Philadelphia Eats

20160626_112850This past weekend Will and I got to visit one of my oldest friends and her fiance in Philadelphia, PA. I’ve been to Philly once before, but I was working and didn’t get to fully experience it. Not at all the case with this trip. We spent two and a half days walking, eating, and drinking our way through the city. It was probably because we had such good tour guides, but I can’t remember a recent vacation when we had such consistently mind-blowing food. These dishes were the stand-outs that I’m going to have to recreate at home until I can head down again.

Bud & Marilyn’s. This is a lively and trendy spot in center city. The really memorable dish was the salad we ordered to balance the pu pu platter: “grilled heirloom carrots with red quinoa, shaved sunchokes, orange, pickled raisins, cumin yogurt.”All of the toppings were piled on a bed of the yogurt. The carrots were nicely charred, but not overcooked. The pickled raisins added a nice tang. The whole thing was not overly sweet, and I would return just to order this (though the sage derby smash cocktail was worth repeating too).

Federal Donuts. They do two things – donuts and fried chicken – and they more than excel at both. We started with a strawberry lavender donut off the hot menu (which they fry to order). It was exactly as I want a donut to be: cakey and just a bit sweet. Then we split the chicken sandwich (which only comes one way (perfect): with buttermilk ranch seasoning, American cheese, pickle, and rooster sauce on a potato roll) and the za’atar fried chicken (which you can also get with other dry seasonings or glazes). Oh my goodness. Both were crunchy, juicy, salty, and indulgent, but not heavy (likely a bad thing, because I want to eat this every day forever). The fried chicken comes with a honey donut, which was a delightful counterpart to the chicken (like a biscuit….but better because it is a donut).

Stock. This little southeast Asian eatery is the best kind – one that has a small menu but exceeds at every dish. Will and I shared the sausage bahn mi and the chicken pho which were both excellent. The really surprising new-to-me dish that I will be trying to recreate at home was a special on the night we were there. It was a salad made from a mix of different cold fruits, including mango, plum and pineapple, topped with Thai herbs and a coconut dressing. It is what I want to eat with all the summer fruit. This recipe looks like it could be a good jumping off point, and I’ll get back to you about the coconut dressing.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters. Using some kind of automagical process La Colombe serves draft lattes, which come out of the tap as a perfectly uniform, unbelievably light, milk and coffee wonder beverage. The draft latte is an experience all its own, but as a regular drink I think I would stick with the black and tan, which is cold brew topped with the draft latte. Lucky for us all there are locations outside of Philly, including one in Boston!

The Yachtsman. I don’t frequent tiki bars, but that is something to be fixed. I usually gravitate towards more sour or floral gin based cocktails, so that is what I ordered. Don’t make my mistake. I then had a sip of their piña colada, which is first on the menu for a reason. In my very limited piña coladas experiences they have been overly sweet because they are poured out of a box into a smoothie machine or taste too strongly of cheap rum. If only I’d known what they could be! This one was the most refreshing balance of coconut with just light sweetness from the pineapple. I have a feeling my journey to make one as good as this may be long…but I will persevere.

Hungry Pigeon. I didn’t know it until this weekend, but there was a void empty of breakfast salads in my life. The breakfast salad here (pictured at top) consists of “greens, bacon, cheddar cheese, warm lentils, hashbrowns, poached egg, & toast.” Not the most normal combination, eh? The greens were just lightly dressed in what I would guess was olive oil and wine vinegar. The bacon was extremely thick cut lardons and more generous than I expected. The cheddar and lentils were tossed throughout the salad . The hashbrown square had about a 1:10 soft to crisp texture ratio (so, perfect). And then there were two hearty pieces of toast to pile all these nice bits on to and eat.

On our next trip it will be very difficult to not just return to all these places…but first on the list of new spots is Dizengoff, a hummus restaurant by Michael Solomonov (who also owns Federal Donuts). We’ll also go back to Reading Terminal Market and actually pick a few things to eat there (instead just walking around in awe). And then of course whatever new spots our excellent tour guides discover in the meantime (we’ll let you know where!).

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Last Week I Cooked….

