Coffee Caption Contest Creates Comment Chaos

I hope so, at least.

I’m trying to quit drinking coffee, because I have Crohn’s Disease. But honestly, I’m not trying very hard, because coffee is delicious. It’s a problem, folks.

And then I found this, via FunOnTheNet:

Tell me that’s not begging for some creative captioning. Because, people, it’s Friday. And I haven’t had my fish sandwich yet.

Give it a shot!



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Irish Cream

For about 15 years now, it has been a tradition of mine to make homemade Irish Cream for family and friends. An old friend gave me the recipe, which I’ve tweaked here and there over the years. It doesn’t have the shelf life of commercial Irish Creams like Bailey’s. It should last a couple of weeks if you manage not to drink it over that period of time. In my humble opinion, the homemade variety is creamier and more flavorful.

One thing. Yes, this is made with raw eggs. I know some people are a bit squeamish about that but if you use fresh eggs it should be fine. Plus, the whiskey acts as a preservative. But if you must leave the eggs out, add a bit more heavy cream and blend a little longer.

Here are the ingredients:

2 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup Irish Whiskey

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

1 tbsp instant coffee (one of its few uses) You could let a couple tablespoons of dark roast coffee steep in a couple tablespoons of water overnight. Strain out the grounds and use the liquid. For me, since it is not a central flavor, the instant coffee works fine.

1 tbsp chocolate syrup

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp almond extract

Just add all ingredients into a blender and blend at high speed for 30-45 seconds. You can serve right away but it will taste even better then next day.

I like it over ice or as a creamer in coffee. Enjoy!

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Ida Mae’s Bruncherie: Not just for brunch anymore.

Ida Mae's

I’ve been a fan of Ida Mae’s since it opened: before, even, since we live around the corner and waited impatiently for a year or so before it finally opened. We saw the deliveries from Greensgrow, our neighborhood farm, and we watched the space transform. We attended the opening day reception, and watched our Fishtown neighbors pile in to add their good wishes to the chorus. I’m not unbiased here. I really want Ida Mae’s to succeed.

So you can imagine our trepidation the first time we stopped in for breakfast, and again last night when we first tried the new dinner service: what if it sucks? What if it doesn’t live up to our high hopes?

I’m happy to report that Ida Mae’s does indeed fulfill our hopes for it. If you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s worth the trip to Fishtown, especially for dinner.

The space is cheerful and clean, with high tables, a long breakfast counter, and a backroom cozily decorated with stained glass and a fireplace. Coffee mugs feature Ida Mae’s logo, a shamrock, and some seriously good coffee.

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Brunch at Cuba Libre

Joe and I are brunch eaters. I’ve come to believe that brunch is the best of all possible meals. First of all, it’s the meal of leisure: you don’t eat brunch on work days, you eat it on the weekends, after sleeping in. You eat brunch with your sweetie after a relaxing morning, or with a group of friends. You take out-of-town guests to brunch. It’s fun. Second, there’s the meal itself: It’s breakfast! It’s lunch! Technically it’s both, but really it’s about being able to decide which meal you want after sleeping late enough that you really ought to be eating lunch. And unlike breakfast and lunch, brunch comes with delicious cocktails. And coffee. The dishes, too, tend to be more creative at brunch: restaurants try to outdo one another with unusual meals that draw crowds.

Brunch, in other words, is awesome. Any restaurant that can do it justice (and so many do not) is one I will frequent.

We’d heard good things about the Tropical Brunch at Cuba Libre in Old City, but it wasn’t until last week that we finally made it over there. I’m almost reluctant to write about it, because we didn’t have to wait for a table, and if I tell you how good it is you might all start going and then I’ll have to wait in line. But- sigh- I’m a food blogger, and that’s my job, so I’ll let you in on my secret: Cuba Libre’s brunch is amazing. It’s been a week and I’m still salivating at the memory.

The restaurant’s main dining room is built to resemble the patio of a Cuban villa, with tile floors and an upper level with traditional architecture and plants hanging down. In warm weather, the outer doors open onto sidewalk seating. The black-clad waitstaff darts back and forth from their sections to a small coffee bar built into a nook underneath the stairs.

