Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Garden Growing

Tomatoes can't grow fast enough!

Over on Philly Market Cafe, Gaetano is reporting that tomatoes have finally arrived at Headhouse Row on Sundays
. Not soon enough.

Here's some shots of our little green guys.

A Sweet 100 variety.

Another Sweet 100 cluster just starting to ripe.

Here's a shot of our butterbeans, climbing up some home-strung trellis.

More promising results...little bean pods.

Monday, June 29, 2009

English Pea Fettucine & Cheese Stuffed Blossom w/ Zucchini Cakes

Fun with market finds...Fresh English Peas, Prosciutto & Fettuccine.

Here we've got more cheese-stuffed zucchini blossoms..these are wrapped with little Prosciutto bow-ties.

Elizabeth shredded some yellow squash, mixed with an egg-flour batter and fried up some fritters to accompany the blossoms.

Final shot of the Pea & Prosciutto pasta.
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South St Phad Thai

Unlike other cuisines, Pan-Asian is one that always ends up towards the bottom of our "Let's go grab a bite somewhere...where do you want to go?" list. We've been slowly visiting all the non-scary Asian places within walking distance of our house and one-by-one are working our way towards finding our favorite place.

Next up on the list was Pad Thai. I'd heard a few so-so reviews of this place and I suspected we wouldn't find anything beyond extraordinary...but it was a sunny Sunday afternoon just off South St, so the setting made up for the underwhelming offerings from Pad Thai

NO, that's not a massive fortune cookie on our table...it's just a napkin. The perfect weather and excellent service really made for an enjoyable time.

The steamed jade dumplings were decent...again, I know that there's probably a steamed dumpling just as good and a little cheaper lurking only a dozen blocks south of here around Washington Ave, but we were having a good time on the outside table so I wasn't too bothered by that fact.

The spring rolls were on the edge of being overdone, but they had plenty of crunch and perfectly flavorful & steamy innards. The side-sauce was leaning to the sweet-side (I like a little more citrus in my sauces), but the fresh salad accompanying the rolls helped take the sugary-sting off the accompanying sauce.

OK, here's the major complaint from every review I read about this place...if you're going to name your place Pad Thai, then the dish should be pretty damn good. The pad thai was a little sweet, like the aforementioned sauce, and the noodles were too tacky...they tended to clump up into a tangle and bring too much sauciness in each bite. Again, this isn't bad pad thai..it's just not noteworthy.

Service was top-notch, personable and prompt, but the food was pretty much in-line with your regular South St. expectations.

Check this one off the list and time to move on to clearing the next block...I saw Mustard Greens was next.

Varga Bar II

A summer evening outside at our latest local hangout, Varga Bar on 10th & Spruce. Here's a shot of the Czech Pils being served on draft...no better picture for an after-work summer evening relaxing.

This is NOT a summer dish, but was one of the few appetizers we hadn't tried yet...Truffled Mac & Cheese. Served in a little cast iron skillet, the truffled mac was creamy enough and not a fused together casserole like some others around town. Although the truffle-bits were more caviar, the cheese was beyond the normal white-cheddar. I had to refer back to the menu for the details (gruyere, fontina, marscapone) but the overall impression was a truffle-worth mix of white cheeses.

At the exact opposite end of the oozy, warm comfort food is the pot o'pickles...at $4, it's the cheapest dish but don't let that mislead you...this pot of home-pickled veggies is a rich mix of crisp & tart veggies. Waxbeans, normally bland and fleshy, soak up the pickling liquid and crunch like a Vlassic. The snowpea pods are another interesting pickled veg. I picked out all the little leek hearts and enjoyed them with a crystal clear, cool Pilsner. No pickled radishes like a German place, but the variety made for some great bar-food that was evocative of Bavarian beer-fare.

Fig Upsidedown Cakes

We spotted a humongous pint of Mission Figs down in the Italian Market this weekend and decided to spread them out across out menu one Saturday.

Blue-cheese stuffed, prosciutto wrapped and broiled, they made great appetizers. But the real must-make recipe was the mini Fig Up-side Down Cakes... link to the recipe.

Figs get doused in sugar, then go into a pan with butter.

A batter is mixed up with egg, flour, milk, and cinnamon, among other things.

The result is a fluffy batter that gets poured over the hot pans, coating the sizzling & sweet pile of sugared & buttered figs.

20 minutes later in a 400 degree oven, you've got a figgy-cinnamon muffin.

