Monday, January 26, 2009
The tiny space that houses Carman's Country Kitchen can barely contain the amount of folk art and attitude that belong to Carman and her staff. Her minuscule kitchen puts out four creative seasonal combinations a week for $12 each. The service is friendly and personal. Your server will introduce himself by name and ask you and your friends your names as well. If Carman has time there will be a some cozy small talk and probably a little sass. They brew great coffee, but all other beverages are bottled and they welcome you to BYOB.
The corner spot literally has four tables and a small counter, so it can't accommodate a large group, don't even try. In warmer months, Carman puts a table in the bed of her pick-up truck (the red truck with yellow door) and serves up to six more more eager mouths.
Omelets are something Carman elevates to an extreme level. Her choices are adventurous but border on too busy for my breakfast tastes. Red wine poached mushrooms and goat cheese with herbs was a complex filling that probably would have been more successful with one less ingredient. Sides will set you back another five dollars but offerings such as the beautiful sausage patty, pictured above, are what keep me going back for more. A warm bottle of maple syrup comes to the table with your meal and a small pour of Grade B goodness on a bite of that sausage is definitely something I wish I had more often on weekend mornings.
Carman does french toast in a number of ways, all are delicious and made with thick custard soaked slices of challah bread. Pictured above is a tangy combination of strawberries and pineapple with lime syrup. I've also been lucky enough to devour the delicious Clementine, honey and coconut combination Carman whipped up one day. If you love French Toast, Carman will always surprise you with a funky new topping combination.
Pancakes are equally adventurous in composition. Light fluffy cakes are filled with spiced poached pears and topped with persimon marscapone cheese. Any pancake topping can also be served on top of a crunchy Belgian style waffle. If you're lucky enough to dine at Carman's when she's offering baked bean and smoked cheese waffles or raspberry pancakes with fig jam, then you'll be hooked too.
Overall, the food here is beyond creative and usually the seemingly bizarre combinations really please. It's a bit on the pricey side, brunch for two can run over thirty dollars. Add that to the possibility of a wait and you might just want to hit the Oregon Diner if you're strapped for cash or need to eat immediately. Save Carman's for the days when you've got a few extra bucks and a few extra minutes to hang out and enjoy the atmosphere.
Carman's Country Kitchen
1301 S 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19148
Center City District's Restaurant Week started last night and in a move likely aligned to spur spending in this time of economic decline, most restaurants are participating for a full two weeks instead of just one. Check out the Foobooz guide to restaurant week for full details. They have links to restaurant week menus at participating restaurants as well as tidbits of information on extra courses, veggie options, and which menus they think are the most drool-worthy.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
I'm lucky enough to work twice a week as the baker/dessert-maker at A Full Plate Cafe, which, in addition to their unique southern comfort food menu, also does amazing catering. Occasionally a job will require a cake or special dessert which falls under my responsibility. A nice woman came into the cafe a few weeks ago inquiring about whether I could make a cake in the likeness of a caterpillar from Baby Einstein for her daughter's first birthday party. I looked up an image and decided that with the addition of a few new supplies to my kitchen I could totally make an awesome caterpillar cake, so I did.
I think it rocks. But I couldn't have done it without a few things. I acquired (5) 6X2 inch Decorator Preferred Round cake pans which I used to make the body of the caterpillar. I made each section of the caterpillar with two cakes and filled them with Avocado Icing or Cream Cheese Icing depending upon the cake flavor. I made three sections of Maple Butternut Squash cake and one each of chocolate and vanilla.
I achieved the vivid frosting colors using Wilton gel icing colors in Lemon Yellow, Royal Blue, Violet, Rose and Moss Green.
The entire cake is edible, save for the large cutting board upon which I built the cake and the lollipop sticks. The "dirt" is chocolate frosting, and all the facial decorations came from The Little Candy Shoppe on Liberties Walk.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Sushi is one of those cuisines that people obsess about. At first I thought it was a way for individuals to appear trendy in front of their friends and co-workers, but constantly talking about and eating sushi might be more like an addiction for some. On top of that, there are over 90 sushi restaurants in the Philadelphia area, this gives major fuel to the debate over which restaurant has the BEST sushi in Philly. This is a not a review of the BEST sushi restaurant in Philadelphia, I wouldn't dream of trying to convince a sushi-head to go and try anything other than their favorite spot for fear of the backlash. What follows is a review of a nice, quiet, clean, place to get fresh sushi that hasn't let me down upon repeat visits and I suggest you try it next time you're craving sushi without all the fuss of one of the bigger names. Uzu is a small BYOB serving up delicious sushi and Japanese fare.
Steamed gyoza dumplings are a traditional starter, filled with seasoned vegetables and shrimp, they're little pockets of scallion flavored dough that just scream for a dip in soy before landing lightly on your tongue.