Drinks are all themed, and would be a little gimmicky if they weren’t so good. Joe had a Cafe Cuba Libre, a large cup of Cuban coffee flavored with coconut milk. It was rich and sweet enough not to need sugar (which Joe normally adds). I had a pomegranate champagne mojito, which was strong, sweet and served with lots of properly muddled mint. Yum. The serving was generous enough that I had a hard time finishing mine.

Joe ordered the Torrejas, described thusly: “hazelnut and almond encrusted French toast stuffed with Frangelico-Mascarpone cheese, aromatic honey drizzle.” It’s a huge dish, beautifully presented covered in crushed nuts, honey and powdered sugar. The inner Mascarpone filling is incredibly rich. The pleasant surprise here was that it was not, as you might expect, overwhelmingly sweet. In fact, the filling and bread were very subtle, and most of the sweetness came from the drizzle and powdered sugar on the outside.

I ordered the Duck Frita Salad, and I swear to you, a week later I can still taste every bite. I’m not normally a big salad person, but this just floored me. Here’s the official description: “Warm braised duck leg meat shredded and crisped, garlic mojo, mixed greens, hearts of palm, banana chips and a poached egg, orange-saffron vinaigrette.” Yeah, I know, and it tastes even better. The duck meat was rich and crispy, with a complex flavor that contained hints of garlic, mint, anise, and possibly cumin, and the serving was generous. The greens were fresh and crispy, mostly spinach with some romaine, evenly tossed with the subtle vinaigrette. I prefer spinach in my salads and was pleasantly surprised. The poached egg added even more richness, and the hearts of palm and banana chips liberally sprinkled throughout gave the salad a wonderful crispy texture. Did I mention this dish is gluten-free? It is, like many of the dishes on the menu.

Service was mixed- we sometimes had trouble getting our server’s attention, but that was mostly because she was busily attending to the next table over, which was filled with people who hadn’t read the menu and then got surprised when their food was served exactly the way they’d ordered it and demanded changes. (I really hated customers like that when I was waiting tables.)

The brunch at Cuba Libre isn’t cheap enough for us to do it regularly– entrees average around $12– but it’s really worth the splurge. I’m looking forward to having that salad again as soon as possible.

[where: 10 S 2nd St, Philadelphia, PA 19106]

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Cuba Libre in Philadelphia

Coffee Shop Roundup, Fishtown/Northern Liberties

I’m a sucker for a good coffee shop. I like nothing better on a Saturday afternoon than claiming a table, nursing an iced double espresso and a pastry, and reading a book or doing some writing. In Philly, we’re blessed with a great coffee shop scene. We’re one of the few cities yet to be overrun by Starbucks; instead, we have a generous scattering of locally owned java joints. Vital stats on some of my favorites:

The Rocket Cat

Frankford and Norris, Fishtown

The Rocket Cat is around the corner from us. Joe and I stopped in the day we came to check out the house, and it was a factor in our decision to move here. Having a good coffee shop down the street is a major selling point for me! The Rocket Cat is airy and large, with lots of old, worn-out furniture and funky art. It shares the building with artists’ studios (a sign of further gentrification in Fishtown, no doubt) so there are rotating art exhibits on the walls. There’s a toybox for kids and board games for adults. The back garden can be nice when it’s cleaned out, though it’s often filled with junk. They serve Old City coffee and handle it expertly; the drink menu is well thought out and well executed. I particularly like the Thai iced coffee they serve in the summer. The pastries are good, if nothing to write home about, and there’s a growing selection of breakfast foods and sandwiches that are always fresh and locally sourced. The baristas are young female hipsters, always friendly, if somewhat slow to actually serve you. There’s music but it’s never loud or intrusive. Wi-Fi is available.

The Coffee House

Girard Ave. between Front and 2nd St., Fishtown

The Coffee House is a brand-new addition to the Girard Avenue corridor. I stumbled across it unexpectedly one day during its soft opening, while buying couscous next door at Jerusalem Market. They’re actually holding a Grand Opening event today. It’s a small, newly renovated spot with just a few tables. The real attraction is the back garden, which has a pebble garden, lots of plants and a lovely tent with cushioned bench seating, beaded curtains and a funky little chandelier. The coffee is also locally roasted, from La Colombe. The owners are new to the coffee business– when I stopped in, the friendly owner told me that he’s new to food service altogether, and his partner is experienced in food service but not coffee. They seem to still be working the kinks out– the drinks are inexpertly prepared, but tasty. High-quality desserts are imported from Italy, which is great, but they’re treated unevenly. We were served an imported cannoli that was beautifully presented with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, and a ripe strawberry, but on tasting it we realized that the cannoli shell tasted a bit like refrigerator, and the sauce was Hershey’s. If they are willing to go all the way and treat their high-quality ingredients with high-quality preparations, the Coffee House will evolve into a wonderful spot. Also, I’m told there’s free Wi-Fi, though I haven’t tried it out myself.

