The Great Watermelon Challenge

So, I was in Trader Joe’s grocery shopping and I saw that they had these small watermelons for sale. I know that Sarah isn’t a big fan but even if she didn’t eat any I could probably eat one of these small ones. So, I bought it and put it in the fridge. When Sarah came home and saw the watermelon she challenged me.  “Make me like watermelon!  That is your mission!” she said.

OK. So now it was on. I had to come up with something. One night when Sarah said she wanted something light I went to work. I made soy and honey marinated chicken breast salad with red onions and watermelon. And for dessert, I made a watermelon granita with Limoncello on the side.

For the salad I made a raspberry vinaigrette in which to marinate the onions. For the vinaigrette:

1/2 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Olive oil

Juice of one lime

Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a blender or food processor. Gradually add the olive oil until it comes together to the desired consistency.

Slice one red onion into rings, place in a bowl and pour the vinaigrette over the onions. Allow to marinate for an hour or longer.

For the chicken marinade:

1/4 cup of canola oil

Juice of one lime

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp regular soy sauce

2 tbsp honey

1 inch of ginger root sliced

Salt and pepper

Stir ingredients together and add chicken breasts. Coat and marinate for an hour or so.

Shake the chicken of excess marinade and cook on the stove top on medium high heat. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until the sugars in the marinade begin to brown. Transfer to a baking dish and finish in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for five minutes and slice into strips on the bias.

Construct the salad by laying down a bed of arugula. Top with the marinated onions, cubes of watermelon, the chicken and some of the vinaigrette.

For the granita, add 3-4 cups of watermelon, juice of one lime and some pomegranate syrup to a blender. Blend until smooth and slowly add in 1/3 cup of simple syrup (1/3 cup of sugar dissolved in 1/3 of boiling water and cooled for at least 10 minutes). Strain through a strainer pressing the solids through. Pour into a baking dish and put in the freezer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Every half hour scrape and stir the granita until fully frozen. Serve in martini glasses with Limoncello served on the side in vodka or shot glasses.

Sarah was happy with the dishes. I was happy because I can add watermelon to a growing list of foods that Sarah will eat because of me.

Both dishes are gluten and dairy free.

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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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The 2007 Potato List

It’s that time of year: your office is filled with sugary treats, pop divas are murdering ‘O Holy Night’ on every radio station, you are tempted to drop five bucks on an eggnog latté, and every blog, magazine and newspaper is filled with ‘Best of 2007’ lists. Why should the Real Potato be any exception? Here are a few of my favorite discoveries of 2007, in no particular order.

1. Tiffin

www.tiffinstore.com, 710 W. Girard Ave. (between 7th and 8th Sts.), Philadelphia, PA
I can’t believe I haven’t written about Tiffin yet. Not only is this the best Indian food in Philadelphia, but my friend LeftyProf and his partner, both from Bangalore, swear this is the best Northern Indian they’ve had in 15 years in the US. In fact, I know several Indians who have gone out of their way just to get more of Tiffin’s food. We even had them cater our wedding. I am grateful to live in their delivery zone. They’re that good.

Tiffin is a multifaceted operation– they’ve got a dining room on Girard; they do regular old takeout; they have a catering business; and they also have an Indian-style lunch tiffin system. You order a light, healthy lunch online from a fixed menu in the morning, and they deliver at lunchtime anywhere between Fishtown and University City. Make sure to check out their specials, which change constantly and tend toward the fresh and seasonal.

2. Spring Garden Market

Spring Garden St at the corner of 4th St.

This is a brand new discovery– Spring Garden Market just opened its doors this week. This new addition to Northern Liberties, just north of Chinatown, is a cavernous, colorful, sparkling new Asian supermarket. The produce section is huge, and filled with all sorts of specialty produce (five kinds of sweet potatoes, anyone?) for Asian cooks. There’s a butcher and a fishmonger: their prices are low and the quality is quite high. You need pork belly? This is the place. Blocks of fresh tofu are 5 for a dollar; fresh noodles, whole water chestnuts, gigantic sheets of bean curd, you name it. The groceries are comprehensive, from Vietnamese noodles to black sesame oil to a huge range of canned fruits and vegetables, bags of rice, and 99-cent cans of rice congee. This is my new favorite grocery store.

3. The Les Halles Cookbook

OK, we all know I love Anthony Bourdain, but seriously, this cookbook is great. It’s not just the food, though there’s definitely plenty of food porn here. It really delves into Bourdain’s philosophy of cooking, and it’s filled with passion on so many things. It’s also written in Bourdain’s actual voice, so expect cooking instructions that swear at you, tell you that you don’t deserve good steak if you’re going to overcook it, and instruct you to roll your herb butter in plastic wrap “just like you would roll a joint.” Hee. The style doesn’t veer into the gimmicky, though, which is a hard balance to maintain. And the FOOD, oh my god. I’m going to get some pork belly at Spring Garden Market and try my hand at rillettes de porc, oh yes.