Couscous with lentils, tomato and cucumber salad, and yogurt sauce. Speed and ease were the goals with this meal. When we got back from a weekend away I threw on the fastest cooking grain and legume in the house on the stovetop. I picked up hothouse cucumbers and tomatoes at a farm on the way home, and chopped them up for a salad. I mixed the cooked couscous and lentils together with some olive oil and lemon juice, and the salad with some olive oil, salt and pepper. To top it all off I mixed some yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersCold noodles with peanut sauce, collards, and cucumbers. These were the first collards to come out of the garden this year!! I sauteed the collards, cooked some lo mein noodles and tossed them in some sesame oil, and when they both cooled tossed them together with some sliced cucumbers. I had some peanut sauce in the freezer (adapted from this recipe) to serve it all with, along with a big squirt of sriracha. I actually put this together after I made the couscous for Monday night’s dinner, and it was equally speedy and made for awesome picnic fare on Monday night.

Burritos with black beans and tofu chorizo.  I finally gave this tofu chorizo recipe a try, and was a bit disappointed. It was too dry, so next time I think I will add some diced tomatoes. The burritos altogether were good, with black beans, the tofu chorizo, sauteed collards, rice, salsa, and hot sauce, but I felt they needed some kind of sauce to bring it all together (I should have made green sauce).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersFried rice with collards. In theory, this meal was a great idea. I made double the rice for the burritos so I could have leftovers for this dinner. Where I went wrong was in the rice storage. I should have let it cool completely before putting it away, and maybe left the container cracked in the fridge so it could dry out even further. A day later it was not dried out nearly enough, so my fried rice was a little soggier than it should be. Lesson learned.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChorizo breakfast tostadas with hash browns (photo by Jesse). This was my dream breakfast. We were visiting friends in Philly and on Friday their boss dropped off fresh tortillas and chorizo from his “chorizo guy” (New life goal: find a local chorizo and tortilla guy). Saturday morning we hit up a farmer’s market for potatoes, tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, and black raspberries (to fuel us while we cooked). I cooked the chorizo, parcooked the potatoes in water, and then crisped the potatoes in the pan so they could soak up all the chorizo fat (though next time to speed things up I think I will just toss them in the fat and roast them). My sous chef made a quick salsa with the cherry tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, jalapeno, salt, and pepper. Then I heated the tortillas in the pan, topped them each with an egg, flipped, and then topped with a little cheese when they came off the pan (similar to this recipe). Eaten outside, with beermosas, for an epic brunch.

Last Week I Cooked…

I cook for two roommates, and most of the time if I ask what I should make for dinner the answer is “whatever you like!” But this week each had a special request and it was nice to have my dinner planning guided by others for a change. So this led to trying a new recipe (Korean tacos) and a riff on an old favorite (pesto pasta).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSlow cooker Korean tacos. This was a great dish because it took basically no thought and can feed a lot of people. I seared the pork and assembled the braising liquid the night before in the slow cooker pot, put it in the fridge, and then in the morning just slipped the whole thing in the slow cooker and turned it on. The pork was just mildly spicy and sweet, but just a bit on the dry side. The slaw was awesome, and made the whole thing into a real meal. I can see myself making the pork like this again just for the ease of it, but if I’m really trying to impress I’ll go a different route.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPesto pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and kale. Basil season is here!!!!!!!!!! I bought a giant handful from a farm stand along with the kale, but jumped a little ahead of the season to add the cherry tomatoes. I followed Alice Water’s pesto recipe from The Art of Simple Food. While I was making pesto and cooking pasta I roasted the halved cherry tomatoes at 350F for as long as it took me to do those things (probably about 30 minutes). When the pasta was cooked I reserved some cooking water and drained it. I put it back in the pot along with the kale and tossed it all to wilt. Then I added the pesto, a dash of the cooking water, the cherry tomatoes, and some cubed mozzarella cheese. We had a salad alongside with a balsamic vinaigrette and it tasted like summer.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersSauteed pork and cabbage over rice. I’m on a mission to clear things out of the freezer, and had a vision that the ground pork should become dumplings. But 2 grocery stores were out of dumpling wrappers, and I just could not fit making my own into a Wednesday night, so instead dinner became dumpling filling over rice. I cooked the pork in the wok and then removed it and drained most of the fat (saved for future cooking!). Then I cooked the cabbage and finished with some soy sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing wine, and white pepper (inspired by this dumpling recipe). We ended up eating it with some chili garlic sauce on top, and I was so happy to have dinner done in under an hour.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBig salads with cucumbers, radishes, carrots, and leftover pork (from the tacos). I made a simple sesame lime vinaigrette, and this was the perfect use for the rest of the pork on a hot night.

