, judging by his comments on our blog...the seared scallop.

We cooked a Seared Scallop & Arugula, Clementine Salad over Christmas for the family and we couldn't help but tease him a bit. We splurged & bought some dry packed U-10's from our source in Reading Terminal Market, Johnny Yi.

This one's for you Chris!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

BYOB - Cafe Apamate

Cafe Apamate...the tree which is the restaurant's namesake is native to Venezuela, which I read is where the chef hails from. The cafe is located on the Rittenhouse side of South St., near a few other upstart eateries making waves like Pumpkin and Pub & Kitchen.

Elizabeth & I walked in around 8PM on a Saturday night; the BYOB was nearly full, but we were greeted & seated immediately.

Staff was friendly and informative, letting us know that although they served more traditional courses & entrees, the majority of the menu was pintxos...a Northern Spanish variation on tapas. About 4 pintxos per person was the recommended portion for diners.

There were over a dozen tempting pintxos, with a smattering of vegetable, seafood & meat offerings. Elizabeth was beside herself with excitement when she noticed that goat cheese could be found on nearly every third pintxo offering!

1st round
Marinated Anchovies & Red Peppers - vinegary and fishy, the anchovies were plump & meaty. I'm not a huge fan of marinated fish, but this went well with the Spanish red wine we'd brought along.

Squid Stuffed with Goat Pepper & Red Pepper blend - drizzled with a salty sepia sauce, the squid was decently cooked ( not rubbery ) and bursting with a pepper-reddened goat cheese stuffing that was light and creamy...I was hoping for a bit more sear on the squid though.

Seared Scallops w/ Apple & Lemon Sauce - liked the playful sea-foam & shell presentation...I sampled it on a tasted like blecchhh...a salt crust meragne I guess totally for looks. The sauce was more of a light splash, which left the natural scallop flavor free to shine.

2nd round
Bechamel & Ham Croquettes - these fired little balls of ham and thickened sauce were just too gluey for me, but I'm sure if I liked Bechamel sauce more, I'd be pleased...the croquettes themselves were plenty crispy. I think I've had my annual allotment of Bechamel.

Rib-Eye, Potatoes & Cabrales Blue Cheese sauce - this is the miniaturized version of an entree and the meat was perfectly cooked, char on outside with pinky rare center. Cabrales is a dangerous cheese to use, but the sauce was perfect...punchy, but not overpowering.

Candied Sausage - not quite what I was thinking, these were little wonton-wrappers stuffed with a crumbled sausage made to look like little Christmas crackers or saltwater taffy...I was wishing there were more than two candies

Oxtail, Cheese & Pepper served on a Plantain Chip - This was absolutely delicious....slow-braised ox-tail served simply on a plantain chip. I asked the chef afterwards about the recipe and he explained it braised all day long. This was so tender and rich that two portions was more than enough.

3rd round:
The fact that there isn't even a picture of this tells you how good it was...we forgot to snap a pic as we furisouly dove into the special.

The special that night was simply 2oz of Iberico ham thinly shaved & sweetened figs. The ham was so thinly sliced you could see though it and as you held it, the heat from your hand was enough to render out the nutty scent of the fat. This was some seriously good ham and it was decently priced.

We were completely stuffed, but had to try the famous churros I've read so much about. Served with warm chocolate sauce, the crispy outside, tender inside churros were the perfect dessert.

Friday, January 2, 2009

South Philly Tap Room: Seafood Springroll

A friend & I dropped in for an afternoon beer while we were waiting for some work to be done at my house. He recommended the place for it's beer...the good food was a bonus.

The bartender was friendly and knowledgeable, pouring us a few samples before we decided on a pint...I had the Riverhorse Oatmeal Milk Stout (very good smoked flavor with decent medium body) and my friend had the Pliny the Elder Double IPA.

When we asked about food, the bartender mentioned that some of the latino guys working in the kitchen had been sharing their recipe for handmade tortillas and my friend, being a fan of authentic Mexican cuisine, jumped on the boar soft tacos, served with a pepper sauce.

I had the Seafood Springroll [picture above]...a crispy treat that was your standard GBD on the outside, but had a steamy soft inside owing to the the way the shrimp & I'm guessing crabmeat liquid had mingled into the roll as it fried. Served with a sweet/spicy peanutty dip and a more tangy fruity chop or compote, the two oversized springrolls made for a great midday snack.

I'll have to come back to see what the nightlife is like, but SPTR made for a great mid-day beer-diversion.

I'd have to come back and see if the same atmosphere & level of good service held up during peak times before I give it a fourth star.
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