4. The Hot Sauce at Taco Riendo

It’s not red, guys. It’s a deep, velvety maroon, with a flavor that penetrates into the dark, smoky heart of chipotle flavor. And it’s totally amazing on al pastor tacos. If they bottled this, I would buy it and give it to everyone I know. (Aside to Taco Riendo: Seriously, have you considered bottling it?)

5. The Headhouse Market

This farmer’s market (which closes this weekend!) appears on Sunday mornings in the historic Headhouse pavilion at 2nd St. and South St. It’s sponsored by the Food Trust and features deliciously fresh produce, breads, dairy products and even wines. And some of the vendors are fellow Philly food bloggers!

6. Country’s Barbecue

3137 Mercury Drive, Columbus, GA

I was down in Columbus on a business trip a few months ago. The highlight of the trip was getting to see my cousins Maggie and Sheryl, but the culinary highlight was Country’s. My client’s directions involved the phrase ‘you can’t miss it, with all the barbecue smoke.’ He wasn’t kidding. The parking lot is full of fragrant black smoke from the barbecue pits– and it’s a wonderful sign of things to come. I went with some fellow translation project managers and shared achingly tender pork barbecue sandwiches and the best fried chicken I have ever eaten. (They also had fried pickles, which I hear are amazing if you like pickles– but I hate pickles with a furious passions, so I passed.)

7. Serious Eats

I first checked out this site after hearing that Alton Brown reads it religiously. It’s great– filled with food news, good recipes, and essays by serious chowhounds who share a passion for real food. They like to give away prizes, which is pretty awesome– I keep trying to win those Peter Luger steaks, believe me.

8. Lagavulin

This is Joe’s influence– he’s turned me on to the joys of good scotch. I’ve been a beer nerd for many years now, and one of the things I enjoy about scotch is that it uses the same sort of palate, with malty, smoky flavors. Lagavulin, though, is the scotch that turned me into a scotch snob. It’s a single malt aged in sherry casks, and its dark, complex, smoky flavors just make other scotch seem kind of pointless.

9. Paizano’s Pizza

Baker City, Oregon

I’ve never been to Oregon, but I’ve been reading KeenEye’s blog for months now. In the time I’ve been reading, she’s renovated a building, opened a gourmet pizzeria and started to thrive. Her posts about the joys and pitfalls of running a restaurant are witty and sharp, and the food looks amazing.

10. Peking Duck

Yes, I realize that I’m years late to the party on this one. Until recently, I’d had Peking duck only once, on a college trip to London. I loved it but it never occurred to me to seek it out in the US. Thanks to Philly’s Chinatown, though, I’m a convert. We get ours at Wong Wong on the corner of Race and 9th. One whole duck feeds two people. You get tender duck with crispy, outrageously flavorful skin; fluffy little rice pancakes; fresh scallions; and plummy, tangy hoisin sauce. Make a little taco out of that and abandon yourself to the decadent glory of duck fat. Oh yeah.

Your turn: what’s your favorite food discovery of 2007?

I’ll be headed home to Pittsburgh this weekend and will probably be internet-less, so until then– merry Christmas, Eid Mubarak, happy Kwanzaa, blessed Yule, and if you don’t celebrate any of those, have fun on your day off. And thank you all for an amazing year!

Sarah

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Tiffin in Philadelphia

Bar Ferdinand: Tops in Tapas

Sarah and I love tapas. Eating samples from multiple plates is our favorite way to eat. You can relax, take your time and enjoy the food, what you’re drinking and good conversation. A number of months ago we tried Bar Ferdinand in Northern Liberties. It was great and it had just opened recently. We went back a week ago and had an equally great, if not better experience.

First off, Bar Ferdinand is open late. They serve dinner until midnight and the bar is open until 2AM. What’s more, they have a late-night happy hour between 9PM and 11PM. Normally, this means $3 sangrias and $4 draught beers. The beer selection is very good, featuring Belgians and microbrews. The wine list is extensive with a nice amount of selections by the glass. One of the things we miss about New York is the ability to get good meals late in the evening. Bar Ferdinand satisfies this need for us.

On to the food.

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Beneluxx Tasting Room: School is IN!

Beneluxx is an unabashedly educational bar, devoted to teaching its customers/students to appreciate fine beer, wine, cheese and chocolate. These are the four food groups as far as Joe and I are concerned, so we were excited when we sought out this recently opened below-ground bar on a rainy Friday night. Mind you, this doesn’t take away from the fun.

The offerings fall into those four categories, plus a page of small dishes such as fondue, crepes, salads and pizzas. The menu gives detailed descriptions of all of its offerings and suggests some pairings (wine/cheese, beer/cheese, wine/chocolate, etc.). Better yet, it offers tasting sizes of its offerings, which encourages customers to try new beers, wines and cheeses, compare their flavors, and experiment with their own pairings. (And the tasting sizes come in beakers! Cute.) If you’ve always wondered why people make such a big deal about wine and cheese, this is a great place to start.

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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

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 NYTimes.com, 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