• Is Nicole's dining room gorgeous, or what?

Being in that awkward tiny-family-20-something space, the majority of my Thanksgivings are spent with my fellow Philadelphia holiday-orphans. This year the festivities took place at Nicole‘s lovely new home in Fishtown, and although the turkey was a bit late (we forgive you, Anthony), it was a fabulous success.

The menu

Anthony’s famous (totally worth the wait) grilled turkey
Green bean casserole – From scratch, of course. Put that soup away and make a roux, will ya?
Twice-baked sweet potatoes with chipotle pecan streusel – AH-mazing. I love when sweet potatoes go savory, but the heat and pecans take this to a new level.
Chorizo cornbread stuffing – Don’t be afraid to double the chorizo. Or triple. It’s Thanksgiving, go crazy.
Hasselback potato gratin – 1000x yes.
Cranberry sauce with walnuts and pears – My favorite cranberry sauce in the world. I use this recipe but substitute Applejack for the brandy and use pecans instead of walnuts.

I’ve been in Philadelphia for almost 8 years, but I was raised in the Harrisburg area. Hummelstown, to be exact. In high school my days were split between normal classes in my public school and Capital Area School for the Arts in downtown Harrisburg. At the time, the art community was blossoming. Food-wise however, there wasn’t a lot going on. Since I moved to Philly, quite a bit has changed downtown and it has actually become a bit of a Central PA dining destination.

I visited Rubicon their opening week, and I was pretty blown away, and not just by the gorgeous transformation the interior has undergone since it was Neptune Lounge. Just the small sampling I had of their menu was more than enough for me to want to return as soon as possible. Decadent, French-esque fare and cocktail artistry.

I started off with the Jane Avril at AJ the bartender’s recommendation, although I would have probably decided upon it for myself in the end anyway. Consisting of Bulleit Bourbon, Benedictine, Creme de Casis, ground cayenne pepper and lemon, it was the perfect twist on my usual drink order of bourbon-based, bitter cocktails.

For appetizers we ordered the Charcuterie De Maison Au Garnis and the Tartine Blanc De Blanc ”Cojonudo”. I rarely order charcuterie, but this particular night I was sold on the fact that they had blood sausage on the menu, and it did not disappoint. The tartine was also fantastic—very light with playful textures and a delightful pop from the tobiko.

I had known what entree I was going to order before I set food inside Rubicon—the Faux Pho. Bone marrow-stuffed beef shank topped with seared foie gras in a Franco-Vietnamese broth. I don’t think I need to say much else. It was absolutely insane.

I’m not a huge dessert person as a rule, but when I saw Baked Alaska on the menu I absolutely had to try it, and it didn’t disappoint. The presentation alone is worth an order.

The folks behind Mangia Qui and Suba have always impressed me, and Rubicon is no exception. I see many more dinners in downtown Harrisburg in my future.

 

With tomato season rapidly coming to a close in Pennsylvania, it seems like the right time to share one of my new favorite summer brunch standbys. It takes just a few ingredients (Even less if you cut corners like I did and use a frozen pie crust. Don’t judge! I’m still mastering the homemade version.) and has a surprising zing that comes from whole grain mustard. It’s fresh, summery, and portable. This tart works from breakfast to dinner, fresh from the oven or chilled.

I made this for the first time for a small event I organized with a few of my girlfriends. It seems like we’re so busy these days it seems like we only really see each other in large groups, often by chance. When we do see each other we’re often accompanied by significant others or male friends. I love my guy friends, but I require girl time. So I decided to organize an event that no men would try to weasel their way into—a potluck picnic brunch.

This recipe is adapted from a David Lebowitz recipe that he adapted from Kate Hill’s book, A Culinary Journey in Gascony. Most notable change was a reduction in the temperature of the oven.

Ingredients

1 uncooked pie dough, homemade or store-bought
Whole grain mustard
Enough heirloom tomatoes to cover your tart—I used a single enormous tomato
Olive oil
Chopped fresh herbs of your choice
8 oz fresh goat cheese
Honey (optional but highly recommended)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Assembly

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Roll out your tart dough and fit it into your pan. Dock the dough into the pan by making indentations with your fingertips. You can also make a freestyle tart by rolling the dough out about 14 inches then laying it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. No need to dock the dough if you take this route, just be sure to leave a 2 inch boarder around your filling so you can fold it up before baking time.
  3. Spread about 2 tablespoons of mustard on the bottle of the tart dough evenly, then let set about 10 minutes.
  4. Slide your tomatoes into pretty rounds and arrange them on top of the mustard-coated dough. Drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Add your herbs, goat cheese, and some more herbs for good measure, then drizzle with a touch of honey.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Pop it in the oven for about 30 minutes, keeping an eye on the crust so it doesn’t burn. If it starts to burn before everything looks good and cooked through, take it out and gently wrap some tin foil around the outer edge to protect the crust.
  8. To brown up the cheese more after cooking, hit it with the broiler. Just be sure to watch it like a hawk to make sure you don’t over-do it.

