Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey and pumpkin "neck" soup


I hate letting food go to waste, so when presented with the opportunity to give a good home to the turkey carcass offered by my mom on our way out the door following a delightful Thanksgiving dinner, I couldn't say no. So while a large portion of America was standing in line for low-priced LCD TVs this Black Friday morning, I was standing over my dearly departed poultry friend, slowly simmering away into a sumptuous broth. Broth is great to have around and all, but I wanted to put some of it to good use right away – so with the help of a crazy-looking long neck pumpkin we got from our CSA, I whipped up this soup.

I wanted to avoid the cliched cinnamon-nutmeg-clove "pumpkiny" spices in this soup, so I instead opted to take it in a more piquant direction with the addition of some cumin and a dried red chile. Some chopped cilantro added at the last minute brought some freshness to the bowl, and the addition of some frozen corn made for a good textural contrast.

One turkey carcass
1 medium onion, diced
1 "neck" of a long neck pumpkin, or half a butternut or acorn squash, diced
1/2 green bell pepper
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme, or about 1/4 tsp dried
1 tsp cumin
1 dried red chile (optional)
1/2 cup corn (frozen is fine)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Do what you have to do to fit the turkey carcass into a large stockpot, cover with water, and slowly bring to a simmer. Cook for about 2 hours until the broth develops a rich golden color, skimming off fat, foam and bubbles as they rise to the surface. Remove bones, drain, and let cool. Pick the remaining meat from the bones and reserve. When broth has cooled, skim fat from the surface.

Cook the onion and bell pepper over medium heat in a little oil until translucent. Add the diced pumpkin (or squash), bay leaves, cumin and thyme, and season with salt and pepper. Let cook for a minute or so, then add reserved turkey broth to cover, plus a little more to get it to the desired soupy consistency. Bring to a simmer for 15 minutes or so, then add shredded turkey meat and the chile pepper, if using. Cook until pumpkin/squash is tender, then add corn and cook until corn is heated through. Remove bay leaves, thyme (if fresh) and pepper, then add cilantro just before serving.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Winter Citrus Salad


Well, technically it's not winter yet, but we were surprised by some random snow flurries falling outside while we prepared this tasty and refreshing fruit salad to bring to Thanksgiving. It's pretty simple, but the interplay of flavors, all tied together by some spearmint, gave it a real sophisticated taste, and the layered presentation in a trifle bowl sure was elegant. Here's how we did it:

3 oranges
4 tangerines
Pineapple (we cheated and got some pre-cut pineapple; probably around a pound?)
1 pomegranate
Spearmint leaves

Supreme the oranges and tangerines, and combine in a bowl. Extract all the seeds from the pomegranate and reserve. (A good trick for doing this, as seen on Good Eats, is to break the fruit apart in a bowl underwater. This keeps juice from flying everywhere, and the pith/membrane all float to the top, making it easy to skim off when you're through.) Cut the pineapple into tiny planks about one inch by a quarter inch by an eighth-inch thick. Chiffonade a good handful of washed spearmint leaves.

Drain all the excess juice from the oranges/tangerines and pineapple (save this for drinking later, it's pretty tasty). Add half of the mint to the citrus and half to the pineapple, tossing each fruit with the mint to distribute.

To assemble, in a clear-sided bowl, make a layer of the orange-tangerine mixture. Sprinkle about half of the pomegranate pips in a ring around the inside edge of the bowl. Add the pineapple on top, then top with the remainder of the pomegranate. Chill in the fridge for a few hours before serving to allow flavors to mingle. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Review: Fish

The first time we went to Fish was on a whim. It's only a few blocks from where we live, so we took a walk over without a reservation and sat at the bar, where they serve the full menu. On the strength of that first experience, we've been back twice, and never been disappointed.

It's a bit shocking the first time you go in if you'd ever been to Astral Plane, the stuck-in-the-70s bar and restaurant that used to occupy the space on Lombard Street. Gone are the tapestries hanging from the ceiling and the pictures of Barbra Streisand in the bathroom; in its place is an understated and thoroughly modern, yet comfortable, space with no extraneous elements to distract from the star of the show: some of the best seafood in the city.

There's a list of thoughtfully composed cocktails to start things off, from lighter fare like a Pimm's cup (made with homemade ginger ale) or grapefruit martini, to heavy-hitters like the Old Fashioned and a Manhattan (whose sweetness and alcohol-soaked cherries proved a little controversial). On our most recent visit I had my first Sidecar, which here is made with Armagnac rather than the usual Cognac – refreshing and nicely balanced. A nice selection of wines from the glass and select (mostly craft) beers rounds out the drinks list.

