My friend Abigail is the world’s biggest Graeter’s Ice Cream fan, and talks about it all the time. If you want to make her happy, get her Graeter’s. If you’ve made her sad, all will be forgiven, with the appropriate quantity of Graeter’s. So when Graeter’s offered to send me some ice cream for review… I threw her an ice cream party.
It actually became party / taste test, with 8 pints in competition, with some mango sorbet to cleanse the palate. 9 of my lovely knitters took up the challenge. The competitors —
Team Graeter’s: Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Mint Chocolate Chip, Vanilla Chocolate Chip, and the anchor, Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip.
Team Takedown: Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Wawa Black Raspberry Chip, Haagen Dazs Coffee (not shown), and Jeni’s Buckeye State.
For a baseline, I asked everyone what their childhood favorite flavors were. Two chose black raspberry chip and one was a pistachio fan. I was baffled, thinking they were rather adult flavors. All three said, “it’s because purple/green was my favorite color as a kid.” (Clearly, Maggie Moo’s is onto something with their crazy colors of ice cream.) Other picks: rocky road, 2 mint chocolate chips, vanilla, cookies and cream, anything with chocolate and peanut butter, and the classic twist cone.
In the present day, the tasting was fast and furious, with multiple rounds including toppings towards the end. It would be fair to say that Graeter’s crushed the competition. If you are a chocolate chip fan, you’re going to be in heaven. If you’re not, these chips could change your mind. Graeter’s had smooth, large chocolate chips, with excellent flavor. Haagen-Dazs chips were smaller, chalkier and very crunchy. On the black raspberry, Beth said, “The Wawa ice cream was fine, nice even, before I tasted the Graeter’s.” After tasting the Graeter’s, the Wawa pales in comparison (literally.)
Head to head flavor shots, clockwise from top left: Graeter’s chocolate chocolate chip, Haagen Dazs chocolate chocolate chip, Wawa black raspberry chip, Graeter’s black raspberry chip.
The winner(s): Graeter’s black raspberry chip! 50% of the knitters picked this as their favorite. Graeter’s chocolate chocolate chip was right behind, with 4 votes. Jeni’s Buckeye State also got some mentions. All 3 pints were completely finished.
The instigator: The Graeter’s mint chocolate chip caused the most agitation, with some folks declaring it minty enough to taint an entire bowl, and others declaring it disappointingly under-minty. (Personally, it was my second favorite after chocolate-chocolate chip.)
The loser: Wawa black raspberry chip. Maybe it was the pale pink hue, or the light smattering of chips, but it’s the one pint that no one went back for seconds from after having a taste.
The big surprises: Who knew black raspberry chip was so popular? Am I living in an ice cream bubble? Also, people like gummy bears on mango sorbet.
The best news: You don’t eat your ice cream in head to head comparisons very often. So, by the time I get to finishing the remaining pints, they will all taste delicious. Great ice cream is amazing, but even mediocre ice cream is pretty good.
Graeter’s is now available in the Philadelphia area at Weis grocery stores for, I am told, $4.95 per pint, or online for substantially more.
(Disclosure: Graeter’s provided their ice cream for free. The other ice cream I bought. The opinions are mine or my tasters alone. Opinions of pre-verbal tasters not included.)
You may have noticed the dearth of restaurant posts around here and assumed that, as a parent, I no longer leave my house. In fact, I still go out to eat a lot, I just have less time to photograph and blog. But, pre-baby, I had worried that my dining out days were over. Now, I will lift the veil of mystery for other first-time parents. (Your mileage may vary, depending on baby. My kid is just a toddler now, so this is not a guide to dining with toddlers.)
Here are my general rules to dining out with babies.
1. Tip generously. No matter when or where you are, serving a table with a baby is a tough gig. You’re probably not drinking. There’s another person at the table possibly creating havoc, but not ordering anything. 20% is the minimum, and I go up from there.
2. Be ready to walk out. We’ve never had to actually walk away from a meal, but I have taken the baby outside to soothe her. Everyone in the restaurant will thank you.
3. Not all times are created equal. Start loving lunch. We’ve gone out for many more nice lunches than dinners — people aren’t expecting a hushed ambiance at noon. Embrace off hours. We’ve been to Village Whiskey and several gastropubs — between 2:30 and 4:30.
4. Some spots are not meant for kids. My rule of thumb is, if it seats less than 30, come back on a date. They’re not going to be super happy about giving one of them up for a baby.
5. Know the spots that serve all afternoon. We had more than a handful of grumpy outings in the early days, when we started a lunch plan at 12:30, only to walk up to the restaurant at 2:15 and find that lunch was long since over.
