Tuesday, September 29, 2009

West African Cuisine at Tastee D's, Philadelphia, PA

Just off South St. in Philly, we went to Tastee D's, a restaurant specializing in Nigerian and West African cuisine.
On a rainy night on Thursday, we found we were the only people in the restaurant, but the staff was so incredibly gracious and hospitable.

We started with a set of appetizers. First, we ordered the fish pie- a pastry filled with shredded fish.
Next, we got Moin Moin, which reminded me a lot of polenta. It was made if pureed black eyed peas, tomato, egg and corned beef- really nice.

My favorite of the three appetizers was the chicken gizzards- they were fried in a nice spicy tomato broth.

We decided to try two entrees so we could taste a good variety of what the place had to offer.
First, we ordered Jolof Rice and Plantains with goat and Efo Elegusi. The Jolof rice is basically African fried rice with tomatos paste, onion, and chili powder. The Efo Elogusi consists of spinach with ground melon seed cooked in a tomato-pepper base.
Our second entree was Yam with Corned Beef Stew with a side of beef chunks cooked in a tomato-pepper sauce. The yam was simple and went well with the stew, which reminded me of deviled ham.

At the end of our meal, the server realized that they had not served us Puff Puffs, which they usually make for patrons at the start of the meal. Instead they made a nice dessert. They were balls of sweet dough deep fried- almost like a light hush puppy.

526 South 4th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 923-1113

Monday, September 28, 2009

Holly's Restaurant, Grasonville, MD

On my drive out to Ocean City, MD for Labor Day weekend, I stopped at exit 43 off Route 50 after crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and had a wonderful lunch at Holly's restaurant.
They are most well known for their Eastern Shore style fried chicken. I ordered mine with a side of fried green tomatoes and mashed potatoes with gravy. The skin was so good, that after eating my thigh and drumstick, I ate just the skin off the breast. Dark meat rules!

They also make their own ice cream at Holly's so I ordered and black and white shake. It was so thick my straw did not sink when raised.

108 Jackson Creek Road
Grasonville, Maryland 21638

Wisconsin Boys Weekend 2009 Part 5- Miscellany

This year's trip would not be complete with going to Friday fish fry in Wisconsin. We went back to the Red Fox in Wild Rose. I had a delicious plate of Walleye Pike.
When we were stocking up for the trip in Milwaukee, we grabbed a few Racine Kringles from Sendik's grocery store. We tried apple and strawberry, but I wish they'd had almond.

My friend Dan brought some fresh Hatch chiles from the west coast. Inspired by Kenny Shopsin, we made it in a nice scramble. They were really spicy, and I thought I had washed my hands before I rubbed my eyes, but boy, was I wrong. Ouch.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wisconsin Boys Weekend 2009 Part 4 - Union Star Cheese Factory

Near the site of out Wisconsin Boys Weekend is the Union Star Cheese Factory. We drove out in the morning to get fresh made cheese curds.
When we arrived there, people were already walking out with armfuls of fresh cheese curds.

Inside, the staff was bagging up the morning's batch. I also picked up some summer sausage, some Colby cheese with bacon, and something called cheese fudge which was like a dense chocolate cheesecake.

The real experience was trying fresh cheese curds- they are squeaky when you chew them. It was amazing- completely different from curds that have already been refrigerated or frozen. I would recommend the experience to anyone.
There might be a part 5.

7742 County Road II
Fremont, WI 54940-9637

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Wisconsin Boys Weekend 2009 Part 3- Whole Roast Pig

The centerpiece meal of Boys Weekend up in Wisconsin this year was a whole roast pig. It was the first time for the group to try to cook such a large amount of meat, but we went into it enthusiastically. Our host, Thayer ordered a whole pig up at the local market, Stone Ridge in Wautoma, WI.

It was a little larger than suckling, but no too large. The pig had a "tramp stamp" indicating it was from Wisconsin. We started with a nice meat rub on it and it sat overnight in the cooler.

