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James Beard Foundation Awards Announce Finalists, Filled with Philly’s Top Spots!

March 23, 2010

In recent years, Philly has gotten a good share of love from the legendary James Beard Foundation, but none so much as this year, with 5 nominations across 4 of the most prestigious categories.

Bibou, Osteria, Vetri, Zahav and Stephen Starr are among the finalists for the 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards, as Grub Street Philadelphia reports.

Here’s the breakdown:

Best New Restaurant

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic
Michael Solomonov, Zahav
Jeff Michaud, Osteria

Outstanding Restaurateur
Stephen Starr, Stephen Starr Organization

Outstanding Service

Congratulations to our Philly foodie finalists, who will take on the nation’s best at the May 3 award ceremony — and a special thumbs-up to Philadelphia’s 15+ semifinalists, as announced on February 18.

James Beard Awards: The Philly Finalists [Grub Street Philadelphia]


Of BeirGardens, BeerGardens, and All Assortment of Drinking Outside

March 10, 2010

Is it time yet?
How bout now??
Please please please for the love of all that is holy and good, let it be time now?

Its sunny, and beautiful, and springy in the air (and yes, in my step). I’m ready to start drinking outside again. And lo-and-behold, the city is right there with me.

March 2 was the second zoning board meeting in Fishtown for Stephen Starr’s already-legendary bier garden. The whole neighborhood has been generally excited about the idea since rumors started sloshing around a few months back. At this point the big players are just looking to seal the deal. So what should you know in these preparatory drink outside days?

The Cast

Roland, nice-guy developer. He owns several properties in the immediate area, particularly along the Frankford corridor. He has a long term development plan and is requesting the assistance and support from the immediate neighbors to realize his vision.

Stephen Starr, restaurateur/mogul. You might remember him from every place worth eating in the late 90s, Buddakan, Tangerine, Jone’s, Continental. He was the Philadelphia restaurant scene before there was a Philadelphia restaurant scene, and for that we are ever thankful. Which goes a long way to forgive him for recent transgressions.

The neighbors. The Greek Chorus, if you will, made up of long time residents, new hipsters, and other great salt-of-the-earth types. They’ll sing and judge and comment, but at the end of the day, they’re going to stand back and give Philadelphia the Beir Garden it’s been hungry for.

The Scene

The property under consideration is on Frankford Ave, beginning next to the Acropolos diner (Frankford and Girard) and spans approximately 100 yards towards Frankford and Thompson.

The concept under consideration is a Bier Garten with ~250 seats. And of course the property has a courtyard type space and plans include using this outdoor space. As with all other Stephen Starr restaurants, this property would have an open kitchen until 11:00 PM and remain open for drinking/socializing until 2:00 AM.

The Plot (of Concerns)

Parking. The plan includes the use of valet parking and Roland stated he has 70 spaces available with more on the way. Parking will be reasonably priced to be on par with what a patron would pay at a meter. Even with valet service there will undoubtedly be pressure on the immediate area for parking. Efforts are already underway for the 1200 block of Crease Street to move towards permit parking and other immediate streets (Thompson, Day, Leopard) are urged to consider this to help offset this problem. Shackamaxon already has it.

Noise. Houses on Leopard Street will likely bear the brunt of the noise from this project. Roland insisted that he has taken this into consideration and will do everything possible to mitigate noise. Leopard Street residents are strongly urged to attend the zoning hearing to have their concerns heard.

Traffic. The concern about valet parking traffic was raised. Parking attendants will need to move cars around rapidly and it is a concern that their route will take them through the immediate blocks.

Still, the excitement for the project is OVERWHELMING (despite limited outcry), and basically city wide. Drinking outside it is 🙂

62 & Sunny & Snowy

March 9, 2010

I’d feel bad about talking about the weather so much, if the drama of the East Coast Snowpocolypse hadn’t been met with the huge amount of fanfare and media coverage usually saved for Hurricanes and Earthquakes.

So, since you have to live through the rantings about the Notorious SNOW, its only fair that I announce the early spring we’ve been hosting for the past two days. 62 and sunny. And gorgeous. Tulips are already popping up amid the snow piles, and the dogs are back in full out-side, Frisbee mode. Its a beautiful thing. And even if it wasn’t, I’m heading on vacation this weekend to somewhere that’s determined to be warm and wondering. Hasta lueaga!