These are a few spots that were especially gracious to us. You have my continued gratitude for making new parents feel like they can leave the house.
Jones was our first meal out. We meant to leave the house around 12:30, and in our new parent stupor, did not wash up on their doorstep for almost 2 hours. It was a good first choice as a relatively noisy restaurant, because I was hyper-sensitive to the possibility that we would disturb people. (Pro tip: Up to 2 months of age, your baby will almost certainly spend the entire meal sleeping in their carrier. Don’t worry so much.)
Getting the fried chicken lunch at Mèmè was one of my only goals of maternity leave. I didn’t make it there until the very last Thursday, and we got 2 of the last 3 dishes. Our waitress was not only very sweet about a baby joining us, but told us that her son, now 5, acted just the same way as a baby, and has always been a great restaurant-goer. As my mother likes to say, you can never lay it on too thick for the parents. Thanks; it was just the confidence boost we needed.
Prohibition Taproom was the first bar we took baby to. It was a slow afternoon, the bartender came over a few times to play with her, and we ended up chatting with a pair of patrons about strollers in the city.
The meatballs at Pizzeria Stella were the first restaurant dish our daughter ate with gusto. The high chairs and hubbub at Parc have kept her entertained through many a brunch. In fact, every Starr restaurant we’ve taken her to has been quite baby-friendly.
Smokin’ Betty’s is our default must-get-out-of-the-house restaurant — they serve all day, we’ve never had to wait, and their bread pudding french toast is an excellent incentive to get out the door before 2.
Finally, a special tip of the hat to every server who trusted me when I told them she would handle a glass better than a plastic cup. (She just ends up squeezing plastic cups.) Best wishes to all the parents and soon-to-be parents out there, and remember, a restaurant will always be happy to wrap your meal when faced with a screaming child.
For those playing “spot the photo”, among the many city restaurants that graciously welcomed us are (from top to bottom) Distrito, Garces Trading Company, Pizzeria Stella and Fare.
I stand in line with you, week in and week out, as you decide what to buy at the Flying Monkey. I know, the Pumpple is one of Reading Terminal Market’s celebrity dishes, what with being on the Today Show and all. The cupcakes are as cute as a button. However, you’re really leaving some great options at the counter. So, as a favor to you, I’m here to tell you about the top three treats, from great to best, you haven’t tried yet at the Flying Monkey.
3. Ginger Molasses Cookies
I get it. Your eyes are on what’s in the cases, not what’s on top of them, but the ginger molasses cookie should not be missed. It’s chewy, it’s buttery, it’s got a sprinkling of sugar on top for a little crispness. And it’s not only delicious, it’s cheap — just $1! Go ahead and add it to what you have already picked. You’ll be back later for another one.
2. Flourless Chocolate Cake
The Flying Monkey knows chocolate, and nowhere is that knowledge showcased more effectively than the flourless chocolate cake. It’s chocolate cake, topped with a super thick, super rich layer of chocolate ganache. This is not a dessert you’ll gobble down, it’s one that you’ll savor. Know you have an long afternoon at work? Bring a slice of this back to your desk, and it’ll get you through. (My husband and I get a slice Saturday mornings, and leave it on the counter to snack on as we clean the apartment.)
1. Whoopie Pies
Whoopie pies are a Pennsylvania specialty, and nowhere does them better than Flying Monkey. Someday, I hope that whoopie pies will rank up there with cheesesteaks as “things you must eat when you come to Philadelphia”. Until then, here is your chance to get ahead of the curve. Start with the traditional styles — two soft, moist cakes sandwiching cream cheese frosting. Then, give the flavored frostings a try, or go crispy, like my personal favorite, the oatmeal caramel. (Shown above, from left to right: oatmeal caramel, classic, pumpkin, double chocolate. They have lots of other great flavors that change daily.)
Bonus tip: The Flying Monkey makes all their marshmallows in house. If you’re a marshmallow fan, you’re in for a treat.
The Flying Monkey is open 7 days a week in Reading Terminal Market, right off center court. I’ll see you in line!
Around this time of year, when the farmer’s markets have only had apples and pears for weeks, I remember that there’s nothing else coming to those markets until next May. For me, it’s a short step from that realization to the winter produce blues.
Luckily, my friend Cybèle introduced me to a simple, delicious pineapple salad. OK, “salad” is a bit of a stretch — it’s more like garnished pineapple, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. You’ll forget all about the long winter ahead when you pop these bright, sunny flavors into your mouth.
Ginger Pineapple Salad
hunk of fresh ginger
1-3 limes (depending on their juiciness and your taste)
Cut your pineapple into 1 inch cubes. (Don’t know how to cut a pineapple? Check out this video.) Place in a bowl large enough for tossing.
