Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Shundeez Closes: Saddness Envelopes World

Shundeez, my favorite Iranian restaurant, has sadly closed its doors in Chestnut Hill. Maurice is fantastic, and I look forward to seeing him back in the market behind the Chestnut Hill Hotel.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Spaghetti (squash) and (fish) Balls

I like spaghetti and meatballs, but the meal is too heavy for the the thick soup that defines a Philadelphia summer. Here's a lighter, more summer-y version.

I made fish balls. Now, I generally buy higher quality fish, but I used basa here since it is being used with other ingredients. I chopped and ground the fish and added chopped shallot, basil, homemade bread crumbs, milk, and an egg with salt and pepper.

Form into balls and fry in a cast iron skillet.

I also roasted  half of a spaghetti squash, and spaghetti-fied it with a fork.

Lastly, I made a quick rustic tomato sauce with home grown tomatoes, basil, onion, olive oil and a touch of sugar.

This is a lesson in altering your food expectations given the season, but also a lesson in cooking seasonally and inexpensively given the food at hand. The only thing I needed to buy was the fish. The tomatoes, basil and onion came from the garden, and the squash and shallot had to be used from our CSA.

Summertime spaghetti and meatballs: only in Mt Airy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Craig LeBan Visits Mt Airy

Avenida gets reviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer here.

They encourage you to Meat Mt Airy.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Garlic Scape Pasta with Seared Sea Bass

Garlic scapes are one of those foodie items - we love them and no one else has even  heard of them. These tops of the garlic bulbs need to be cut by the farmer to improve the size of their garlic, and are oftentimes thrown in the compose bin. Ah, but when they arrive for that short period of time they are available at the farmers market by those who know they can make a few bucks from people like me, you just have to try them. They are perfect raw or simply stir fried. They need to be fresh and younger - the older, larger ones are a bit too woody.

Add some fresh sea bass from Groben's . . .

I then made some whole wheat penne, and quickly sauted the scapes with fresh tomato. I seared the sea bass and served with fresh, local, organic goat cheese feta.

Meet Garlic Scape Pasta with Seared Sea Bass. Meat Mt Airy.

iMake: Roasted Pheasant with Fennel and Wild Rice

iMake: Crispy-Skinned Wild Salmon with Three Bean Salad

Minty Pea and Fried Seafood Risotto

Whenever Groben's has skate wing available, I have to buy it - regardless of what my plans were. Yet, that is the beauty of buying fresh. You cannot always plan everything out. Wait, the squid looks great too? Give me some of that!

For the uninitiated, skate wing it quick to go bad, so use it ultra fresh. It has a sweet taste and soft texture like a scallop, and can even be used as as somewhat cheaper alternative in lobster recipes. If you can find it, buy it. Above is the skate wing (ask your monger to remove the cartilage from the center) and cleaned squid, cut into peices (again, ask your monger to clean the squid and remove the beaks). These were simply breaded in a seasoned, homemade breadcrumb, then quickly fried in oil. Do not overcook.

I then made a mint-pea pesto, with frozen peas, fresh mint, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a few pecans. Whir together.

I cooked the arborio rice, adding most of the liquid as chicken stock. For the last bit of liquid, I added the pesto, then topped with the seafood and some parmesan cheese.

Meet my Minty Pea and Fried Seafood Risotto. You'll want to eat skate everyday of your life. Meat Mt Airy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Best Burger in Town

The hottest food item throughout the city over the past year has undoubtedly been the burger. New places have opened just to make them. There is a city-wide club to eat and judge them. At least two (FWTS, Adam Erace) have labeled Village Whiskey, owned by Iron Chef Jose Garces, the winner. Add Meat Mt Airy to that list.

Although the place has an astounding selection of (really great) cocktails and a handful of notable menu items (celebrated pickles, a butter-poached lobster roll), the burger is by far the star. It comes down to two aspects of perfection: start with unparalleled ingredients; add unparalleled technique.

The beef is sustainably farm-raised, and the additions are all of high quality. I added Haystack Mountain Chevre and avocado to the Village burger for added creaminess and tang, not that it needed it. Oh, and they also make their own sesame rolls in-house.

But the true star is the technique. The beef is also ground in house, wrapped up in a torchon, and sliced. This slicing allows for a uniformly thick patty, with high sides like a hockey puck. This is in contrast to most other formed patties which narrow at their ends, contributing to uneven cooking. It also helps that when you ask for medium-rare, they do not hesitate to give you a true medium-rare.

The result is hard to describe - somehow more meaty and more juicy than any other.

