Square Burger: Great Addition to Franklin Park

Philly has some nice parks but none is more kid-friendly than Franklin Square. It has a merry-go-round and mini golf, and guys walk around making balloon animals for the kids. What it was lacking, until very recently, was good food. It is fairly close to Chinatown, so you could pick up food there and walk over, but there was nothing right in the park. Stephen Starr has opened a shack in the middle of the park called Square Burger. No, the burgers aren’t square, but they are pretty damn good.

Along with the tasty burgers the place has one of the few good specialty dogs in the city. Philly, for all of its great food, has no gourmet dog shops like one of my favorite spots in NYC,  Crif Dogs. Their Philly Dog is a good kosher beef dog wrapped in kosher salami with hot peppers, pickles, tomatoes and mustard. It satisfied a hot dog search in Philly that had gone hitherto unfulfilled. Square Burger’s fries are fresh cut and made to order. A bit on the salty side but very good nonetheless.

The drinks and desserts were pretty good as well. Sarah had a tasty lemonade and a sundae, while I had the Cake Shake, a butterscotch shake with Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets mixed in. Very decadent and lowbrow – I loved it!

The only couple of complaints that I have are that it took quite a while to get our order and the size to price ratio. They were very busy and clearly still working out the kinks in the food prep. Also, the burgers are somewhat on the small side. At near $4 apiece, I wasn’t expecting a huge gastropub burger, but I would normally like a bit more that what I got. For this review I got both the burger and the dog so it worked out that I could finish both. But for most people who just want a burger these might leave you a little hungry.

Otherwise, if you are in Franklin Square, check out Square Burger. It’s good to have a high-quality fast food joint around while enjoying a day in the park.

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Pic-a-nic in the Park

Sarah and I have been planning on taking a nice afternoon and going on a picnic in Penn Treaty Park. [where:19125] We had discussed just bringing sandwiches (boring) or a roast chicken (time consuming and heavy). Sarah had the idea to do bruschetta because we have all of these awesome heirloom tomatoes from Greensgrow Farm in our neighborhood.

So, I seeded and chopped about six tomatoes of varying sizes (about four cups’ worth), tossed in three finely chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, a quarter cup of good extra virgin olive oil, a splash of rice wine vinegar, some fresh basil and thyme from the herb garden, a handful or two of shredded mozzarella, and salt and pepper to taste. This went into the fridge while I grilled some olive oil-rubbed bread. I used some Italian baguette-sized bread cut on the bias to maximize surface area. The bread went on a cooling rack so they would stay nice and firm.

We packed up the bread and the bruschetta topping along with some fruit and cheese that we also bought at Greeensgrow and headed to the park on a beautiful late afternoon on Labor Day.

The complexity of the flavors in the heirloom tomatoes was a wonderful change from the standard red tomato. It had tart green finger tomatoes, semi-sweet reds and this awesomely sweet yellow tomato (it made Sarah and me remember that tomatoes are fruits). The bruschetta was visually appealing as well. The varying colors combined with the cheese and herbs excited the eyes as well as the taste buds.  I wish we had a camera so I could show you the beautiful colors.

We decided that this would be our picnic staple from now on.

This is, of course, vegetarian and it could be gluten free eaten with some GF bread. Also, I know you are saying, “This sounds yummy, but heirlooms are so pricey!” One, I would say that it is worth it for a time-to-time treat. And two, if you live in Philly, get yourself over to Greensgrow Farm on Cumberland Street in Fishtown/Port Richmond. They are only $1.75 per pound there, as opposed to the normal four to five dollars a pound most places that you go. We are won to the place and we plan to buy a share or half share next year so we can have their great produce all of the time.

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.

Spinach Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts

It’s true, I admit it: I’m obsessed with spinach salads. I can’t get enough. I’m forever thinking of delicious things to do to a bowl of baby spinach. I realize this obsession is a little strange, but since most of my food obsessions tend to involve things like duck fat or pork belly or ghee, a spinach obsession is probably a healthy thing!

I whipped this little salad up last night to accompany the tasty Whole Foods mushroom ravioli Joe was making. I just grabbed some things we had in the house, but it turned out to be marvelously tasty. It was so good I had another one later, while watching Jericho (excellent show, by the way), and packed one for lunch today. It’s that good. And it’s very simple to whip up.

Spinach Salad with Feta and Pine Nuts

Large handful of baby spinach, rinsed

Handful of pine nuts

A few tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese

Extra virgin olive oil (the best you can get)

Lemon juice

Pieces of leftover roast chicken (optional– use whatever you’ve got lying around)

Put the pine nuts in a dry pan and toast over medium heat until they are dark golden brown, but not burnt. They’ll be crunchy and release their oil, which is full of flavor. Crumble the feta over the spinach. Add the pine nuts, chicken, and olive oil and toss. Give it a few squirts of lemon juice and dig in. Repeat.