All Keller (Or, Frozen Blueberries = Not Bringers of Distruction)

March 8, 2010

I am quite pleased with myself.

Two recipes in one weekend from a cookbook that I don’t even (but sure would like to) own.
Yay for the internets. And all in the name of Game Night.
Let me just say, I’m not a proponent of googling author, cookbook, recipe” as a way of avoiding shelling out the cash for a new cookbook. In fact, I am not a proponent of not buying a new cookbook, nearly ever. But, as you may have heard, I’m moving. And now is not the time to buy items that that are heavy and fit awkwardly into boxes (like coffee table sized cookbooks).
So I googled. And found two winning recipes from Thomas Keller’s newest book, Ad Hoc at Home. The husband summed it up perfectly, “How can Thomas Keller cook at home, he’s the best cook in the world. Isn’t he a bit busy?” Yeah, probably, but I think anyone would be happy to make time for these recipes. And besides that, Ad Hoc is all about cooking for friends and family, sharing meals that aren’t particularly pretty when plated, but at delicious and special for the palate and the people you share them with. And that is something everyone has time for.

Completely Thomas Keller’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

(makes about thirty 3-inch cookies)

Thomas Keller writes in the book: This is our version of what is arguably the best cookie ever. I like to use different chocolates, one sweeter, one with a more complex bittersweet balance. After you chop the chocolate, sift it to remove any tiny fragments to give the cookies a cleaner look. If you like softer cookies, don’t underbake them, just mist them with water before baking.

2 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces 55 percent chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces
5 ounces 70 to 72 percent chocolate, cut into chip-sized pieces
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup packed dark brown sugar, preferably molasses sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

Position racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift flour and baking soda into a medium bowl. Stir in the salt.
Put chips in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate “dust” (small fragments – I skipped this step, because I don’t condone removing anything chocolate, ever, even for Mr. Keller).
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, beat half the butter on medium speed until fairly smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter, and beat until well combined, then beat for a few minutes, until mixture is light and creamy. Scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating until the first one is incorporated before adding the next and scraping the bowl as necessary. Add dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in chocolate.
Remove bowl from mixer and fold dough with a spatula to be sure the chocolate is evenly incorporated. The dough or shaped cookies can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 5 days or frozen for 2 weeks. Freeze shaped cookies on the baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer containers. (Defrost frozen cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking.)
Using about 2 level tablespoons per cookie, shape dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on each pan, leaving about 2 inches between them, because the dough will spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the tops are no longer shiny, switching the position and rotating pans halfway through baking.
Cool cookies on the pans on cooling racks for about 2 minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer to the racks to cool completely. Repeat with second batch of cookies. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
Note: If your brown sugar has hardened, soften it in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds.

(Mostly) Thomas Keller’s Blueberry Cobbler

1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp each: baking powder, baking soda
6 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk

8 cups blueberries (or 1 2lb bag of good quality frozen blueberries, defrosted)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (which I didn’t have, so I used 1 tblsp of honey)

Cinnamon sugar:
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

For topping, in medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda.
In large bowl, combine butter and sugar. Using hand mixer, mix on low speed, then beat on medium until mixture is light and creamy, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until fully incorporated. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk in 2 batches. Scrape down sides; mix again to ensure all ingredients are combined.
For filling, in medium bowl, toss blueberries with sugar, flour and zest. Spread in 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Spoon mounds of batter over berries, leaving space between mounds. (Makes about 12 mounds.)
For cinnamon sugar, stir together sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over batter. Bake in preheated 350F oven 40 minutes or until juices are bubbling and topping is golden and cooked through.
Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving. (Refrigerate leftovers up to 2 days.)
Makes a generous 6 servings, or a more reasonable 12 servings. Particularly if you are pairing these with something spectacular, like the cookies.

