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Food

May 29, 2012

Graeter’s Ice Cream

ooey, gooey ice cream

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.

the reigning champions

Team Takedown: Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Chocolate Chip, Wawa Black Raspberry Chip, Haagen Dazs Coffee (not shown), and Jeni’s Buckeye State.

the challengers

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.

head to head

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.

nora tastes

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.)

October 24, 2011

The three Flying Monkey treats you must try

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My fellow market goers,

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

IMG_0701

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

IMG_0699

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

DSC_0052

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.

IMG_0700

The Flying Monkey is open 7 days a week in Reading Terminal Market, right off center court. I’ll see you in line!

love,
Helen

Flying Monkey Bakery
Reading Terminal Market
12th and Arch Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215.928.0340
http://www.flyingmonkeyphilly.com/

October 20, 2011

Ginger Pineapple Salad

ginger + lime + pineapple = yum

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

  • 1 pineapple
  • 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.

October 5, 2011

Tea Talk and popping bubbles

photo

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!

popped

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.

DSC_0040

(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, PA 19107

April 5, 2011

Turkey Grandmère

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. 

turkey ingredients 

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. 

Turkey Grandmère

  • 1 turkey leg (available at Godshall’s in Reading Terminal Market, among other places)
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 3 carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • salt, pepper, dried thyme to taste
  • 10 small red potatoes

turkey grandmere

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. 

January 11, 2011

Monkey Bread, the traditional holiday treat

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!

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.

Monkey Bread

  • 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.

tossing the dough balls

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.

more sugar

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.

uniced

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.

frosting

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! 

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November 13, 2010

Stocking up: Preggie prep & gnocchi

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!

what's for dinner?

I made:

I bought:

  • chicken pot pies from the Bakery House
  • indian dinners (anything Deep is usually good) and rotis
  • ice cream

I got ingredients:

  • roasted butternut squash (from the csa, destined for soup or baby food)
  • sausages (chorizo, hot italian, and chicken with apple)
  • bacon (pre-cut into bits, and whole slices)
  • short ribs (for meat sauce)
  • shredded chicken
  • peas
  • edamame
  • fruit (blueberries, cherries, raspberries, peaches)
  • butter

Yeah, it’s stocked.  It’s so stocked you can barely get the door shut.

One of the last dishes I made was gnocchi.  My sister Anne tried to convince me to make the Bouchon recipe (video), but I’m more Mark Bittman than Thomas Keller.

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.

gnocchi's best friends

Potato Gnocchi (from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

  • 1 pound starchy potatoes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • salt and pepper

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.

cutting the gnocchi

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.

freezer bound

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.

being a sous chef stinks

October 12, 2010

Cherry peach jam

cherry peach jam 2

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.

peeled peaches

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!

cherry peach 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!

September 26, 2010

Greensgrow CSA Weeks 15 and 17

week 15

Week 15

  • Plums (Yellow Plums on Thursday, Fortuna on Saturday) - Lancaster County, PA and Beechwood Orchards, Biglerville, PA
  • Watermelon - Lancaster County, PA
  • Spinach-Graiff Farms, Newfield, NJ
  • Cucumbers- Lancaster County, PA
  • Beets- Flaim Farms, Vineland, NJ
  • Organic Sweet Potatoes- Shady Brook Organics, Lancaster County, PA
  • Sweet Frying Peppers- Lancaster County, PA
  • Amish Swiss Cheese - Hometown Provisions, Lancaster, PA
  • Eggs

Week 15 also included one of my favorite share items — Greensgrow Bucks!  I really wander around for about 15 minutes, mentally trying on all the items I could possibly take home.  This week, I opted for a particular favorite from a previous week, the Boltonfeta from Hidden Hills Dairy.  And, let me tell you, it did not let me down the second time around.  I still urge you to check it out.

    Week 17

    • Spring Mix - Blue Moon Acres, Buckingham, PA
    • Bok Choy - Flaim Farms, Vineland, NJ
    • Heirloom Tomatoes - Linvilla Orchards, West Chester, PA
    • Green Beans - Lancaster County, PA
    • Yellow Peaches - Three Springs Fruit Farm, Biglerville, PA
    • Asian Pears - Beechwood Orchards, Biglerville, PA
    • Sweet, Yukon Gold, and Red Potatoes - Lancaster County, PA
    • Butternut Squash - Lancaster County, PA
    • Garlic and Chive DiBruno Brothers’s Spread - Philadelphia, PA

    Week 17 had two items that gave me trouble.  How can you tell when asian pears are ripe?  I had some samples at Fair Food, and they were significantly juicier than the ones I have sliced up.  Are they a different variety, or am I just eating under ripe fruit?  (BTW, if you are not snapping up regular pears right now, you are missing out.  I have been eating the Bartlett pears from Fair Food like crazy!)

    The second one was the bok choy.  I will happily admit I am a super neophyte when it comes to veggies, but the bok choy got all soft and wilty in my fridge in about two days.  What is the proper way to store bok choy?

    (Preggie fatigue delayed these for a few weeks.  But, for the historical record, I thought weeks 15 and 17 should not go unrepresented.)