Leave Mt Airy. Head to the Village. Get the burger.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pheasant Valley

There I was, hunting pheasant. Who would have guessed? I had the privilege of attending one of the last hunts of the season at Pheasant Valley Farms in Robesonia, PA. And, I actually hit a few. Although there is a good-mannered controversy over who shot one of the birds, I claim credit for hitting two pheasant and two chukars.

Here would be an ideal place for a longer discussion on hunting in general. Yet, I hesitate to. I just want to eat what was shot.

I first made the barbecue sauce from Tyler Florence's rib recipe. Instead of peach preserves, however, I used orange marmalade. Why? That's what I had on hand - and it turned out delicious. I have the luxury of using a gas grill with an attached rotating spit, a gift from my step dad. I put two of the chukars back-to-back on the spit, as seen below, then tied the legs around the middle. Pushing together the legs in this fashion helps prevent the legs from drying out before the breast meat is done.

I also tossed some squash and mushrooms in a quick dijon vinegrette for the grill as well.

Here we go for a spin on the spit . . .

And after is all said and done . . 

The breast meat was nicely done after about 25 minutes on medium low heat. I turned the burners on high at the end, hoping to caramelize the sugars in the sauce and add a depth of flavor . . . but the gas ran out. Not ideal timing, but at least everything was cooked through! True to form, my first bite had a bit of shot in it.

Meat Chuk the chukar. And Meat Mt Airy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

On the Veg Side of Things

I look forward to posting about my first season with a CSA. I am sharing a share with my neighbors from Landisdale Farms. They have a Saturday pick-up around the corner from my place, and also offer some dairy products and their own grass fed beef.

Also check out my good friend's blog with great vegetarian recipes. Eat more Veggies Please!

Surf & Turf My Way with Lobster Succotash

Craving Lobster, sweet corn, and steak at the same time? Check it.

I steamed a 1.5 lb lobster.

By the way, throw the corn cobs into with the lobster that is steaming! I then removed the lobster meat and chopped up some zucchini, shallot, and green pepper. Cut the corn off the cob, too.

I cut a NY strip in half to make two servings. If it is thick cut, this makes for a plenty big serving.

I sauted the veggies together in the same cast iron skillet the steak was seared in with a bit of butter, and tossed in the lobster at the end.
Meet upscale succotash. This is how we do it in Mt Airy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

iMake: Simple Salmon

Sometimes the best fish preparations are the simplest.

WCL: Wines of South America

On February 13 2010 World Cafe Live hosted a five course meal featuring the wines of South America. Each course was paired with a wine, and each was artfully described by Joseph Brandolo from Winebow. And, the menu was prepared by chef Michael Breslin, who recently came to WCL and will soon be releasing a new menu there. If this dinner is any guide, the food just got kicked up a notch at World Cafe. Below were the offerings.

Burnt tomato, goat cheese and anchovy bruschetta paired with Nieto Senetiner Reserva Torrontes 2009 from Argentina. This dished proves that burning things - in moderation - can can taste exceptionally good.

Sea bass, grapefruit and jicama ceviche served with Cousino Macul Sauvignon Gris 2008 from Chile. Simply the best. The grapefruit gave great acidity and was not at all overpowering.

By far the highlight of the evening, here are grilled pears wrapped in iberico ham drizzled with parsley, olive oil, and garlic sauce on crusty bread paired with Terranoble Reserva Carmenere 2007 from Chile. The grilled pears were astounding, and Carmenere is my new go-to red.

Here is a boneless rib eye with chimichurri, peruvian (purple) mashed potatoes and fire roasted tomatoes, paired with Argentinean Bodegas Renacer Punto final Malbec Classico 2008. I could eat a whole bowl of just those tomatoes.

Lastly, dessert was a wild berry creme brulee with a mildly jalapeno mousse (much more nuanced than a jalapeno-infused margarita I had, or tried to have, at National Mechanics recently) served with Argentinean Tilia Bonoardo 2008.

If this is the new standard for food at World Cafe, I will be going there often. I look forward to more meals from Chef Breslin. Note he has two more special dinners upcoming: a Saint Patrick's Day Craft Beer dinner Wednesday March 17, and a Wines of Spain dinner Tuesday March 23.

Meet Chef Michael Breslin. Definitely worth the R7 ride from Mt Airy.

iMake: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

What more could you ask for on a cold wintry day?

Every time I make soup I am again surprised by how easy it is. Almost as easy - and certainly much better - than any can Andy Warhol ever painted. Here I roasted about two pounds of various tomatoes with some oil, salt, pepper, and a touch of garlic and some leftover onion and carrot. Any veg will do. After roasting, I simply whir together with a bit of basil and (optionally) a touch of cream. Adjust consistency with veg or chicken stock.