The most important aspect of good sushi is the freshness of the products that go into making it, that's not a secret. Lots of places prep their veggies and fish too early and use them all day long, not the case at Uzu. Everything included in your rolls is prepared the moment after you order it, and served to your immediately upon it's completion. To top it all off, the prices are a good 10% to 15% less than you'd pay at some of the bigger, more well known Japanese restaurants, so go ahead and order a nice variety, you won't be sorry.
Even friends who aren't so into the sushi scene can still find appetizing choices on the menu. This simple dish of chicken teriyaki and asparagus is given a special twist with the arrangement of the food on the plate. Not sure how much a non-fish eater appreciates her chicken breast formed into the shape of a fish, but I found it adorable, and tasty.
104 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Friday, January 16, 2009
My friend Lindsey is an awesome personal trainer here in Philadelphia and she is offering to train you to get in shape for the 2009 Broad Street Run! Check out her website OutFit for more details on her traning programs. Below is the information on her distance run training services. I'm going to do it! Please join me!
2009 Broad Street Run Training Team
OutFit, Fitness Outside the Gym
Lindsey Schweiger, B.S. Exercise Science
The Broad Street Run is the largest 10-mile race in the United States, last year attracting over 19,000 runners. As a four-time finisher of this race and proud Philadelphian, I am inviting you to experience the sense of personal accomplishment and warmth of community that comes with preparing for and participating in this powerful event.
In training for an endurance race like the Broad Street Run, each of us faces a challenge. For some, ten miles may feel like an insurmountable distance to traverse. For others, it may feel realistic but confused with logistics: When should I run? How fast? What do I wear? What should I eat before? And still others may feel that they are practiced runners who want to improve their performance.
No matter what your hurdle in 2009 - train under the guidance of a running coach with the OutFit team! Feel the camaraderie and support of peers as we meet once each week for a "long run" group training. Explore your individual commitment further, following your personalized running program, with runs of shorter duration in between our meetings.
Make a commitment to improving your health and fitness level. Make new friends! Have an experience - though the training process can be tough, it is fun, enlightening, and rewarding.
And the race itself is AWESOME. Sign up!
2009 Broad Street Run Training Package:
Ten team trainings - see schedule below
Personalized running program - one of the following: beginner (for those who expect to walk/jog), intermediate (for those who would like to jog the duration), advanced (for those with a time-oriented goal)
Team T-shirt for race day
Weekly tips via email covering footwear, nutrition, injury prevention, etc.
All team meetings will be at Lloyd Hall, at the end of Boathouse Row:
Sunday 2/22 - 9 am
Sunday 3/1 - 9 am
Thursday 3/5 - 6 pm
Sunday 3/15 - 3 pm
Sunday 3/22 - 9 am
Sunday 3/29 - 9 am
Thursday 4/2 - 6 pm
Sunday 4/12 - 9 am
Sunday 4/19 - 9am
Sunday 4/26 - 9am
Sunday 5/3 - 8:30 am - BROAD STREET RUN
For more information about Lindsey and OutFit, click here. To sign up or inquire about this program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
From The Sugar:
When I stumbled across a recipe for Amazing Black Bean Brownies on 101 Cookbooks, I knew one day I would give it a try simply for the weird factor. At that point in my life I didn't know I had diabetes and didn't even notice the inclusion of agave nectar as the sweetener. I've been playing around with agave in baking and have had good results. It's 25% sweeter than sugar, so if you're swapping one cup of sugar in a recipe, use 3/4 of a cup of agave. The glycemic index of agave nectar is 27, extremely low compared to sugar or honey. On top of that, these brownies contain no flour and instead are loaded with black beans. That means high fiber!
These brownies are dark and rich with chocolate flavor, but they're purposely not too sweet. I like my chocolate dark and with little added sugar or milk to dilute the flavor of chocolate, therefore its very important to use the best chocolate you can find when you make this recipe. I made enough changes to the recipe that I'm publishing my version here, but if you're interested in more baking with agave nectar, check out the recipe's origin in Baking with Agave Nectar by Ania Catalano.
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (I used Ghirardelli Unsweetened baking bar, chopped)
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups canned black beans (look for a variety that has no salt added)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
¼ cup instant espresso powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup light agave nectar
In a large microwave safe bowl melt the butter and chocolate at 30 second intervals until completely smooth.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the beans, 1/2 cup of the walnuts, vanilla extract, almond extract, and about 1/2 cup of the melted chocolate mixture. Process until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. The mixture will be thick.
Add the remaining walnuts, the espresso powder, and salt to the remaining melted chocolate and mix well.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs until light and creamy, about 1 minutes. Add the agave nectar and mix to combine.
