Saturday, November 22, 2008

Annual Orphans Thanksgiving

It's no secret that I love to cook and eat. For that reason alone, it's not surprising that Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday of mine. It's a day about food and friends and being thankful for both. And my oh my, I'm grateful for all the friends and food in my life!
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Last year's meal, pictured above, was a delicious success. This year, I'm keeping some things simple but adding a few dishes to my repertoire. I'm brining and roasting a turkey in my oven, while my friend Rachel is frying a turkey on my back porch. We decided to do two turkeys to accommodate our dozen or so guests, but couldn't fit both in my oven. Frying one on the porch is a perfect solution.

In addition to the roast turkey and the fried turkey, the menu will include:

Mashed Potatoes
Corn & Green Bean Succotash
Dinner Rolls
Steamed Carrots
Cornbread Dressing
Orange Cranberry Sauce
Spinach & Parsnip Gratin
Turkey Gravy
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Crisp
Oatmeal Cream Pies

Brandon has volunteered to make sweet potatoes and Pecan Pie. Collin, Donal and Lauren all all contributing wine to the celebration. I'm sure we'll all be so stuffed and drunk that we'll need to curl up for a nap, just like Zoey.
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This is going to be a great meal not only for the food, but also for the company. Most of us live too far from our families to be able to visit them, so I'm happy we're all getting together to share a meal on a day that is about being with those you love. While I'm excited to see all of my friends, I'm especially excited for my dear friend Sara to come in from Chicago because I haven't seen her in over two years, and she is truly one of my favorite people on the planet.

I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday. Wear loose fitting pants and be careful with those turkey fryers!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cafe Estelle

Cafe Estelle is the newest in a line of popular brunch places in or around the Northern Liberties neighborhood. Unfortunately, word is slowly leaking out and Cafe Estelle is just as crazy as Honey's or A Full Plate on a Saturday or Sunday for brunch.
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Once you find the restaurant, it's located on the ground floor of a complex of condos near 4th and Callowhill, you enter through the lobby and are greated with nice smells of breakfast sausage and rich coffee. The space is slightly industrial with small touches that attempt to make you feel like you're not in the lobby of a condo. It's cute, but I'm not sure I would call it homey or friendly feeling. I received the homeiest feeling from the cute frilly aprons that the servers wore around their waists. Adding to the industrial/cafeteria nature of the place are a few off the beaten path policies that Cafe Estelle implements. You are responsible for getting your own coffee, and for getting and paying your own bill. The coffee station is directly in front of their order counter, so at busy times it can be a confusing mess. The coffee is always hot and fresh, I just wish I didn't have to get it myself. It's not laziness, but the fact that I work in food service, when I go out to pay for food, I don't want to have to get up and get it myself. I'm paying and tipping for service, so serve me, please!
Cafe Estelle
Breakfast sandwiches are only somewhat successful. Bread choices include bagels or house-made "hard" rolls, which the waitress assured me were soft and billowy, much like a croissant. Maybe their rolls are soft and billowy, but mine was hard and tasted stale. Equally annoying was the lack of veggie meat options, an additional $1 charge for lettuce and tomato, and the fact that my requested over-medium eggs were undercooked for a breakfast sandwich and ran all over my plate.
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The table shared the fruit plate which was comprised of only fresh fruit. The banana, grapes, pineapple, canteloupe and blueberries were excellent, but the pear was so hard and dry, it was inedible. If they'd not served me the pear, I would have nothing but praise for the fruit plate.
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Two eggs any style were cooked to order, but we were disappointed in the lack of toast choices and didn't feel like the tiny pucks of baguette were satisfactory for our purposes. When you order eggs over easy you need good toast to soak up all the egg yolk. These hard toast rounds helped very little with eating the rest of the dish. The best part of this breakfast was the house made breakfast sausage. It was lightly flavored like sage and had a gloriously fresh texture that I appreciated.
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Every day at Cafe Estelle there are specials which may be some of your best bets. This day's omelet was spinach, red pepper, and goat cheese. The eggs were soft and smooth, and the omelet was beautifully folded, but the filling was skimpy and the accompanying potatoes were soft and mushy.

You can't be everything to everyone, and this is true at Cafe Estelle. The restaurant's committment to sustainability is clear with it's selection of organic fair trade coffees and locally raised meats. However, in a neighborhood as diverse as Northern Liberties, you'd think that at least one vegetarian meat substitute would be offered, or that with all the great locally made bread in the city, they could give you a choice for your toast.