First thing next morning, we started working on the fire pit. We butterflied the animal, and secured it between two grates, and started cooking.
We had some issues with the pit firing up some, so I think the temperature got a little to hot early in the cooking process. As we got used to managing the pit, we were able to control the temperature in the latter part of the cooking process.

When the pig was finished, we unfortunately lost the skin to our early difficulties with temperature control, but once we started digging in, the meat was spectacular.
At first, we started carving up the meat, but the group collectively started just gathering around the animal, eating various parts straight off the table. It was all very primal- men eating meat with bare hands.
I happily shared a foot and part of the head with my friend Dan.

When we carved up the pork for later in the day, I decided to try my hand at creating a pig dip. Inspired by the vinegar style of dip from North Carolina, I whipped together a mix of the available spices in some apple vinegar and behold, we had some yummy pig dip.
Yes, there is a part 4.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wisconsin Boys Weekend 2009 Part 2- Molecular Gastronomy

My friend Dan, at this years annual Boys Weekend trip brought up a bunch of chemicals to perform an amazing feat of molecular gastronomy, recreating Fabio Viviani's beef carpacchio salad with spherical olives from the 5th season of Top Chef.
First, he started by putting all the olives into a blender to puree them as much as possible.
He dumped the olive mix into a special bag so that he could strain out all the liquid from the olive mixture for use. I tried the residual solid left in the bag, and discovered it had absolutely no flavor at all.
With the olive liquid extracted from the mix, he then added a specific amount of Calcium Chloride.
Dan mentioned that the only place he could find an incredibly accurate scale was not the kitchen store, but at the head shop.
He then prepared and alginate solution in another bowl, and taking small amounts of the olive liquid, he dropped them into the alginate. This reaction created the "skin" around the olive mixture.
After a small time sitting, he removed the "spherical olives" rinsed them and placed them in some olive oil for more flavor. He then finished the rest of the salad and carpacchio and, voila, the dish was complete.
Biting into the spherical olives was a unique experience. They seemed to pop like a grape releasing the olive flavor.
Stay tuned for part 3.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wisconsin Boys Weekend 2009 Part 1 - Sausage and Booze

So Fougoo has her monthly girls cooking nights known on this blog, but every year, I have an annual Boys Weekend in Wisconsin where we share food, drink and good times.
This year's trip was the most "foodie" we've ever had. This year, our host Thayer has been really taking Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie book as inspiration to, first off, making homemade Italian and Hungarian sausages. They were incredible, fresh, and juicy. There is nothing like the snap of natural casings.
He also cured his own Lox, using a nice amount of star anise that was just delicious.

My fried Karl, brought an incredible sausage from Zingerman's of Ann Arbor that was infused with black truffles. Before you cut into it, it had that stinky amazing smell of a good cheese.

Certainly, no weekend is complete without some delicious alcoholic beverages. After our experience with the Caldera canned beers in previous trips, we had several other canned craft beers. I liked the Modus Hoperandi from Ska Brewing in Colorado. The can was all decked out in the Two Tone style and it said "Lip up Fatty" on the bsck.
For a lighter flavor, the Mama's Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues was really nice.
We tried some Tito's Handmade Vodka from Austin, TX that was more like a whiskey in it's bite and more character than more widely available vodka.
Stay tuned for part 2.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ardy and Ed's Drive-In, Oshkosh, WI

On our way to our annual boys weekend in Wisconsin, we stopped in Oshkosh to Ardy & Ed's Drive-In on the shores of Lake Winnebago for a snack.
They had waitresses on roller skates who rolled up to take our orders. Certainly, because Ardy and Ed's make their own root beer and ice cream, we had one of their famous root beer floats. Despite it coming in a styrofoam cup, and not being very photogenic, the root beer float was one of the best I've ever had.
I also had a brat sandwich, which consisted of bratwurst contents molded into a hamburger patty with onions and mustard.