Add the bean mixture to the chocolate mixture and stir until completely incorporated. Reserve 1/2 cup of the egg mixture and pour the remainder in the bean/chocolate mixture and mix well. Spread this batter into a 9 X 13 brownie pan that you've lined with parchment or non-stick aluminum foil. Beat the remaining 1/2 cup of egg mixture on high until thick and creamy, about 1 minute. Drizzle the thickened egg mixture over the top of the brownies and drag a toothpick or cake tester (I used a chopstick) through the batter and egg mix to create a marbled effect. (As you can see from the above photo, I probably didn't swirl my egg mixture in enough, but the end result wasn't totally unattractive, and the recipe still worked) Bake at 325 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes. Mine were done right at 30 minutes. When done the brownies will be slightly browned on top, but will still feel soft. In fact, these brownies will still feel soft until refrigerated for a few hours, and if you can wait overnight. Don't attempt to slice until refrigerated for at least 3 hours.
Makes 24 brownies.
Each brownie contains 14 grams of fat, 196 calories, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, and 4 grams of protein.
Monday, January 12, 2009
El Camino Real is the latest restaurant venture from Owen Kamihira, who already is responsible for one of Northern Liberties most cherished gems, Bar Ferdinand. El Camino Real's head chef, Jen Zavala strives to provide quality Northern Mexican food as well as real Texas BBQ all within a setting that makes you feel like you're nowhere near Philadelphia. So many appetizers and small bites are available that entrees will have to wait for a second post.
The chips and salsa aren't free, but for just $2.50 your server will bring you an endless supply of lightly seasoned chips and two salsas for dipping. I preferred the green tomatillo salsa over the lightly smoked tomato salsa, but both were good and upon repeat visits have been just as fresh tasting as the opening week.
Nachos come heaped with refried or black beans (your choice), cotija cheese, lettuce, guacamole, tomato and jalapenos. For just a few bucks more you can add the meat of your choice and make this starter more of a meal.
Vegetarian wings are chewy seitan strips, crisped in the fryer then smothered in homemade sauce. Served with a side of ranch or blue cheese as well as carrot and celery strips, even the non-vegetarian will find this well-executed vegetarian snack a satisfying accompaniment to one of El Camino's delicious margaritas.
An adorable cast iron kettle comes stuffed with macaroni and cheese goodness. The macaroni was a bit overcooked but that was more than made up for with the flavorful combination of creamy cheese and spicy peppers hidden beneath a crunchy breadcrumb crust.
Spicy dill pickle slices are lightly breaded and fried crisp. They're crispy on the outside but warm, soft and vinegary on the inside, not everyones cup of tea, but I really liked them. I enjoyed the buttermilk onion rings more than any other appetizer on the menu. The onions were sweet, cut thick and enveloped in a crust that wasn't so thick that you pulled the onion out of the breading when you took a bite. A house made smoked ketchup is served with the onion rings and makes the perfect dipping sauce.
Jalapeno poppers were some of the spiciest I've tasted. I'm a fan of spicy things, but these may have been a little too hot for me. The apricot chutney was a good contrast to the spicy jalapenos, but neither the sweetness of the chutney nor the creaminess of the cheesy filling did anything to squelch the heat of the fresh jalapeno peppers. Pig wings are the porcine version of the chicken wing. I believe they are the shanks from the rear leg trimmed and frenched. They are tender and flavorful when cooked correctly, and at El Camino Real, they certainly are cooked well.
House made ice creams pepper the dessert menu. My favorite is the coffee flavored ice cream, served with the Benuelos, small sugary doughnuts, the ice cream is smooth, creamy and richly coffee-flavored. I found the benuelos a bit tough, but would order the ice cream a la carte again and again.
El Camino Real
1040 N. 2nd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Monday, January 05, 2009
I did loads of baking over the holiday season, but of all the tried and true recipes I used, this recipe for Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies was hands down my favorite and also a new addition to my recipe box. These cookies are chewy and moist on the inside and crisp and crunchy on the outside due to a rolling in raw sugar before baking.
We can thank my friend Michelle for this recipe, she snagged it from a Mennonite cookbook of her mother's, and was kind enough to share it with me. The recipe as written below has only a minor variation from the version Michelle passed on to me, and produces 6 dozen cookies, but can easily be cut in half for a more manageable number of cookies.
1 1/2 cups of shortening (I used butter flavored Crisco sticks)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup of dark molasses
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
some finely grated ginger (this is an addition from Michelle's mother, so there isn't an exact amount, I would say I added about a teaspoon, and the cookies were very gingery)
Turbinado sugar (enough for rolling)
In a stand mixer, cream the shortening and sugar. Add the molasses and eggs and mix until well blended. Sift the flour and measure 4 1/2 cups into a separate bowl. Add the spices, salt, and baking soda and whisk to combine. Turn the mixer to low or stir, and add the flour slowly until well mixed. Stir in the freshly grated ginger and chill the dough for at least an hour.
After the dough has chilled for an hour, roll tablespoonfuls of the dough into balls and roll the balls in the turbinado sugar to completely coat. Place the dough balls about an inch apart on a greased or parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
The cookies should puff up and crack. When the cookies are done the cracks should still look a little wet, but the outside should look dry. Let cookies cool for two minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring to a rack to cool completely.