Cafe Estelle
444 N. 4th Street
Philadelphia PA 19123
215.925.5080
Cafe Estelle on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Inside-Out S'mores

Yesterday was my friend Karlina's birthday. She's a good friend, a crazy good knitter, and a connoisseur of all things marshmallow. In honor of Karlina, and because her birthday coincided with the premier of Top Chef Season 5, we hosted a Top Chef/"Karlina's Favorite Things" party. I decided to combine a few of Karlina's favorite things in to one easy to transport and eat treat: An Inside-Out S'more, no campfire required.
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Originally I wanted to smear marshmallow fluff between two graham crackers, but the store I visited in my haste didn't carry marshmallow fluff (travesty!) so I compromised by cutting regular Jet-Puff marshmallows in half.
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This isn't so much a recipe as a technique. I used about 20 full graham cracker sheet and broke them into their smallest segments. In separating my graham crackers I accidentally crushed a few, but those broken pieces come in handy later, so don't worry. I melted one bag of milk chocolate chips and one bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips together in the microwave and I was all set to start making candy. Using a brush, or the back of a spoon, spread chocolate on the graham quarters, place marshmallow halves side by side on the chocolate and top with another chocolate brushed graham cracker. The chocolate in this step acts a glue to keep the sandwiches together. I stuck my sandwiches in the fridge for about 20 minutes to firm up.
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After a brief chill in the fridge you're ready to dip the sandwiches in the remaining chocolate. Make sure to work quickly and shake the excess chocolate off of your sandwiches. If you broke any graham crackers while separating the sheets like I did, you can crush them up into crumb and sprinkle some crumbs on top of the sandwiches once they've been dipped in chocolate. I also sprinkled some with mini chocolate chips. Just make sure to sprinkle the crumbs or mini chips on the sandwiches before the chocolate coating has started to dry, otherwise they won't stick.
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I used a package and half of graham crackers, 25 marshmallows and 2 bags of chocolate chips and yielded just over 2 dozen of these inside-out decadent treats.
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When you bite into one the chocolate and graham crackers snap against your teeth before you're hit with the soft pillowiness of the marshmallow center.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Top Chef Season 5: New York

Top Chef: Season 5 preimers tonight on Bravo! My closest friends and I are gathering together to watch the opening episode. Because it's Karlina's birthday, we decided to celebrate Top Chef premier night with a potluck around the theme "Karlina's Favorite Things"

Tune in tonight to watch the first episode of what is sure to be a great season, even if it is in New York, again. (What's up with that anyway? Philly is right next door and a cutting edge gastronomic center, show us some love Bravo!)

*Update: Top Chef never held a whole season in NY. I'm just bitter and ranting.

In the hours before the premier, check out Bravo's website for complete information on past seasons and read contestant bios for the current season.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chile in Philadelphia

Did you know that nearly 65% of all the fruit that arrives in Philadelphia through the Delaware River port is imported from Chile? I know we're all ga ga for local fruit and produce, but the winter time is pretty barren when it comes to fruit and veggies in this neck of the woods, so we're lucky that other options exist and without Chile we might have a higher incidence of scurvy. In honor of Chile and they're fabulous fruit and vegetable export trade, this week is ripe with events, some specifically food related!

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Viva Chile in Philadelphia! is an event organized by the Embassy of Chile in Washington D.C., the Consulate of Chile in Philadelphia, Trade Commission of Chile in New York and the Chilean and American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia (CACC)in order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the CACC.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will make a proclamation naming this week in November the “Viva Chile in Philadelphia!” week for Philadelphia. He will be joined by Chilean Ambassador Mariano Fernandez who will honor Mayor Nutter with the Orden de Bernardo O’Higgins, Grado Comendador, Chile’s highest commendation for non-Chilean citizens. The award, which is approved by the President of Chile, is the first such commendation from Chile a Philadelphia Mayor has ever received.

Now, back to the food. The Restaurant School is a local organization throwing some support to Chile in Philadelphia! by creating special menus highlighting Chilean wines, pisco sours and various Chilean foods. The Courtyard Restaurant at the Restaurant School will be serving the Chilean menu from Saturday, November 15 – Friday, November 21, so make a reservation now.

If you're a student at The Restaurant School, Chef Pilar Rodriguez will be offering a cooking demo featuring distinct and delicious products from Chile on Friday, November 14th from 3pm to 5pm. Unfortunately, this event is not open to the public.

Loads of other events involving Art, Music, and Business are all on the schedule. So check out the daily schedule here.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Capogiro

Most Philadelphians would agree that Capogiro crafts and serves some of the richest and most uniquely flavored gelato in the city. I count Capogiro among the handful of places that out of town guests simply must visit when they visit me in Philly. These recent cups of creamy goodness came from a visit to Capogiro with my friend Gina, who has spent the past four years in Europe doing the graduate school thing and is therefore well schooled in gelato as well as arts management. Whenever possible Capogiro uses locally grown fresh produce and herbs in their concoctions and have made over 350 flavors to date.
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Gina and I decided to divide and conquer, each choosing two different flavors to squeeze into our small cups and then share, thereby sampling a diverse selection. I suggest dining out with friends like this whenever possible and avoid eating with those who don't like to share in such a manner, they're selfish. Anyway, this cup shows the Saigon Cinnamon and Vanilla.
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Many many creative flavors are available at Capogiro, and the menu offerings change daily. The above cup is filled with Cappuccino as well as Macadamia Nut. Sometimes you can be craving a flavor and it won't be available at any of the Capogiro locations. Make sure to bookmark their Daily Flavor List if you have your heart set on a particular flavor, but don't be afraid to just pop in and ask for a taste, you might be surprised by combinations like Beet & Orange or Creamy Cashew.

Capogiro Gelateria
119 S. 13th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 351-0900

or

117 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 636-9250
Capogiro Gelateria on Urbanspoon