Happy baking!

 

After a weekend away it seemed only natural to hit Abe Fisher for their first official night. I drove straight from the airport for a 10:30 reservation, totally ravenous, and ordered a round followed by a rapid-fire list of dishes.

Walking through each one wouldn’t do them justice, but it’s fair to say you can’t go wrong here. Everything was excellent, not to mention gorgeous. Furthermore, I’ve never been to an opening night that went so smoothly. The service was friendly and enthusiastic, and the space is beautiful.

The meal started with (warm! +100 points) bread service unlike anything I’ve had before. Schmaltzy challah “monkey bread” flavored with onions and chicken skin. Chicken skin. In bread. It’s so rich and decadent that you don’t even need butter. I regretfully failed to photograph this masterpiece because we attacked it like carb-vultures, but it’s a rather pretty small loaf pretty and topped with sesame seeds.

Drinks

The Boulevardier cocktail was basically created just for my palette. It contains Buffalo Trace bourbon, barrel-aged Manischewitz and Campari—it’s essentially a bourbon Negroni with sweet kosher wine in place of the sweet vermouth. Genius. The Abe Fisher Cocktail was also quite good, a briny, pickley gin concoction with some of the most delicious cocktail onions I’ve ever had.

Plate 1

The meal started with the borscht tartare, a generous mound of perfectly seasoned minced beets topped with dill, shaved horseradish, and trout roe served with a 6 minute egg and home made potato chips. I was not remotely surprised to love this. The sweetness of the beets combined with the heat from the horseradish and salty pops of trout roe played together in perfect harmony. I also cannot overstate how much I appreciate a perfected cooked hard boiled egg. A+.

Plate 2

Next was the raw and pickled bass, another plate I knew I’d be a sucker for. I cannot resist raw fish dishes at small plate restaurants, and pickled fish is something I’ve recently become obsessed with. This is basically a Jewish twist on a crudo, and it’s fantastic.

Plate 3

When the stuffed trout gefilte fish came out, I just kind of stared at it for a moment. I had never had gefilte fish but I had general idea of what to expect, and this was very unexpected. In a great way. It doesn’t have the “preserved” taste you would expect, but its rather fresh tasting with moist trout meat inside and wrapped in perfectly crispy trout skin. Definitely a must-try, even if you’re generally not a gefilte fish fan.

I think we may have over-ordered

Guys, the dry-aged lamb minute steak is so big (for a small plates restaurant) it should come with a disclaimer. That said, it’s absolutely phenomenal. I really can’t pick a favorite from what we had throughout the night, but this could be it. Tender and lambtastic. I basically ordered this entirely based on my love of redeye gravy, and they totally nailed it.

Oh god why

At this point we were all but on the floor, so we had to essentially force feed ourselves the veal schnitzel tacos. This is the only plate I probably wouldn’t order again, but that isn’t to say I didn’t like it. It’s exactly what you would expect it to be, and the schnitzel is fantastic. It’s thicker than schnitzel you’re probably used to, making for a seriously hefty taco. Two are served per order and if you can eat more than one of these you’re a monster.

I wasn’t bummed that we didn’t have room for dessert because I’m certain I’ll be back here soon. Abe Fisher’s menu is rare in that I want to eat literally every single thing they offer.

I’m coming for you, salmon belly gravlax.

 

I think my interest in Dîner en Blanc lasted about 45 seconds. The first year it came to Philadelphia I remember when I came across the initial press and my intrigue quickly became confusion. I was on board at first since a huge outdoor picnic with a color theme sounded kind of lovely, but with the barriers to entry and the price, I was quickly over it. Quite simply, paying to lug a table, chairs, an entire meal, plates, flatware, and wine to an undisclosed location while dressed to the nines just to flaunt my disposable income grossed me out.

And then Dîner en Noir came along.