The leading experts agree

March 8, 2010

Now’s a great time to buy my house 🙂

And of course, no begging you to buy my house infomercial would be complete without some Norristown details:

More about Norristown

Area Attractions
Norristown Arts Hill District – The Launch on Saturday, April 24 marks the unveiling of the newly named Norristown Arts Hill District (DeKalb Street between Main and Marshall Streets).
Schuylkill River Trail – This bicycle/pedestrian fairway will take you from Center City all the way out to Valley Forge, and goes right through the heart of Norristown, all of a 5 min ride from Swift Street. .
Historic West Marshall Street Shopping – Currently one of the keystones of the Norristown redevelopment effort, the West Marshall Street Shopping district is surrounded by beautiful old homes, and a wide array of specialty shops.
Summer Concerts Under The Stars – Hosted in the beautiful Elmwood Park (home to the Norristown Zoo!), stop by with your picnic blanket for the weekly concerts at the Elmwood Park Bandshell.

Also close by, for your entertainment pleasure…

King of Prussia Mall, Plymouth Meeting Mall, Ikea, Metroplex Shopping Complex, Norristown Farm Park, Main Street in Ambler, Fayette Street in Conshohocken

Restaurant Recommendations
BlueFin Sushi – 1017 E Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA – 10 min drive – this BYOB is widely considered one of the top sushi spots in the Philadelphia area (5 stars on CitySearch, 5 stars on Yelp, Zagat- rated)
From The Boot – 517 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill, PA -15 min drive – another fantastic BYOB, this Italian spot is amazing. Really incredible Italian food at a reasonable price .
Maddy’s On Main – 7 W Main St, Norristown, PA – 10 min walk – great little coffee spot, good breakfast sandwiches, friendly staff, and a nice place to munch on your way to work.
Franzone’s Pizzeria & Restaurant – 1940 W Main St, Norristown, PA – 10 min drive – seriously amazing pizza. Sweet, sweet sauce, to the point where plain cheese is the only way to go. Good wings and great takeout options.
Also close by and a great time…

Guppy’s Good Time Bar in Conshohocken, Stella Blue in Conshohocken, August Moon in Norristown, Taqueria La Michoacana (for authentic Mexican food) in Norristown, Chaingmai Thai in Conshohocken

Area Grocery Stores
Whole Foods Market – at the Plymouth Meeting Mall, Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting, PA – 8 min drive – brand new, this Whole Foods is the largest in Pennsylvania and has an amazing selection, with café, prepared foods, and beer & wine tasting.
Giant Grocery Store – at the Metroplex Shopping Center – 5 min drive – just as big as the Whole Foods (at least) but with your more typical grocery store fare, and always open. Incredibly close by and convenient.
Maple Acres Farm – 2656 Narcissa Rd, Plymouth Meeting, PA – 10 min drive – family-owned and run local farm with fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits, with pick-your-own flowers. Great bargain for local and sustainability grown foods.
Norristown Farmers Market – Main St, Norristown, PA – 10 walk – now in its second year, the farms market is hosted June through October, Thursdays 12-5 and offers a full line of local fruits, vegetables, and baked goods.

Thwarting My Move, One Cookbook at a Time

March 6, 2010

Moving is hard. You have to pack stuff, organize stuff, clean stuff up, and dedicate yourself not to dirty stuff up again. My to-do list in these last few weeks has been enough to stop me in my tracks and make me go off to hide and bake and hide and bake. Emphasis on the hiding and baking.

Now, there’s a plethora of new cookbooks out there that I’ve been lovingly fawning after for the better part of a week. Huge tomes that will give me the insights and enthusiasm to really hone my craft and become an accomplished home chef. Or at least that’s been my theory.

Still, this is not the time to purchase 30 lbs of new cookbooks. We’ve relocated (al beit, temporarily) to my in-laws with 1 suitcase, 5 books, and 2 dogs so that we can show our house without the problems of constantly scrubbing/vacuuming/straightening anything we touch at home. No cookbooks came with me, but even so, living like that has me more of a ball of stress then usual. So while I de-stress in my new nomadic existence, here are the books that the husband has been instructed to get me as ‘new house’ presents. When we finally get the new house. I’m pitching them as instant de-stressors.

Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc
Stir: Mixing It Up
Modern Cafe
BlackBerry Farm CookBook

Best Weekend Lunch Deal

March 4, 2010

I expect you to have one of three possible reactions to the above pictures:

1) O wow! Two Time James Beard Winning Chef Susanna Foo – showing you HER recipes in HER kitchen, for only $50!!! SQUEAL!

2) Hey, isn’t that the chef that had that run in with that cop?

3) All those dates have already passed, so you must be super selfish and thus we are no longer friends.