Peel your ginger. (How do you peel ginger? With a spoon!) Grate it directly over the pineapple. Then squeeze your limes into the bowl, and toss. Let sit for 20-30 minutes for the flavors to come together, then serve.
Bubble tea, also known as boba tea, once referred only to tea with dark, chewy tapioca balls in it. It’s delicious, and how the trend got started. But tapioca balls are tricky little buggers. They have a very short shelf life once cooked … like 4 to 5 hours. They get softer the longer they sit in liquid. So, if your bubble tea purveyor doesn’t have high turnover, end of the day customers are going to get a mouthful of mush. (My personal policy became, “never buy a bubble tea with tapioca pearls from a place that doesn’t have a steady stream of customers coming out with them.”)
So, a range of alternatives joined tapoica pearls as the fun, chewy insert to your tea. Flavored jellies have been around almost as long as pearls, but I have never really been a fan. I was introduced to, and delighted by, chunks of aloe vera in Australia. (You can get one closer by at Rising Tide.) But the newest innovation pops!
Popping bubbles, pop pearls, popping boba — what are they? Imagine a tiny, edible water balloon. Now fill that water balloon with sweet goo, dump about 30 of them in a flavored tea, and you’ve got your bubble tea with popping bubbles. They’re available all over Chinatown, including the newly opened, exclusively drink-focused Tea Talk.
(Pictured: passion fruit green tea with tapioca pearls, mango yogurt tea with popping bubbles)
They offer popping bubbles and the full range of traditionally expected drinks. I am pleased to report that their traditional tapioca boba were done really well, nicely chewy without the dreaded hard center. If you’ve been mourning the loss of Zen Tea House and the Bubble House for your bubble tea outings, Tea Talk is here to fill the hole in your heart.
Tea Talk 205 N 10th St (between Race and Vine) Philadelphia, PA19107
At long last, Spread Bagelry is open, and the unbageled masses are washing up on their doorstep.
A fire shortly after their original opening closed their doors, the unchanging website and silent Twitter account mocking those of us who hadn’t been quick enough to try them in the first go round. But, be warned — if you want to try these bagels, you still need to be quick. I got two of the last 4 bagels on Saturday 2.5 hours before closing, and there were crazy long lines on Sunday, too.
So, why all the excitement? I’ve bemoaned the lack of good bagels in Center City before. South Street Bagels are great, but it’s a pretty hefty walk considering their seating is limited to 3 stools in the front. I was hoping Spread Bagelry could deliver me from my chain bagel blues.
First, they have seating. And it’s cute! Little bagel-themed takeoffs on movie posters decorate the walls. (“Of all the bagel joints in all the cities in the world, she had to walk into mine.”)
Be warned, though. It’s hot in there. There’s a wood-burning oven, folks, and the heat’s got to go somewhere. I’m sure it will be delightful come winter, but, for now, plan to eat your bagels in Rittenhouse.
(Yes, that’s their wood pile.)
The bagels are Montreal style, which typically means they’re smaller, sweeter, have a bigger hole, and are cooked in a wood-burning oven (so you may get some smoky char on the bottom, like you get on your wood-fired pizzas.) I’m guessing they may have gotten some “feedback” from the first go round, because while my bagels were sweeter and wood-fired, I wouldn’t say they were noticeably smaller than a standard bagel. They had a slightly crisper, thinner crust than most bagels, which is a good thing — many bagels leave me feeling like I’m tearing through bagel leather to get at the inside.
Unfortunately, they were sold out of everything bagels by the time I arrived. I tried the $9 Spread Classic (cream cheese, smoked nova, tomato, onion) on a plain bagel, and took home a $2 cinnamon raisin.
The Spread Classic was good. Very good. A nice quantity of fish, a not-overwhelming amount of cream cheese, and the fresh, ripe tomato certainly helped. Yay for summer. I would definitely order it again.
The cinnamon raisin was also good, but $2 is about a dollar more than most straight bagels to go, and I didn’t think it was twice as good. Since I’m being nitpicky, the fresh brewed iced tea was also quite small for $2, and had that bitter flavor of a tea that had been steeped too long.
Will I be back? You better believe it! And I hope they’ll be using that sweet iPad cash register to tweet flavor sellouts, lest I forever make it there too late for everything bagels. They’re open 7 AM to 7 PM, seven days a week.
Update, September 6: The everything bagels are excellent. The lines are still epic if you get there after 10 AM. The iced tea is all fixed up (I think they may have just put too little ice in my first glass.) The bagels are made throughout the day, so if your chosen flavor is out… there may be more in just a few minutes.