Higher Grounds

North 3rd St. and Spring Garden, Northern Liberties

Higher Grounds is tucked away in a quiet, expensive corner of hipster paradise Northern Liberties. It’s long and narrow but airy, with eclectic furnishings and a laid-back, quiet atmosphere. It’s easy to read and relax here, and Joe seems to fall asleep with his headphones on every time we chill here. Coffee and desserts are good– there’s a big muffin selection– but the real attraction here is a wide selection of teas and tea-based drinks, including rotating drinks with medicinal properties (tea blends for allergies, energy, whatever). I haven’t tried the food menu, but there’s a rotating selection of soups and sandwiches.

Soy Café

630 North 2nd St. (near Fairmount), Northern Liberties

This crowded but pleasant coffee shop on the main Northern Liberties drag specializes in vegetarian-friendly foods. There are vegan options for just about everything, and lots of tasty little morsels sold inexpensively (if you don’t feel like spending five bucks just for a little nosh with your coffee). There’s an Asian bent to the menu– you can munch on a bowl of edamame for three dollars, or order a full meal. Seaweed cucumber salad, spicy tuna wraps or a variety of creative sandwiches are available, and just about everything is relatively healthy. This is a great option for gluten-free food. It tends to get packed on the weekends, but you can usually snag a table in the pleasant backyard or sit at the bar and watch Northern Liberties go by. Smoothies are fantastic; coffee drinks tend to the creative (i.e. espresso milkshakes) and are very high in quality. Free Wi-Fi.


944 N. Second St., Northern Liberties

This is a relatively new coffee shop with a Greek flavor. We stopped in for the first time today and were the only customers. It’s large and spacious, with ultra-modern glass tables and leather couches and a long bar. The music is loud, poppy and Greek. The coffee menu doesn’t deviate much from the norm; there’s Egyptian mint tea and a wide range of smoothies. We were too full to try any food, but the house specialty is its selection of crèpes, both sweet and savory.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a start; if I’m missing anyplace particularly good, I hope you’ll let me know!

[where: 19125]

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Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake

Before you ask: no, I’m not Jewish.  (I get that a lot.)

I have, however, been lucky enough to get to know some wonderful Jews who have kindly included me in a few of their traditions.  I’ve always been fascinated by Jewish traditions and the ways they’ve been adapted and kept alive in different ways by diverse groups all over the world.  Jewish holiday foods, in particular, are rich in history and lore.  They’re also amazingly rich in flavor, and this honey cake is an excellent example.  Foods made with honey are a tradition at Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing sweetness in the new year.  I got this recipe from 

I used local honey, eggs and flour and locally roasted coffee, so I’m thinking this is my second entry in the September Philadelphia Eat Local Challenge.

Honey Cake

1 cup honey (I used Lancaster county wildflower honey)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup strong coffee

In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the wet stuff, alternating with the coffee; beat well. Put into one greased 9″x13″ pan (or, alternatively, three 8″ square pans). Bake at 325F– 90 minutes for the large pan, 60 minutes for the three smaller pans.

I found that this cake rises a lot more than you might expect, and then falls during the course of baking.  This resulted in some batter around the edges of the pan that burned slightly.  I’d also recommend putting parchment paper in the pan instead of relying on greasing alone– this is, after all, a honey cake, with all the stickiness that implies.  Also, be sure to keep an eye on it while it’s baking– 90 minutes is a long time, and ovens and pans vary.

The flavor of this cake is very dark and deep; it’s not a ton of cinnamon but the end result is definitely a spice cake.  It’s a little sticky and fairly rich, and it goes really well with coffee at breakfast.  And in allergy-friendly Jewish tradition, it’s dairy-free!  Enjoy, and happy new year.