Let’s address these possible reactions one at a time, starting with the SQUEAL! When Susanna Foo closed her namesake center city restaurant last year, I’m ashamed to say that I was not moved to tears or in any way inconsolable. In fact, I had never been to her restaurant and therefore didn’t know what I was missing. It was my uneducated palate (so control your anger and redirect it towards politics or some other useful exercise), but I really didn’t understand gourmet Chinese food. Japanese, Asian Fusion, Malaysian, Thai – these were genres I could get behind. But refined Chinese? I had always stupidly assumed that the difference between great Chinese and mediocre Chinese was limited.

If there was ever a cure for that assumption, it would be a four course lunch in the presence of a culinary legend. Her sample menu was all of my (and I’d presume, everybodies) Chinese food stand bys. Sweet & Sour Soup, Tofu Mushroom and Tomato Stir-Fry, Ginger Carrot Salad, Beef Ribs in a sweet sauce… all in the homemade style with recipes that were definite diviasions from what you’d get when ordering at Mrs. Foo’s Radnor restaurant.

Onto possible reaction #2 – the infamous altercation. In 2006. Which was the main reaon that I didn’t go on to visit her Center City mainstay. But even than, I had to wonder about how someone so petite and quiet would get to the point where she would take on a traffic cop. Regardless, I’m over it. And you should be too – I hate to be morbid, but Mrs. Foo has been creating culinary trends for the last 30 years. And only now has she invited us into her kitchen. Am I the only one jealous that I was born too late to state in the presence of Mrs. Child and the other women that revolutionize women’s place in the kitchen?

And the 3rd point – I am totally heart-breakingly selfish, but like the Grinch’s whose heart occassionally grows to accomodate feelings and emotions, I managed to squeek out a single question to Mrs. Foo while gushing over her signing my cookbook, “Will you be hosting any more classes?” (YOU’RE WELCOME) – and her response, “Yes, I think I will. Starting in May.” From Mrs. Foo’s lips to gods ears, right?

In the meantime, here is one of her sample recipes to busy yourself with.

Directly from Mrs. Foo –
Crispy Tuna Spring Rolls With Fresh Herb Salad
Serves 6
1 1/4 pounds sashimi-quality tuna, about 1 inch thick
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 large carrot
8 ounces spinach, stemmed and washed
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
6 Shanghai-style spring roll wrappers (available in the vegetable section of most grocery stores)
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
4 cups soybean oil or corn oil for deep-frying

Wasabi crème Fraiche1
1/2 cup pickled ginger (without added food coloring)Fresh mild herbs or baby greens (any or all of the following: basil, arugula, watercress, cilantro, chives)Honey Soy

Glaze Method:
Cut the tuna into 6 strips, each about 3 1/2 inches long and a 1 inch thick. Mix the salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Rub the mixture evenly over the pieces of tuna.

Peel the carrot and cut into 3-inch lengths. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut the carrot into paper-thin slices; you need a total of 12 slices.

In a medium saucepan, cook the carrot in boiling salted water for 1 minute. Immediately remove from the water and transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, dry with paper towels, cover, and refrigerate. Repeat with the spinach and then the cilantro, squeezing out any excess water. Refrigerate, covered.

Lay 1 spring roll wrapper on a flat surface with a point facing you. Place 2 slices of carrot and a little spinach crosswise on the wrapper, about one third of the way from the top. Top with 1 piece of tuna and some cilantro. Fold the point farthest from you down and over to cover the filling, then fold in the left and right sides tightly, brush the bottom edges with a little of the egg yolk, and roll up tightly to seal. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling ingredients.

Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Add the spring rolls and fry until wrappers are firm, 1 to 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, cut the spring rolls diagonally in half and place in center of six plates. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the crème fraiche around the spring rolls, mound a little of the pickled ginger next to each one, and garnish with the herbs or baby greens. Drizzle some of the glaze around the rolls and serve.

Wasabi Crème Fraiche
Makes about 3/4 cup
2 tablespoons wasabi powder
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup crème fraiche

In a small bowl, combine the wasabi powder with 2 tablespoons cold water and slowly mix until it becomes a smooth, thick paste. Add the vinegar and salt, and mix well.
Cover and set aside for about 10 minutes, until the flavors blend.
Add the crème fraiche and mix gently until well blended. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, for 1 week.