Though I haven't had oysters at Fish yet, there's always a nice selection, and this time for $3.50 a pop we could have tried Belons, a variety of which only 5,000 are produced each year. Even if you're not into raw mollusks, the first courses at Fish allow a variety of shellfish and other sea critters to shine. I had tender rock shrimp, tossed with small gnudi in a sauce with crushed almonds. The huge, fresh-as-can-be mussels come in a coconut milk and panang curry broth that will have you asking for more bread to sop up all the juice. The tender octopus, served on a bed of artichoke, pulled lamb shank and chick pea, was a little too charred for one of our guests, but I personally liked its aggressive caramelization.

Please note that if you go to Fish, someone at your table must get the skate entree. This is not optional. The skate itself is cooked perfectly, and it rests atop a magical amalgam of melted-down leeks and spaetzle, which is further embellished tableside with a deeply savory Parmesan broth. Oh yes, and there are also some shaved truffles on top, which on our most recent visit made the dish attain nearly over-the-top levels of luxuriousness. This is simply one of the best seafood dishes you'll ever have (and it's almost enough to make one reconsider the taboo against cheese on fish).

Our waiter informed us that the "pastrami crust" on the mahi mahi was not made of the meat itself, but just the usual blend of spices that goes on that deli classic. It worked surprisingly well, adding spice and crunch to the fish, under which you'll find a pile of irresistibly sweet and sour braised red cabbage. The menu changes frequently, but aside from these two dishes you'll find another three or four mains that are doubtlessly just as well-executed.

Desserts, made by the chef's mother, were a little more hit-and-miss. My pumpkin tart was really tasty in the middle, but the dark spiced-wafer crust was just too thick along the sides. The chocolate truffle torte (with pretzel crust!) was super-dense but tasty. There's always a great selection of homemade ice creams and sorbets as well.

Service is always perfectly fine and professional. Prices are a little on the high side (entrees all hover around $30), but given the quality of the ingredients and the level of execution, it's well worth it. If you like seafood, Fish is a must-visit, and even if you're not, the sheer deliciousness of Fish's dishes may awaken the seafood lover in you.


Fish on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Free Meal Report: Amuse

Unlike the majority of our restaurant reviews, the following reflects a tasting that was provided free of charge (to myself and number of other Philly food bloggers). Grateful as I was for the opportunity, I will attempt to prevent the special nature of this meal from coloring my critique.

Amuse is located in the lobby of the recently opened Le Méridien Hotel, located just north of City Hall on Arch Street. Formerly a YMCA, the Starwood hotel chain has refashioned the space into a pseudo-Euro boutique hotel, and Amuse is given the place of honor just beyond the front doors. Hotel restaurants tend not to have a sparkling reputation for quality, with a few exceptions, so I was curious to see if Amuse would distinguish itself when I was presented with the opportunity to sample some of their "Fall menu". Unfortunately, though there were a few standout dishes, I found the food ambitious, but mostly unremarkable.

Our amuse-bouche was a champagne-infused grape, served on a spoon with tiny basil flowers. The fizzy grape sensation was interesting, but the tannins in the grape skin and the size of the grape itself made for a somewhat unbalanced bite. I thought a Caprese salad was an interesting choice for a fall menu; while the "house-pulled" buffalo mozzarella was creamy and delicious, the tomatoes didn't have much flavor, as you might expect given that it's the middle of November. A crown of scallop shells atop a seafood medley with chorizo and sweet peas made for a nice presentation, but under the crown of shells, tough bay scallops and stuck-together pappardelle put a damper on the undersea festivities. Probably the best appetizer we sampled was the pork shank ravioli served with a crispy spiral of decent homemade pancetta, black trumpet mushrooms and a Port syrup, even if the ravioli dough was a little tough.

Luckily, some of the mains were more satisfying. The top dish of the night for me was the giant bone-in veal chop, cooked perfectly to a juicy light pink all the way through, embellished with garlic confit and copious black pepper that complemented the veal's flavor nicely. The honey-roasted chicken was flavorful and boasted a nicely crisp skin, even if the meat was slightly on the tough side.

The vaunted steak frites, proclaimed as the specialty of the house on Amuse's menu, disappointed me somewhat. Perhaps it was a consequence of the steak sitting a little too long while it endured photo sessions from my fellow diners, but despite having a rich color, the steak's exterior lacked the excitingly crackly, salty crust that can provide such a nice contrast to the meat inside (which, in this case, was slightly spongey). The frites were also a tad limp, and no one seemed to care for the intensely green and overly tarragon-y pesto that was served on the side.

The broth for the bouillabaisse was flat and lacking in the richness that makes for a really good bowl, and the vegetarian (actually vegan) dish we sampled, a cylindrical ratatouille that seemed to be attempting to mimic confit byaldi, instead came out looking and tasting more like the vegetarian dish at a wedding. (The "tomato fondue" served on the side of this one was very rich and flavorful, but was uncomfortably reminiscent of tomato paste.)