And for the grilled cheese? On honey sesame semolina from Baker's Street in Chestnut Hill. (And yes, that is Leah in the background.)

Meet my wintry comfort food. Meat Mt Airy.

iMake: Smoked Insalata Caprese Burger with Grilled Veg

Last week showed the warm, sunny promise of spring through the still wintry-white ground. Time to fire up the grill for the first time this season! I like making burgers. And I'm good at it. These tips can be found anywhere on the internet for making good, juicy burgers:

1. When forming patties, leave a slight depression in the middle. This will leave you with a more consistent shape when finished cooking.
2. Flip only once.
3. Don't press down on them while cooking.

I'd add:

4. Put patties in freezer for 15 minutes before grilling. This helps keep their form and allows the middle to stay nicely pink while getting a good outside sear.
5. Consider putting some cheese inside the patty: it will get nicely melted, keep the insides moist, and be a pleasant surprise for your guests.

These burgers had applewood smoked mozz inside, and were finished off with basil, tomato, and sour cream on a grilled Le Bus roll. Served with grilled red onion and zucchini tossed with a homemade dijon vinaigrette.

Meet my burger.

iMake: French Onion Soup and Roasted Beef with Parsley Salad

Try making a salad with parsley as the only green. Add some extra bite with raw shallot, and temper that bite with a good quality balsamic.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

L&I Drama: Support Local Business

It is not news that Good Food Market in Chestnut Hill has been having L&I difficulties. Still, their new blog highlights their latest drama over *gasp* a deli counter in a grocery store. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sockeye Teriyaki

Mark Bittman, among others, have discussed how frozen fish can be as good quality, and even better for the environment, than fresh. I am still a bit wary. Yet, I had a hankering for (out of season) wild salmon this week. Fish that has been flash-frozen onboard the ship it was caught is still available. And so here is my Sockeye Teriyaki. Definitely not traditional, the glaze is a reduction of soy sauce, dry vermouth, Frank's red hot, worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, with red pepper flake, garlic, and ginger. Great use for leftover chinese takeout rice: add butter, onions, and baby bok choy.


Here is my camera's macro setting . . . and my Sockeye Teriyaki. Meat Mt Airy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Suds for Buds

Beerheads is having a night of beer tastings and food this Thursday, 25 Feb 2010 at the General Lafayette Inn in Lafayette Hill. Proceeds benefit the PSPCA.

Worth the trip up Germantown Pike form Mt Airy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Seabass Latkas with Roasted Tomato Coulis

This was inspired by a recipe from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (sorry world, but I do think Guy Fieri is cool), some leftover mashed potatoes, and from Latka’s that were a special at McMenamin’s.

First I went to Groben’s to see what looked good. Unfortunately, everything here ALWAYS looks good. I got this nice sea bass.

Then, I mixed together leftover mashed potatoes, some rice, an egg, and salt and pepper to form a sticky paste,


and slathered this on one side of the fish. Sear the paste side first until golden.


For the coulis, I roasted tomatoes, onion, garlic, a few fresh thyme stems, and a few thai peppers with olive oil, salt and pepper.


Roast in a 450 degree oven for about 35 minutes (preheat the pan – it helps). Let the veggies get nice and roasted, almost burnt-looking in a few spots, as this gives a richer roasted/smokey flavor, particularly to the tomatoes. Whir.


Plate and enjoy.

Say hello to Seabass Latkas with Roasted Tomato Coulis. Meat Mt Airy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Camera Help

Hello World, I take my pictures shown in this blog on a Fujifilm Finepix J10 8.2 megapixel digital camera. Admittedly, I have little to no photography experience. Still, using the autofocus/autoflash features of this camera, I often get blurry shots or ones that are under or over exposed. I usually take half a dozen shots just to get one that turns out OK-ish. Is this because the camera is low-end, because I am not taking advantage of the features of the camera, or both? I welcome comments on suggestions for new cameras or ways of more fully utilizing the one I currently have. Thanks.

Pork Tostados

One of the best recipes I've had in awhile, this month's Cooks Illustrated has a fantastic recipe for pork tostados. Leftovers? What leftovers??

More Bear: Steak

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stephen Starr Strike 1: Buddakan

The ever-popular Philly Restaurant Week is a great time to try a new kitchen with friends – get a table and have everyone order something different off of the smaller yet representative menu. So it was this past week at Buddakan, Starr’s “Modern Asian Cuisine” hot spot at 4th and Chestnut. A night of promising hipness and modern culinary twists on already exotic flavors! Sounds promising.