In general, the definition of an easy dinner is one that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less. With a newborn, though, it became clear that might not be true for a while. Newborns are notorious for not understanding requests to “just hang on a second”, and they’re even less interested in whether or not your food is ready. It only took a week to realize some of my go-to staples were a little less… suitable for new conditions.
The newborn parent’s definition of an easy dinner is “one that can be kept warm for up to 90 minutes without becoming gross.” So, goodbye pan-fried gnocchi, hello mashed potatoes. Goodbye 10 minute steaks, hello slow cooker. And, mom, I will love you forever for introducing what we have named turkey grandmère to my life.
The first time we had it, a crying-feeding-diaper change cycle began just as the timer for the food went off. 45 minutes later, I sat down at the table, expecting to scarf down some overcooked mess in the name of consuming nutrients. I was floored when it was delicious.
It doesn’t look like much. But I made it the other night. Mary, who had previously passed on our dinner invitation, took a little bite of what was left in the dish, and quickly asked if she could make herself a plate after all.
Put all ingredients except the red potatoes in a slow cooker. Salt and pepper the turkey leg, and sprinkle with thyme. Cook on low for 5 to 7 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350. Put the contents of the slow cooker, plus the potatoes, in a casserole dish. Pull the turkey meat off the bone. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes.
Not ready to eat at that point? Just turn down the heat to 200, and eat anytime in the next two hours. Feeds 2-3 people.
Notes: I’ve also made this with cooked turkey legs, and it’s just as tasty (shorten the cooking time in step 1, and steal the pan juices, too, if you can.) And I bet if you don’t have a slow cooker, you could make this just as easily by using a covered casserole dish, then taking the cover off when you add the potatoes.
Some things you cook for your own enjoyment. Most things, though, are meant to be shared. So, a squeal of delight when I mention making something is usually enough to guarantee that it gets made. Everyone, you can thank Jane for the monkey bread!
I am boggled by the number of people I’ve talked to who have never heard of or eaten monkey bread. If you have not had the good fortune to encounter it in your life, as my brother-in-law put it, it’s like the center of the cinnamon roll in every bite. Some people do not frost it, but I don’t truck with those people.
When you look at this recipe, you’re going to think I’m awfully lazy. But I swear, I looked at 20 monkey bread recipes, and they ALL called for canned biscuits. Add in a new baby (aka the official monkey of monkey bread), and I just went with it. If you’re turned off by the idea, which I totally understand, Smitten Kitchen makes real dough when she makes monkey bread.
After serving at Christmas, Jane declared that it was better than the time I made pavlovas, heretofore the high water mark of my desserts. Hence, the traditional Monkey Bread of Christmas, hearkening back to the storied holiday of 2010, has now been entered into Helen’s Great Big Book of Holiday Traditions, right after the traditional Gifting of the Wool Socks.
30-36 oz. of refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (depending on which type you choose, this is 2-4 containers)
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark does not matter)
1 1/2 sticks (12 tbsp) butter
Cut up your biscuits into quarters. Mix together the cinnamon and granulated sugar in a bowl or ziploc bag. Toss your biscuit pieces in batches until they are all well coated.
Place biscuit pieces in a bundt pan. On the stovetop, melt your butter in a pan, and bring to a boil. When it is boiling, pour in your brown sugar, and boil for another minute, no longer! (I burned the first batch of sugar boiling it too long.) Pour the mixture into your bundt pan.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, depending on how crispy you want it. This one was baked for almost 50 minutes. If you believe that monkey bread should be unfrosted, you may find this a bit dry. I’d increase the butter/brown sugar mixture to 2 sticks of butter, and 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, to make it gooeyier.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
6 tbsp butter
1.5 cups confectioner’s sugar, or more to taste
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice, or less to taste
Add cream cheese and butter to a bowl, and beat together with an electric mixer for at least 2 minutes. Add confectioner’s sugar in 1/4 to 1/2 cup increments; any more increases the risk of it flying all over you and your kitchen when you turn on your mixer. Your total mixing time should be in the 5 to 8 minute range for maximum fluffiness. At the end, add your vanilla extract and lemon juice.
I like my cream cheese frosting tangy. If you like yours sweeter, you could add up to an additional cup of confectioner’s sugar. Or start with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and add by teaspoons from there, beating and tasting as you go.
This makes enough to glaze the top of the monkey bread, plus plenty left over for dipping!
The baby is almost here, and I wanted to be prepared. Diapers? Baby clothes? No! I’m talking about food. While I’m sure my favorite Chinatown eateries will be seeing plenty of baby-fatigue-driven business in the coming months, I also wanted to make sure our freezer was fully stocked. Behold, the frozen fruits of my third trimester nesting!