I'm guessing Amuse doesn't have a dedicated pastry chef, because the desserts all seemed to come out of the "Sweet Cooking for Savory Chefs" file. And in what is apparently a corporate policy, they are served with a spork, which you'd think might be fun, but turns out to be incredibly awkward. The chocolate pot au crème was tasty, though very thick and served a bit too cold and with the distracting crunch of mini chocolate chips on top. The tarte tatin had a crust that was almost impossible to spork my way through to try a bite, and an almost lemony tartness replaced the rich caramelly flavor I was expecting. There was also some sort of berry phyllo Napoleon contraption which I feel bad to even comment on. Bottom line: if you do eat here, skip dessert.

Service was quite friendly, though our servers repeatedly neglected to bring us any sort of serving utensils for the dishes (granted the situation was a little unusual since we were dining family-style).

Although nothing we were served was really outright bad, there is plenty of room for improvement at Amuse. I hate to sound like Gordon Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares (UK, at least), but some benefit could be gained by simplifying some of the overwrought dishes and really refining the execution of the elements that remain. Things like tomatoes and blueberries in mid-November have to go overboard if you are making any pretense of seasonal cooking. I don't think that out-of-town hotel guests will necessarily be disappointed if they come down to the lobby for dinner, as long as they're unaware of what they're missing at some superior French spots in town. For us natives, certainly not worth a special trip.

Amuse on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 15, 2010

PIZZA

So lately it's been Pizza Fridays around Casa I'll Eat You. And why get delivery when you can make your own?

I used to have a very good response to that. The homemade pizzas I remember from my youth were frankly a little disappointing (but this was before we really knew what we were doing). Besides, any decent pizza place has equipment and expertise beyond what is probably available to you at home. Ovens that get hotter, dough that stretches farther, shredded cheese that's even shreddier - how can you compete?

You compete by not competing. You embrace the pizza that you can make, because you can make it however you like, and without having to fight over toppings or tip the delivery man. And with a little practice, you will enjoy it just as much as that hot round disc that comes to your house in the cardboard box, or maybe even a bit more.

You start with the dough, and you start the night before. The recipe I use is adapted from the Silver Spoon, and it's easy to remember. This will make enough for two pizzas of a "personal" size, so dinner for two:

1 1/4 C flour
pinch salt
1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 C water

For the flour, I like to use maybe 2/3 bread flour, 1/3 all-purpose, and 1/3 whole wheat. Mix the dry stuff, add the water and then let it rock out on the dough hook for five minutes or so. You'll probably have to adjust the amounts of flour and water as you go in order to get a dough that holds together but isn't too wet and sticky. Form into two balls, put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge. Go to bed.

The next evening, take the dough out to get up to temperature. If your dough balls are not perfectly round, here's your chance to make things right - uneven dough balls mean uneven pizza crusts and the potential for heartbreaking catastrophic dough tears.

Get your oven real hot. Five hundred degrees is great; you can push it to 550 if your oven allows. And make sure you get a pizza stone ... it makes a big difference.

Forming the crust is the fun part. Relax and be gentle with the dough. Work on a well-floured surface, and spin the dough as you push out towards the edges to get it started. Then, do whatever you have to do to stretch it into the size and shape you want. Here it is on the peel all ready to be topped.


Now think about toppings. On this particular night, we did one white and one red. The white pizza features mozzarella, some grated Parmigiano Regianno, a touch of diced-up sopressata, arugula, and an egg. First the cheeses go on, and into the oven it goes. Here's a sneak peek complete with dramatic oven lighting.


After five minutes or so, I threw on the arugula, and then after a few more minutes, cracked the egg on top. Once the egg was set, out the pizza came.


This was tasty, but to be honest it was cooked a little too long, and the crust became a little crackery. Not having the wet sauce on the pizza contributes to its drying out as well. The egg is a great touch on this one, though as we know most things are better with an egg on them.


A more traditional peppers and onion pizza was the second. I don't sweat it too much about the sauce; it's something you can make batches of and freeze, or just whip out some tomato paste and water in a pinch. During the summer we made sauce from fresh tomatoes cooked down and run through a food mill.


A word about cheese, too: fresh mozzarella is great, but on pizza it can have its drawbacks. You may find yourself stuck with a pizza dotted with "islands" of cheese that has melted in place if you don't cut it up enough. For everyday pizzamaking, shredded mozzarella or whatever is fine.