Unfortunately, I have no pictures. That’s okay though, as it is difficult for me to discuss the food preparations over such lacking attention to detail. I know, Mr. Starr, Restaurant Week is a busy time. Yet still, this is supposed to be one of the great restaurants in the U.S., let alone in the city. And yet you still attempt to serve me water in a dirty glass? And what about the silverware?  The tines of my fork were askew, and the handle of my spoon was bent and re-bent into a classic study of trigonomical sinusoidalness. This is not the place setting at a fine dining establishment – it is a literal replication of fifth grade cafeteria accoutrement. That only works well at dada exhibitions.

I could bypass these minor oversights, but they carried over into the food. The grilled octopus appetizer was luke-cold. The “Sizzling” short rib was not short-rib tender, but more pot roast in texture. The Asian Caesar salad was plainly forgettable.

The only two items of note during the first 2 courses were the Tea Smoked Spare Ribs and the Hot and Sour Scallops. The ribs were soaked with a deep smoky flavor of tea; the sauce beneath the scallops was indeed intensely sweet and sour, yet cut nicely by the sweetness of the corn.

The rock out portion of the meal came with desert. We tried each of the three offerings; all were playful and light. I could eat a dozen of the Dim Sum donuts, and the dipping sauces allowed for a fun, interactive moment. The cinnamon ice cream accompanying the carrot cake was simply perfect.

Yet, the great dessert did not fully make up for the rest of the shortcomings. Perhaps my expectations were too high. However, this is Philly. There are so many other great restaurants, why bother with one that overpromises and underperforms?

Mr. Starr, I know you are, even now, looking to expand your empire. Yet before coming out to Chestnut Hill, perhaps consider fortifying your existing culinary castles.

Note that fining dining is not merely a capitalist manufacturing enterprise. Buddakan felt like a conveyor belt, with each worker adding another cog to the widget (one person taking your order, another bringing your drinks from the bar, another bringing out your food, another filling your water glass, another replacing silverware between courses . . .). It lacked coherence. If this is how you conceive of a dinner, you lack the understanding that a night out is more than this reductionistic sum of parts.

Meat Buddakan. Save the Regional Rail fare; stay in Mt Airy.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Fancy Fast Food Ridiculousness

All is can say is wow. Check out "extreme makeovers of actual fast food items purchased at popular fast food restaurants."

Friday, January 22, 2010

On the Avenida

Mt Airy's newest restaurant, Avenida, opened December 17th in the home of the former Cresheim Cottage Cafe, right across the street from the Brewer's Outlet. Based on my two visits so far, I can make two overall comments:

1. The food is consistently good.

2. The service is not.

 My first outing was on the Saturday of their opening weekend. Yes, that Saturday night that dumped two feet of snow. Yes, they were still open (which was great).

Since they did not yet have their liquor license, the four of us who ventured out brought our own wine. And, since their were four of us, we could try a lot of the new menu. The service was great, especially for a new crew (perhaps since there were not many customers because of the blizzard and all). Our server even heated up some mulled wine with our desert course for us.

The second trip had equally good food, but revealed some cracks in service. There is some confusion about reservations - the website says you can email for one (which I did), but I was then told when we arrived that they did not take online reservations. After seating, and being left for awhile while craving cocktails (they now have said liquor license), our server was changed. Our new server did not know about the wines or cocktails, and did not check on us. This was disappointing. If you are not going to train your staff on your offerings, at least offer a terse description on the menu - I can't be expected to know where every winemaker in the world is located.

Still, the food is consistently good. Chefs Edgar (from Gautamala) and Kim Alvarez have been around Philly for years, and originally met at Striped Bass. The food is Latin American yet accessible. For the appetizers, get their homemade chips, guac, and salsas. The guac is surprisingly tart from an unusually strong hand with the citrus, but it works well. The salsas vary but are fresh and refreshing. Also, try the mole glazed ribs - if only for the accompanying magical corn fritters.

All the entrees were cooked nicely, including this Flat Iron Steak.

The winner for both outings was the Pork Pepil. The pork is gorgeously tender, and I could eat four of those cheese panacottas.


For desert, the Chocolate Dolce de Leche Tart with Mango Sorbet was a nice mix of rich, satisfying chocolate and cleansing mango.

The only food disappointment was the Cinnamon Crepes. Even with the promising-sounding rum syrup, the desert tasted very one dimensional. Perhaps a better quality cinnamon, with a touch of heat, could have saved it.

Overall, a great, relaxing place worth the trip from anywhere in the city. This will be especially true in the spring once the back patio opens (called one of the best outdoor patios in Philly). If you do go, park on Germantown Ave or take the R7 to Mt Airy. The Brewer's Outlet used to let Cresheim customers park in their lot across the street, but are now actively towing cars out of there. Its all about the Benjamins.

Say hello to Avenida, and Meat Mt Airy.