My biggest problem with Dîner en Blanc was, of course, the problem of what the ticket price represented. Sure, it costs money to get permits for events, but when you’re bringing in over $100k and all your workers are volunteers, the remainder is going into someone’s pocket. I also have no desire own an all-white cocktail dress, much less purchasing one for a single evening.

Dîner en Noir basically took the best parts of the Dîner en Blanc concept and ran with it. No nepotism, incredible music, and as you drag that table to your meeting place you can take comfort in the fact that the proceeds go to charity—Philabundance and Friends of Penn Treaty Park to be exact. And who doesn’t feel sexy in all black? Oh, and did I mention that they actually drove us to the final picnic location? Very classy touch.

I had originally planned to prepare our picnic dinner, but when we learned Chef Ritter was catering, we knew we had to go with his menu. As with all of his food, it was fantastic. The charcuterie plate was the stand-out, featuring pork belly rillettes and chicken liver pâté served with toasted bread. It also included an assortment of pickles including cornichons, green beans, and absolutely incredible herb-pickled mushrooms. The walnut-tarragon pistou and truffled honey was a perfect accompaniment.

The meal also included a fresh salad with dijon dressing, and two excellent French sandwiches. The pan bagnat included tuna in olive going, capers, artichoke, shallots, and egg–totally decadent. The jambon buerre was a perfect contrast to the brine of the pan bagnat, with a simple combination of proscuitto, radish, and good European butter.

Dessert was wonderfully light—thankfully, because we were stuffed—with chocolate cover strawberries and chai/lemon/pistachio madelines

We were having too much fun to snap more than a few photos, but check out this gorgeous album of photos taken by Gregg Sims over on Flickr.

Merci beaucoup, Dîner en Noir. We’ll see you in 2015.

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Last Wednesday was the first Drink Philly Boat Party and it was pretty much everything I dreamed it would be. Beautiful weather, wonderful people, and unlimited food and drink as we sailed between bridges on the Delaware River. It also gave me a chance to rock my giant lobster bling cuff. Always a good thing.

Upon arriving myself and my lovely friends Amanda, Dylan, and Mike, began to climb the levels seeking a table. Luckily we didn’t mange to find one until we reached the very top deck. Our seats put us in the prime spot to be serenaded by live jazz all night while we admired the Philadelphia skyline and double fisted beer. It was really the perfect night. Below us people danced and did shots and watched Sharknado, while the highest tier took a lower key approach to the evening. They somehow managed to create an event that accommodated everyone’s preference in atmosphere.

Yet another hit event from the fabulous folks at Drink Philly. Keep on killing it, guys. <3

 

 

 

Gin was the first hard liquor I fell in love with. I started slow with gimlets and G&Ts as I worked my way up to dry martinis and, of course, Negronis. I don’t know how my infatuation with gin started, but it happened fast and as early as 21 I was saving up for bottles of Hendrick’s and Blue Coat so I could have something to savor for months. Top shelf gin was my designer shoes. I even enjoy it on the rocks–cannot get enough juniper.

So it seemed only fitting that the first cocktail of the month be gin-based. And being that I’ve recently begun a love affair with bitters (more on that later), the Negroni was the clear choice.

Negronis are a perfect before or after dinner cocktail because they act as a digestif. The bitterness of the Campari stimulates digestion and either kickstarts your appetite or settles your stomach after a large meal. They’re also boozy, delicious, and incredibly simple to make.

You’ll need:

1 ozCampari
1oz of your favorite gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
A fresh orange peel

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and top with equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth.
Stir until chilled through, then strain into a rocks glass over a large rock. Ice spheres and oversized cubes are perfect for negronis.
Express an orange peel by gently bending it length-wise by the lip of the glass and spritzing the essential oils over brim.
Give the brim a quick swipe with the peel, coax it into a twist, and garnish.

Ta-da! Negroni.

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The Cocktail of the Month is my pursuit to master classic cocktails and build my home bar.

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I’m pretty into hotdogs, and I’ve got to be honest—I don’t discriminate. If I have a craving I’ll enjoy a snappy Kosher all beef dog topped with rare and exotic delights just as much as a 7-Eleven Big Bite.

I probably shouldn’t admit to that on the internet. Too late, moving on.

So, being that I am a lover of all things hotdog, I jumped an an opportunity to rep Geekadelphia in the 3rd Annual Hot Diggity! Dog Days of Summer Amateur Cook-Off. Alright, “jumped” is an exaggeration. The truth is I had about three days notice and am generally a very planned person so I could not for the life of me figure out a good idea for Philadelphia-themed toppings. My original plan was extremely conceptual and involved a homage to the Academy of Natural Sciences, but I couldn’t quite finalize it.