Enjoy and experiment! We like making pizza when we have people over ... the only dilemma that comes up is how to hang out with your guests in the dining room while you're back and forth to the kitchen trying to stretch out the next crust. We already have two stones so we can do two at once, but any other suggestions? I may look into having a pizza oven built in the dining room ...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Review: Bomb Bomb

Growing up in South Philly, I was always intrigued by the neon sign for the Bomb Bomb Bar-B-Q Grill on Wolf Street. For those who haven't seen it, well, it's two bombs, of the Wile E. Coyote/it's-1989-and-your-Mac-has-crashed variety, stacked on top of each other, with the word "BOMB" inside each one. Not until recently did I learn that the name derives from actual explosive events in the restaurant's (distant) past, which makes the place all the more enticing. But despite all of these alluring qualities, I'd never been to the place until this weekend.

There used to be more places like Bomb Bomb in South Philly – there was the South Philly Grille at 12th & Mercy Streets (near Snyder), Sam's Cobblestone, the Royal Villa – corner bars in the front with dining rooms in the back, serving up red-gravy Italian like mussels (red or white) and whatever parmagiana. Though a lot of these places have disappeared, from the looks of the Saturday night crowd absolutely packing the small place, the Bomb is still thriving. Part of the appeal might be that Bomb Bomb puts a twist on the gravy bar institution by offering BBQ ribs along with the Italian fare.

So after 45 minutes or so waiting in the tiny bar area, we were seated in the small dining room, which has maybe 7 or 8 tables. The atmosphere is cozy and homey, with guys like Frank, Perry and Dean playing from the speakers, and a statue of Groucho Marx perched on the toilet tank in the restroom. The menu is right on target for this kind of place: there's ravioli, gnocchi, mussels, the parmagianas of all kinds, and various configurations of seafood with spaghetti. And then, the ribs. Our dining companions both got half-racks of ribs, I got the ribs and chicken combo, and Lauren had the eggplant parmagiana.

The eggplant was prepared in a way that showed admirable restraint. Cut thin and lengthwise, it wasn't oversauced and cheesed into submission like a casserole, but rather breaded, fried till crisp (but not greasy), and topped with just enough sauce and mozzarella to make it satisfying but not overwhelming. The side of spaghetti was cooked nicely al dente and made me consider a pasta dish for my next visit.

Now, the ribs ... I'm not an expert on the subject, but I think that barbecue purists might want to order something else, or at least suspend their uppityness for the night. These are not your smoked-all-day, dry-rubbed style ribs. They're remarkably tender baby backs, copiously sauced with a sweet and spicy concoction, then finished on the grill, where the sugars in the sauce char and blacken in spots. Cliched as it may be to say, the meat really does fall off the bone, and we were hungry enough that they disappeared pretty fast (along with the salt-and-pepper fries served alongside them). If you're coming with a group, someone ought to order them so you can at least give them a try. The chicken, by comparison, was a little disappointing; a tad overcooked and dry. Stick to the ribs if it's BBQ you're after.

Service was extremely friendly and our waitress certainly was a character. Overall the atmosphere is very laid-back, friendly and welcoming. It's easy to see why the Bomb Bomb is still going strong when some of its comrades have fizzled out. Here's hoping business keeps booming. Sorry.

Bomb Bomb Bar-B-Q Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 8, 2010

I'll Drink You (Eventually): Brown Ale


Long-time fans may already know that we here at I'll Eat You engage in the production of adult beverages from time to time. Lately, with the aid of a beermaking kit from our good friend J (who was behind Project Manhattan), I've been trying to make a habit of brewing my own beer.

For those who don't know much about the practice, making beer at home is really quite easy if you have good directions and access to good supplies. There are a ton of places online where you kind find recipes for homebrews of every variety under the sun, and in Philly, we're lucky enough to have a few spots to buy homebrew supplies. For the sakes of proximity and cost-effectiveness, I got my ingredients at Barry's Homebrew Outlet, home of the always knowledgeable and affable Barry.

Back in June I made a batch of Saison, which came out pretty well. The flavor wasn't terribly strong, but it did have some of the desirable "funky" characteristics of a Saison, owing partly to the unique strain of yeast used in its production. It took longer than expected to carbonate, but Barry advises me that this may have been because I left too much empty space in the bottles.

So I will know better this time, when I bottle my brown ale in a few weeks. My hope is to have it ready in time for Christmas so I can give some away as gifts. I started with this recipe I found on beertools.com.

The color and richness in this beer will (hopefully) come from the dark crystal and chocolate malts that were steeped in the water as it came to a boil. Six pounds of light powdered malt extract provide the rest of the beer's backbone and the delicious sugars that my battalions of yeast will feed upon, creating glorious alcohol in their wake. The hops are of the Styrian Goldings, Willamette and Tettnanger varieties. In a departure from the recipe and in an effort to make it a little more holiday-ish, I did add a small amount of spices at the end of the boil. (If the beer turns out well, I'll let you know what they were.)

So check back in a few weeks for an update ... in the meantime, I'll be on the lookout for bubbling and the mildly intoxicating aroma of yeast doing their thing!