2413 S Main St
Oshkosh, WI 54902-7244
(920) 231-5455

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Benji's in Milwaukee, WI

Last month, I was passing through Milwaukee, and I went for breakfast at Benji's. After having the Hoffel Poffel from Jo's last year, I had to order the Super Hoppel Poppel at Benji's.
The Super Hoppel Poppel was eggs, spicy salami chunks, potato, onions, peppers, and mushrooms topped with American cheese. It really hit the spot.

4156 N. Oakland Ave.
Milwaukee, WI

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Open ChefAMe Event #5

Last month, 1000yregg and I went to the Open ChefAMe event in Philly. I love the concept -- it's an open mic night for chefs, giving anyone who's brave enough the chance to cook in a professional kitchen, for a restaurant full of diners.

Held on an off-night in a local restaurant -- in this case, Ava, on 4th Street near South -- it's the chance to taste something totally unexpected. It's also one of the best deals in town. For $35, we were treated to a 6 course meal, made by 2 chefs -- one a former pro, Ali Waks, and the other a super home cook, Diana Martignoni.

We started with an amuse made by Ali -- One Fig Two Ways: Canape of Chicken Liver Pistachio Pate with Brulee Fig, and Crostini Fig Salsa, Begamot Ricotta, wth Chive Blossoms. This was my favorite dish of the whole meal, especially the Brulee fig. The caramelized fig was sweet and delicious, I'm a sucker for chicken liver and the pistachio in the pate added just that hint of complexity. With this as our first bite, we were off to a really promising start!

Next was the salad course - made by Diana - Organic Spring Greens with Gorgonzola, Carmelized Spicy Pecans, and Dried Cranberries, served with a Raspberry/Orange Muscat Vinaigrette.

The soup course that followed was by Ali - Essence of Jersey Corn Soup w/ Truffled Wildflour Brioche, Heirloom Tomatoes & Guanciale. We looked up what "guanciale" was on 1000yregg's iPhone, and discovered it was an unsmoked Italian bacon prepared with pig's jowl or cheeks. Pig lovers that we are, we were looking forward to that, but to be honest, I couldn't discern any meat in the dish at all. My only other complaint was that I wish the soup had been served in a deeper soup bowl so that it would have stayed hot. But it was clean and fresh - a nice change to more traditional creamy corn soups.

Then we were treated to not one, but 2 main courses. Diana's main course was Chicken Enchiladas with velvet chili sauce, fresh pico de gallo, and cilantro/scallion pesto. The chicken was moist and flavorful, the sauce was indeed velvety smooth -- all in all a very satisfying dish.

Ali's main was Smoked Coffee & Espresso Rubbed Hangar Steak, Roasted Happy Cat Farm Potatoes, Rainbow Chard w/ Garlic & Lemon Confit. I loved this - the coffee flavor was amazing, and both of us had steaks that were cooked a perfect medium rare. Everything on the plate was delicious - from the chard to sauce to the lemon.

Finally was dessert - Local Peaches, Vanilla Gelato, Cherry Balsamic Gastrique, Lavender Pistachio Biscotti, served with Earl Gray Lavender Chocolates. This was truly unexpected -- ok, the peach was good (probably should have been served with a knife, as the only way to eat it really was to spear the whole thing with your fork and just bite off it), but what was really amazing was the combination of the vanilla gelato and the cherry balsamic gastrique. Now, I love my balsamic, but I never would have thought of having it on ice cream - but put together with the gelato, it tasted like it could have been dark chocolate. Amazing!

What really struck me during this meal was the difference between the former pro and the amateur. Don't get me wrong, Diana was a great cook - if she had me over to dinner and served me the salad and those enchiladas, I would have been very happy. But Ali brought just that extra imagination to the table - combinations of flavors I never would have thought of. The thoughtfulness that went into the menu, weaving ingredients/flavors from dish to dish like pistachio, lemon, bergamot, lavender. As someone who fancies herself a pretty good home cook, I bow in humble obeisance. I'm way to scared to try it myself!