There is only one “trick” to making gnocchi — getting the amount of flour right. Too little, and your gnocchi will fall apart. Too much, and it just won’t taste very good. Bittman suggests setting a small pot of water on to boil, and throwing in one or two to see if they have enough flour to make them hold together.
I prefer another technique. Don’t worry about it, just don’t boil them when you cook them. I realized long ago that the gnocchi I prefer when I go out is pan-fried. If you pan-fry them, it’s almost impossible to put in so little flour that they will fall apart. (They basically won’t roll out with that little flour.) It’s virtually no extra work to cook. Like boiling them, you can throw them straight from the freezer into the hot pan, and they’re done in a few minutes. Serve it up with gnocchi’s best friends, bacon and peas, for a straight-from-the-freezer dinner that tastes anything but.
Set a pot of salted water to boil. When it is boiling, throw in the potatoes, unpeeled, and reduce to a simmer. Remove potatoes when tender, about 45 minutes.
Drain, rinse with cold water, then peel. (They should practically rub off in your hands, but you can use a peeler or knife to get you started.) Mash the potatoes. If you have a ricer, use it. If not, just use a fork or a masher.
Add some salt, pepper and a half cup of flour, and stir. Keep adding flour gradually until it comes together in a dough you can handle. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for a minute or less. Now, break off a piece, and roll it into a rope a 1/2 inch thick.
Cut the gnocchi into 1 inch pieces. If you feel fancy, you can roll it against a fork to get those little tine marks. (I never do this.) Put the pieces on a baking sheet with wax paper and a little bit of flour. Don’t let them touch.
Put on your Thomas Keller hat. You are now ready to IQF (that’s individual quick freeze — who knew freezing stuff on cookie sheets had its own acronym?) Stick the baking sheet into your freezer. In 30 to 60 minutes, they will be solid enough for you to shake into a ziploc bag without them sticking together. Reward yourself by telling one of your sous chefs to clean up.
I am a devoted reader of Food in Jars, but I cannot tell a lie. My early jam attempts did not come out that well. It scared me off committing more fruit. I just kept thinking, “But it’s so yummy to eat. What if I ruin it?”
There’s nothing like watching a confident cook do his or her thing to inspire me, though! So, after Niki invited me over to assist with her ginger peach jam (and told me that she had already consumed multiple pints of the peach jam she had made a few weeks earlier), I decided to make another attempt.
Prep was easy. I blanched and peeled the peaches, and chopped up some of the cherries I froze when sour cherries abounded. I ran the jars through the dishwasher (with hot dry finish) to get them nice and hot for the jam.
Then I started the jam, and it was a piece of cake! What was the difference this time? I followed all the instructions. (Ok, I mostly followed them.) Bakers and those of you who like to follow recipes will laugh at me. Those of you who prefer to freestyle may understand. In the past, I thought, well, how much jam do I need? I’ll just make one jar. Maybe Marisa has an innate instinct for pectin and sugar and fruit ratios. I do not. I followed the instructions in the pectin box, and voila! Jam!
Since then, I’ve been on a canning spree. I’ve made apple butter, apple sauce, and raspberry peach jam. I’ve confirmed my preference for low-sugar pectin. (If you like very sweet jam, and would like a jar of raspberry peach, give me a holler — it is fantastic on pancakes!) A life of following the instructions is a life of jamming ease.
A hot tip for those of you who have been considering canning something, but don’t know that you really want to have 8 pint jars hanging around your house since most jam recipes are for 3-4 pints: Market Blooms in Reading Terminal Market is selling loose jars. They’re more than you would pay if you bought a pack (3 for $4), but if you want to give it a shot without committing to a case, or want one or two of a different size (ahem, applesauce quarts), it’s a good way to go. They’re at the location back by Iovine’s, not the flower stall across from Bassett’s.
Cherry Peach Jam (adapted from the Sure Jell Pectin instructions)
4 cups peeled and chopped peaches
1 cup chopped sour cherries
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell low-sugar pectin
1/2 tsp butter
Put peaches, cherries, lemon juice, 2 1/4 cups sugar and butter in a large, non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. When they’re boiling rapidly, and cannot be stirred down, mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the pectin, and pour into the jam. Keep boiling for another minute. You have made jam.
Many sets of instructions on properly prepping, filling and sealing your jars can be found online. Trust the experts.
Based on the confidence boost that watching Niki produced, if you’ve been hesitating to jump into the canning pool, I’d suggest checking out one of Marisa’s upcoming classes. I hear the students never leave empty-handed!