Grilled spicy Italian sausages with peppers and onions. This will forever be my favorite grilled meal. It is the perfect thing to cook when you are away from your own kitchen and need to buy all the ingredients at the grocery store. Slice the onion into rounds and a bell pepper in half, throw everything on the grill, and then in the last few minutes toast the buns. Slather your bun with Dijon mustard and then go to town.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersMustard potato salad, cucumber salad, and wraps with hummus, turkey, sprouts, guac, tomato, and dilly beans. It is picnic season!!! I brought this to an outdoor concert and now I’m ready for all the picnics. The cucumber salad had scallions, dill, garlic, and a 1:1 dressing of white wine vinegar and olive oil. Obviously best eaten with your toes in the grass listening to some music.

Last Week I Cooked…

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersI can already feel seasonal produce anxiety starting to set in. I went strawberry picking with my roommate yesterday and we bought almost 8 pounds of strawberries. She made hand-pies, I made strawberry balsamic jam, and we still have two quarts leftover for general consumption. But I made the mistake of looking up my pinned strawberry recipes and found tens of options for tarts, ice creams, sorbets, pies, popsicles, salads and other sweets. More than I could ever reasonably make in strawberry season. Plus strawberries are just a gateway berry for me – I love blueberries and the very best, raspberries, so much more. It’s time to pick a few recipes I’m most exited about, make them while the time is right, and then float on into the next fruit or veg in line.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersTacos with mashed sweet potatoes, black beans, pickled radishes and cilantro sauce. These were born of things already in the fridge/freezer. When I made these baked sweet potatoes I ended up freezing an extra one. I defrosted it in the microwave, and then scraped out the flesh and composted the skin. I mixed some salt, cumin, and paprika into it and mashed it up. The black beans I cooked with some onion, and the shredded up the radishes and quick pickled them in some white wine vinegar. I chopped up half a cup of cilantro, then made it into a sauce with about a quarter cut of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few cloves of chopped garlic.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersLast Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersRoasted chicken and spring salad with new potatoes. I used my favorite basic roast chicken recipe from The Homemade Kitchen, and while it was in the oven I made the potato salad (sans snap peas, because there were none to be bought), and did some gardening. There is probably about 30 minutes total hands on time for this meal, which is just right for this time of year. I love a mustard-y, vegetable forward potato salad and this is all of that.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersStrawberry and leek quesadillas and salad with roasted beets, toasted almonds, goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. These quesadillas might be the most springy dish of all time. My only complaint is that the strawberries make for a soggy dish, but it is still delightfully sweet and decadent with the goat cheese. Just don’t have as high of expectations for the leftovers.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersChicken salad toasts with sauteed kale. I started this dish off thinking that I was following this recipe, but realized quickly that I didn’t actually read the recipe and I had a completely different recipe in mind. So using the rest of the roast chicken from earlier in the week, plus 3 hard boiled eggs to stretch it out, I made a dressing with 1 tablespoon mayo, 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon horseradish, cucumber, chopped scallion, salt, and pepper. I served it with whole wheat toast, avocado, and sauteed kale.

Lamb kebabs in fresh pita. These have been on my to-cook list for years. I made them into meatballs and broiled them because I don’t have a grill. They were heavily spiced and awesome with fresh pita, onions, cucumbers, herbs, and yogurt.

Whipped yogurt cheesecake with roasted rhubarb. This is my ideal dessert, and not just because I already had everything to make it but the cookies. The whipped cheesecake took 15 minutes to put together the night before my sister came over for dinner. She brought some almond biscotti that I pulverized in the food processor as the rhubarb roasted. It was a light dessert, but an awesome combination of fluffy, creamy, tart, and sweet. As written the portions are pretty small. Four of us polished off all the yogurt cheesecake, and 3/4 of a pound of rhubarb (because I didn’t have a full pound on hand).