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Cappellini and Chicken in Fresh Pesto

Sarah was feeling a bit Crohn’s-y last night so I put together this light dish. It is a very simple preparation. Fresh ingredients are key here, however.

Ingredients:

1/2 pound cappellini

4 quarts of water

Two chicken breasts (in this case, organic from Trader Joe’s)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

For the Pesto:

1/4 cup of pine nuts

1 clove of garlic

1 bunch of basil

Extra virgin olive oil

salt

First, prepare the pesto. In a food processor (or a mortar and pestle if you feel like a workout and getting all artisanal) process the pine nuts until they are a fine grain. Add the basil, garlic, some olive oil and some salt. Process until all the basil is very fine and pasty. At this point you can add more olive oil to get it to the consistency that you desire. I like it to be kind of thick but it is personal preference.

Bring four quarts of water to a boil. Using a lot of water is important for thin pasta like capellini, which has a tendency to stick together and gum up.

While the water is coming to a boil, heat olive oil on medium heat for a few minutes. Add the chicken breasts. You want a nice brown crust while not drying out the chicken. Doing it on medium heat helps achieve this. Remove from the heat and let rest.

Right before the chicken is done add the cappellini to the water. Keep a close eye on the pasta. It can go from al dente to mushy very quickly. After 3-4 minutes taste the pasta and cook until the desired texture. Drain. Add back to pot with heat off and throw in 3/4 of the pesto that you made. Toss and put desired amount of pasta in bowls or plates.

Cut the chicken breasts on the bias into two inch strips. Toss in the remaining pesto until the strips are well coated. Lay 3-4 strips across the pasta. I garnished this with some amazing fresh tomatoes from Weaver’s Way and a basil leaf.  This is a dairy-free dish, and you can make it gluten-free simply by using GF pasta.

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Pennsylvania Omelettes with Fingerling Potatoes

I was going to call this a California omelette, since it’s all about the flavors of avocado and tomato, but then Joe pointed out that the tomatoes, cheese, eggs, potatoes and onions were all locally raised in Pennsylvania.  (The avocadoes are from Mexico, by way of Trader Joe’s, and they were mostly overripe.)  So Pennsylvania omelettes it is.

This is a great dish for a lazy Saturday brunch.  Really, this is how Saturdays should be spent.  The way I see, it, our foremothers and fathers in the union movement of the 1930s fought and sometimes died to win us the weekend, and we ought to enjoy it fully.  (Ditto for lunch breaks.)

By the way, don’t skimp on the tomatoes here, because the whole dish depends on their quality.  If you use fresh, ripe, organic tomatoes that are in season, you will not regret it.  Good cheese is also crucial here.  We used some amazingly sharp, funky Colby from the Headhouse Market.

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Heirloom Tomato Pizza

Heirloom Tomato Pizza

This was our first attempt at homemade pizza in years, and we were very pleased with the results.  I should admit up front that, since it was a work night, we didn’t attempt to make the dough from scratch– that’s more of a Sunday project.  We bought a blob of pizza dough from Trader Joe’s instead.  But we had some beautiful fresh orange and red heirloom tomatoes straight from the farm, fresh mozzarella, local raw-milk gruyere, a monster of a shallot and some fresh garlic, all from the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market.  The fresh ingredients really made a difference!

Joe stretched the dough out to about a foot in diameter– it was quite springy so that wasn’t an easy task, even for someone who used to work at a pizza shop.   We started with a gentle drizzle of olive oil and some chopped shallots and garlic.  Not too much,  you don’t want to overwhelm the flavors of the tomatoes and cheese.  Next, a layer of grated fresh mozzarella, then a quick grate of a much smaller amount of gruyere.  Finally, sliced orange and red tomatoes arranged on top of the pie and drizzled with a hint of olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  We don’t have a pizza stone (although, ahem, my birthday is November 15), so we baked the pizza on a cookie sheet.  It worked out fine, although a pizza stone would have crisped the bottom of the crust a bit more.  The directions on the dough said to bake it for 8-9 minutes, but the tomatoes and mozzarella release so much water that we ended up baking it for about 12 minutes to get some nice browning going.

When it had about 3 minutes to go, Joe sprinkled some chopped fresh basil on top of the pizza. 

The result was one of the better pizzas I’ve had in a long time.  The tomatoes were bursting with flavor, the basil was delicious, and the garlic and shallots gave it just enough of a kick.  The crust wasn’t massively flavorful– when we do it from scratch we’ll salt and season it a bit– but it was perfectly serviceable and had a nice texture to it.  I’d prefer homemade, but for an after-work meal on a Wednesday night the packaged dough made this an easy, quick meal.  Not bad for a first attempt!  I’ll post a picture tonight if our crappy Earthlink internet access is up to it.

Also:  The Real Potato received our 5,000th hit today!  Woohoo!  Cookies for everyone!

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