Flipping it over, you can see the butter-cooked sugared figs creating a sweet crust around the rim of a pillowy-soft cinnamon spiked muffin pastry.

Some people serve this with a gelato or ice-cream...it didn't last long enough to let the ice-cream come up to temp. Elizabeth used our mini tapas pans to create individual fig-cakes...you might be able to get away with this in ramekins as well...the mini-cakes would make a great end to a dinner party.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Coy Latin Offerings Peeking Out at Coquette

Adam Erace's review of the bistro Coquette left me a bit puzzled about what I could expect to find on the bar menu at this traditionally French establishment.

We had been deliberately avoiding the place after I heard rumors about the inconsistencies in the food coming out of the kitchen since they had acquired a new chef...the French-Thai fusion was a manageable combination that apparently wasn't producing any meaningful results.

However, when I saw this story about the new new chef and the addition of some latin-focused cuisine, I figured that it couldn't hurt to try out some small bites and test the waters.

On a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon we grabbed a table outside and ordered up a few dishes outside the French spectrum.

Elizabeth ordered the Gazpacho with Shrimp; this huge bowl, at $4, was a perfect savory selection to cool down with.

The chilled tomato broth was slightly spiced and the chilled, chopped shrimp helped give a refreshing sea-breeze character to the soup. The crispy fried strips of tortilla and diced pineapple bits helped to give a crunchy & crisp character to the soup that complimented the latin spices hanging around the edges of the gazpacho's flavor profile.

The Mexican Albondigas were the fire to the Shrimp Gazpacho's ice...at $2.50, these were great snacks, packed with heat and very filling. The sauce contained a noticeable amount of adobo pepper...giving these meatballs a one-two punch of smoky heat. The meat itself was mixed with rice and some diced veg & herbs. If it hadn't been for the fact that I was drinking a French lager I would've thought we were eating at a latin tapas bar.

OK, this is what hooked me...the PW article had a photo highlight of the roasted, spiced corn. Served with a spicy mayonnaise, cheese and lemon, the corn was a perfect summer snack. It wasn't as 'grilled' as the PW picture suggested, but my spice-stained fingers were proof enough that the new latin approach to Coquette's bar snacks is a welcome addition to the happy hour offerings around South St.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Zucchini Blossom & Squash Gratin w/ Grilled Leg of Lamb & Tomato Vinegar Slaw

Our four little zucchini plants have thrown down the gauntlet and are pumping out blossoms at a record rate, leaving us scrambling for unique ways to cook them up. These things are the rabbits of the culinary niche-gardening world...Elizabeth gathered up 4 more this morning to go along with the 8 already in our fridge from this weekend...total count is 31 blossoms in the last 3 1/2 weeks.

Elizabeth adapted one of her signature recipes (Squash Mini Casseroles - follow the link) to incorporate the blossoms.
She chopped the older blossoms up into quarters and sauteed them along with the yellow squash, them blended the veg saute into a mix of panko bread cumbs, greek yogurt & a smidgen of goat cheese.

She had the idea to crispy fry some blossoms and place them atop a finished & browned gratin.

We dusted the blossom in some seasoned rice flour then dipped them into a 375 degree canola oil bath.

I had to hold the blossom lightly to shape the blossom & keep the leaves from spreading open in the fryer, but the end result yielded beautifully crispy blossoms for garnishing the mini squash casserole with.

To accompany the squash we purchased 2 lbs. of butterflied leg of lamb from Whole Foods; it was on sale at 6.99 per lb., which made for a perfect grilled accompaniment to the casseroles...plus, there would be plenty of leftovers.

Here's the final result of the grilling...char-grilled exterior, pinky medium-rare center.
I scored the meat on both sides, marinated this hunk of lamb in some salt, pepper, garlic & lemon juice for 1/2 hour and then threw it meat side down on a blazing hot grill to char, before flipping it over, fat-side down, and cooking for another 20-30 minutes on indirect heat.
After the center registered 135, I pulled the lamb off the grill, plucked a handful of thyme from the garden and threw it atop the lamb as it was tented in some foil to rest for 10 minutes.
To accompany the lamb, we made a tomato & red onion slaw, spiced with salt, pepper, mint & cumin, drenched in olive oil & red wine vinegar and allowed to steep in the fridge while the lamb cooked on the grill. The minty cool and bracingly tart tomato & onion salad worked well to softened the strong char-grill of the lamb.