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersI froze some bagels leftover from a work event and then enjoyed them this week with butter, honey and salt, as breakfast sandwiches with chorizo and eggs, and classically with cream cheese and scallions.

 

Tofu Marinating Hack

Tofu Marinating Hack - Vegetal MattersMarinating and roasting tofu has become my go-to preparation. When I first started cooking tofu I would cut it into cubes and painstakingly fry it so that each side was perfectly golden. Often I would hover too much and try to turn them before they had time to crisp and they would break apart. I didn’t own good tongs so I would try to turn them with my fingers which led to inevitable burning (sorry, Mom).

I owe my much improved method to the Thug Kitchen cookbook, which calls for tofu to be cut into thin planks, marinated, and then roasted at 450F for 30 minutes, flipping and topping with extra marinade at 15, 10, and 5 minutes. I roast mine on a silicone mat to ease cleanup, and the result is firm but slightly crispy tofu with concentrated flavor. You can serve the planks as is, or cut then into small strips (my usual preference).

The flaw in this execution is the marinating container. I don’t own a bowl that exactly fits the tofu, so the marinade only comes part way up and I have to flip the planks around to get them evenly marinated. I’ve been doing this for years. Last week I was wishing once again that I had a container exactly the size of my tofu to marinate it in, so that I could use the minimum amount of marinade to cover maximum surface area. And then it dawned on me that I have been buying my tofu in said container every single time and then throwing it in the recycle bin before struggling with inferior containers. Really, Tori? REALLY?

So I fished the little container out of the recycle bin, washed it, put my tofu planks right back inside and covered them with the marinade. Immediate, complete coverage. Hallelujah!

This method works great with cutting the block into planks because they just snug right back up against each other. It would be a bit more of a puzzle to put together if you prefer to cut into cubes, but still possible. If someday down the line I start making my own tofu I will be right back to the container drawing board, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. (There is a tofu recipe in The Homemade Kitchen I’ve been eyeing, but I haven’t taken the plunge.) For now this simple solution makes a favorite cooking process even better. I’m sure this has been thought of before, but I can’t believe it hasn’t be written into every recipe that calls for tofu marination. Let’s change that!

(The tofu marinating in the photo is from the Thai chopped salad with tofu I made last week. I followed the recipe for the marinade, and then used the Thug Kitchen method for cooking.)

Last Week I Cooked….

Tofu bowls with miso tahini sauce. These are a regular occurrence around here. The brown rice, roasted tofu (recipe from Thug Kitchen), and sauce mostly stay the same, and the vegetables change up. This time I used red peppers, snow peas, beet stems and beet greens which I stir fried, and then added in some fresh cucumber at the end. This is a strong contender for my favorite vegan meal.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersThai chopped salad with tofu. I was really excited about tofu this week, and I bought perhaps the most gorgeous head of lettuce ever so a salad was in order. This was a new recipe though, and I can see it becoming a summer staple (especially if you have the tofu cooked ahead of time and just throw it all together on a hot night). I especially liked the sour dressing to bring everything together.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersBeans and greens with toast and olive oil. I tend to start making this a lot in the summer when I need a quick dinner and have an abundance of greens (so…all the time). I cooked a pound of navy beans in the slow cooker while I was at work, then started the recipe with a sauteed onion and proceeded with the beans and greens addition (collards this time around). I always (always) burn bread crumbs, so I’ve moved to just putting all the anchovy oil on the beans (plus I’m making more portions, 6 total so we have leftovers for lunch), and serving with some additional olive oil for dipping.

Last Week I Cooked - Vegetal MattersPizza with chorizo and kale. I used my favorite pizza dough recipe, topped with pizza sauce, sauteed chorizo, raw and finely chopped kale, and finally cheese. The time in the oven is plenty to cook the kale which doesn’t burn because it is under a cheese blanket (but some of the bits poking through do get nice and crispy.