That’s when Mary stepped in.

Mary Brickthrower is a fellow Geekadelphian, food nerd, and blogger over on Fare Game. And her hotdog topping concept spoke directly to my heart. An Italian hoagie dog. Super Mario’s Italian Hoagie Dog to be exact (gotta keep with that geek theme).

Guys,  I know I said I’m into hotdogs, but I’m really into Italian hoagies. Since I moved to Philly in 2006, they have been my favorite treat yo’self carbtastrophy. Wawa, Primo, Koch’s—everything. So when Mikey proposed we team up, clearly I was down.

The components

Mary took the reins in regards to meat, cheese, and our glorious Geekadelphia Dressing Jawn. Head on over to Fare Game for her chunk of the hotdog topping process.

I was in charge of veggies, which I was super excited about. I love nothing more than a hotdog topped with something bright that gives it some crunch and adds a touch of coldness. After some deliberation I decided to use shredded iceberg lettuce and julienned hot and sweet peppers to create something with feel of a slaw. Instead of a mayo-based dressing we doused it in some Geekadelphia’s Dressing Jawn—a red wine vinegar spiked Dietz and Watson dressing—and topped it all off with some organic cherry tomato slices.

I snagged the tomatoes from my friendly neighborhood co-op, Mariposa, and the marinated peppers from Kaufman’s Lancaster Country Produce in the Reading Terminal. Mary grabbed the lettuce from Iovine Bros, also in the Terminal.

We won for “Most Comforting”, which makes sense because I’m pretty sure combining backyard BBQ paper plate childhood favorites with Italian-American grub is the definition of comfort food.

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Dat dressing jawn

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Slaw construction and wrapped dogs

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Meated and cheesed and ready for slaw

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Being cut for judging.

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I cannot wait to do this again next year with more notice. It was a total blast.

Oh, also we won Google.

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One brutally hot summer in Central Pennsylvania, my best friend AJ and I went to a barbecue at his manager’s house not far from Three Mile Island. Her home was set way back in the woods and required a little bit of off-roading to access, and consisted of acres of untouched land attached to a staggering country-style home overflowing with balconies. We sat on the deck just as the sun dipped behind the trees enough to start to give us relief, and Ruth greeted us with glasses of homemade limoncello. It tasted like sunshine kicking you in the face, and we raved about it. I promised myself that I’d make my own limoncello some day and share it with my friends on my own deck.

That was probably 8 years ago. This is my first attempt to recreate what I tasted at Ruth’s house that day.

I did quite a lot of research. I found recipes that were quick, recipes that took more sugar that I could fathom, and recipes that insisted vodka was an acceptable spirit to use. I wanted to do this old school, and I had no desire to rush the process. Ultimately I opted for the traditional 40 day infusion period, but since I was making them for Christmas gifts I had to cut down on the mellowing time. I also chose to use a lower sugar recipe to yield a drier apertif.

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Limoncello

14 organic lemons

1 750 ml bottle Everclear

Simple syrup to taste

Large glass jar, at least 2 liters to be safe

Pretty jars for bottling [link to Fantes]

Phase 1

First, scrub those lemons.

Now you need to remove the zest. I tried this a few ways before I settled on the microplane. The goal is to get only the yellow bit, as any pith will make your limoncello bitter. Set aside.

Pour your Everclear into your (immaculately clean) glass jar, add your lemon zest, close the jar, and shake to combine.

Now hide it. No, seriously. There are a few reasons for this. First, you want the limoncello to hang out in a cool, dark place. Second, if it’s out it’ll drive you insane because the next step major doesn’t take place until 40 days from now. Mark your calendar.

Every few days, visit your limoncello and give it a shake.

After 40 days is up, you can move onto Phase 2.

Phase 2

First, you’re going to want to strain out all of those bits of zest. You know your limoncello is good and infused when the zest is brittle and white, and the liquor is a stunning golden-yellow.

Different people will tell you different things about sweetening limoncello, but the fact is, all it contains is simple syrup and infused booze, so I say do it to taste. Some people will say you want half simple syrup, half liquor, but I find that entirely too sweet. It’s all up to you. I will say this, though. Make sure you start with at least 3 cups of simple syrup before you taste. Any less than that will be over 100 proof, and you will regret it.