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Cold-Brewed Iced Coffee

Last week, the New York Times ran a great article on how to make cold-brewed iced coffee. Unfortunately, that article is now for sale at $4.95 as a “TimesSelect” article, and I still haven’t convinced myself to subscribe to, so I’m afraid the link won’t be much help. But I’m going to tell you how to make this stuff, so screw the Times and its for-profit archive.

The article explains that cold-brewed iced coffee is way better than the usual stuff- it’s less bitter, and its flavors are more complex. I’m a big iced coffee fan, but I’d never heard of this before, so I was intrigued. One of Joe’s coworkers also swears by cold brewing, so we decided to give it a try.

Iced coffee is usually made in one of two ways:

(a) you brew a pot of coffee, let it cool and pour it over ice; or

(b) you make a few shots of espresso, dilute them with cold water, and pour it over ice.

If you are fortunate, your local coffee shop will have some simple syrup on hand for sweetening– otherwise, you’ll find yourself sucking unmelted sugar crystals through your straw, which is not (everybody say it with me now!) good eats.

Cold brewing, however, is done thusly:

Get yourself a big glass jar– a Mason jar would be perfect. Fill it with 4 cups water and 3/4 cup of medium-course ground coffee. (We got ours at La Colombe, a well-loved local roaster.) Cover it and let it sit on your kitchen counter overnight (at least 12 hours).

Strain it twice– use a really fine strainer if you can. The Times recipe recommends “a coffee filter, a fine-mesh sieve or a sieve lined with cheesecloth.” We didn’t have any cheesecloth, so we tried a paper coffee filter, but it broke pretty quickly. Joe (who did the actual work on this one) used our fine-mesh strainer, but found that the coffee still had a lot of sediment. Fortunately, I have a very resourceful husband. He took the top from our super-neato coffee maker, which has a very fine mesh filter, and filtered the coffee through it into a thermos.

This makes a coffee concentrate– you dilute it to drink it, unless you’re way more hardcore than we are. The Times recipe calls for a one-to-one ratio of water to concentrate, but we found that a two-to-one ratio of coffee to water was about right.

Joe also made some simple syrup– great for iced coffee and also for cocktails. This is really easy– get yourself equal parts sugar and water. Put the water in a pot to boil. While it’s heating up, start stirring the sugar into it in small parts until it dissolves. Bring it just to a boil. You’ll know it’s ready because it’ll be cloudy, and then suddenly start to clear up– that means it’s done. Put it in a squeeze bottle and use it for everything.

So: the finished product. Add your water to taste. You can drink this black even if you’re not normally into black coffee– it really isn’t bitter. I still prefer mine with half-and-half and simple syrup. The result was a surprisingly flavorful coffee. We both used to think it was sort of silly how people would talk about a coffee as having ‘chocolate notes’ or some such wine-like descriptors, but now I kind of get it. This is good stuff.

Joe’s coworker also recommended making ice cubes with this stuff, so that you can ice your coffee without it getting all diluted at the end.

Another yummy option is to add sweetened condensed milk for what my corner coffee shop (which is wonderful, by the way) calls a Thai iced coffee. They charge four bucks for it there, and this is way, way cheaper in addition to being really delicious.

Comments imported from Blogger: 4

Anthony Milici said…
Well, you can bypass the cost of their archive by going through–you guessed it–a library. The Philly Public probably has access through their website to the electronic NYT archive. Alternately, you can ask your university friends for school ids and passwords.
July 7, 2007 10:00 PM  
Peter LoRe said…
This is the same way a small non-profit coffee shop I used to work for that would sue me if I told you their recipe used to make theirs. Double brew a pot, put in fridge to cool, serve over ice. I’m intrigued in making other syrups similar to the simple syrup. maybe add some vanilla extract?
July 9, 2007 12:09 PM  
Red Joe said…
OK, I was skeptical about this when I was making it. But now I am a true believer. Coffee cold brewed is so different than hot brewed. The result is a really smooth taste as opposed to the bitterness of hot coffee. We used some La Colombe espresso roast so if was going to be bitter it would be. I will do this regularly from now on.
July 9, 2007 12:20 PM  
Sarah said…
Peter, that’s a great idea… hazelnut or almond extract maybe?
July 9, 2007 12:31 PM