Now you have two choices. You can drink it now, or you can wait for it to mellow. You should wait another 40 days, but you probably won’t I know I didn’t. I gave it three weeks and when it was time to drink, it was juuuust fine.

This batch turned out pretty fantastic, but it was still pretty sweet for me despite the bite of the liquor. Next time I think I’ll dilute the limoncello to about the proof I’m looking for with some spring water, and then add simple syrup to taste.

I’ve always struggled with gnocchi and it bothers me. In theory, it should be one of my favorite things to eat. It’s a carbtastrophy of starchy-goodness that serves as a vessel for Italian gravies, pestos, and creamy sauces. It’s a potato-centric blank slate, so why have I never really fallen in love with a plate of gnocchi? I love potatoes. I love pasta. Why does gnocchi make me feel nothing? I resolved to remedy the confusion the only way I knew how—making my own damn gnocchi.
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Here’s what you need:

2 scant lbs of russet potatoes 1 egg 1 scant cup AP flour

Salt

Slice the potatoes in half width-wise, then throw them in a pot of salted water over the stove. Boil until cooked through.

Once they’re totally cooked, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon (reserving the water) and put them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have a ricer, peel the potatoes beforehand and mash them with a fork. The hotter they are when you process them, the fluffier the potatoes will be so keep each piece in the hot water until you’re ready. After you’ve processed the potatoes, let them cool.

Once the potatoes are cool, arrange them in a pile on the cutting board. Lightly beat one egg and and drizzle it over the potatoes. Then, dust about 3/4 of the flour on top.

Mix the potato, egg, and flour together with a spatula or a dough scraper by gently folding it onto itself. It will be crumbly at first and will desperately try to fall on the floor, so work patiently while it starts to come together. If it’s too sticky, add some of the reserved flour. I ended up using the entire extra 1/4 cup. Once the dough is soft and not sticking to everything in sight, you’re ready to shape the gnocchi.

First, the dough into 8 equal chunks and roll each portion into a log about 1/2 inch thick. Then, cut the log in half and in half again until you have the size you want. Mine were about 3/4 inch.

This next part is optional, but I highly recommend it. To give the gnocchi a traditional shape (and to help them grab more sauce) place a gnocchi on your thumb and gently press the pasta with a fork. Like so:

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To cook the gnocchi, bring your potato water to a boil and drop the gnocchi in the water 10-15 at a time. They’re done when the float to the surface. Scoop them out with a spider and set them aside.

Now, do your potato pasta dance. Because you, my friend, have just made gnocchi.

I’ll be honest with you. At this point, I was slightly disappointed. I tasted them, and they had very little flavor. I know what you’re thinking. Michelle, you’re eating unseasoned potato balls without any sauce, what the hell did you expect? I expected to cry limoncello tears and become inhabited by the Edeisa the Roman goddess of food, goddammit. Truth is, next time I’m gonna add a little salt to the potatoes after ricing them. I do not have a sauce recipe for you and I’m sorry. In all honestly we winged it with our tomato sauce and I simply wasn’t measuring or making any notes. The excellent Jack Goldenberg of Hood Rich Farms sold us some gorgeous yellow and red tomato gems, and we basically just threw them in the Vitamix and played with them until it tasted good. A few fresh tomato sauce tips:

  1. Always add sugar. Tomatoes are very acidic and they need sweetness to balance them out. You don’t need to use table sugar, but you do need to use something.
  2. The sweeter your tomatoes, the less cooking they need. This may seem obvious, but I was so in love with these tomatoes that at first I didn’t want to cook them at all. We tried the sauce raw, and while it was fine it didn’t taste balanced. Ultimately I ended up simmering the sauce on the stove for about 10 minutes, and that brought everything together. If your tomatoes aren’t quite masterpieces of nature, you may need to cook them longer. Which leads us to:
  3. If they’re not great raw, don’t do a fresh sauce. Roast ‘em first and cook them down a lot or start with high-quality whole canned tomatoes.
  4. When in doubt, tomato paste. If your fresh tomato sauce just isn’t working for you, a little tomato paste (or tomato powder—my most recent obsession) can balance it out.
  5. Taste as you go and quit while you’re ahead. Cooking without a recipe can be a lot of fun, but the excitement of making something awesome even better can lead to overcooked, over-seasoned, overly-complicated food. Taste everything and keep it simple.

An even quicker option? Brown up some butter with sage and fry the gnocchi up in a hot pan.