The Food & Wine Fiasco.

It is in situations like this where I just remind myself, this is why I have goals.

One day I will have an unlimited grocery budget and a test kitchen. One day. One day. One day. 

Fiascos are bound to happen, but this one came at a particularly inappropriate time, and after a particularly pricy Whole Foods bill.

Thanks, Food & Wine, or maybe it’s not all your fault.

My June issue arrived this past Saturday. Naturally, I give it some time to breathe on the kitchen counter, and Sunday morning, as I dove into my mock Mother’s Day Brunch (whole grain waffle with organic peanut butter and strawberries) I started turning the pages. 

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Cook the Cover. Food and Wine Magazine: March 2011.

Photo from happymundane.com

Let me preface this by saying that I totally acknowledge my bias being a photography nerd, but answer me this, what is the determining factor for why you buy a food magazine.. the content teased on the cover, or the photograph of the food?

I truly believe that there is nothing that our eyes  become more infatuated with than gorgeous photographs. In January 2008, I bought this issue of Bon Appetit because of the cover photograph (Okay, maybe “Best of the Year” caught my eye too)….

In January 2008, I bought a magazine that allowed me to dicover a recipe that transformed my understanding of what immense potential pie has, what chocolate has the power to become, and what creme fraiche can do to a simple whipped cream.

Bittersweet Chocolate Pie, Best of 2007, and the Best, period.

Recently, with my whirl wind experience building GtoG into something beautiful, food magazines serve the purpose of lulling me to sleep each night. Purchased and subscribed to for not only photographic inspiration, but also content that I can share with you all, I felt like it would be an awesome idea to cook the dishes featured on one or two covers each month…. If they are featured on the cover they must have potential for greatness, right?

It is for them to know, and for us to find out.

So I give you March 2011’s first Cover to Cook – Food and Wine Magazine.

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Chocolate Chip Cornbread.

I love alliterations, if you haven’t already figured that out.

I am pretty sure one of my many restaurant concepts that evolve every day in my mind involves a restaurant with a menu completely derived from alliterations. Overdone? Maybe, maybe not?

Chocolate Chip Cornbread included in that menu…. I think I could be on to something.

From the simple ingredients it takes to put together this awesome snack/appetizer/side/dessert/breakfast/late night munchie comes a simple spin on a comforting cuisine. I am actually not sure why I hadn’t thought of this idea till now.

What do I associate with cornbread besides love, family, fried chicken, and yes, admittedly a childhood obsession and overfeeding of cuisine from the then named, “Boston Chicken”. Therefore, I am absolutely positive that adding chocolate to the list of cornbread associations is by no means out of place. Doesn’t chocolate represent love and warmth? Yes, Hallmark built a holiday to celebrate love based on cards and chocolates!

 

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Hello, Hand Rolled Gnocchi!

I am blessed to be able to say that there have been a few times in my life where I have felt like I was in paradise. Santorini was one of those places. It is probably one of the only cities in the world where you actually feel like you are walking in a dreamland. I captured some of my greatest photographs there, but Santorini was also the place where I found the best gnocchi dish I have ever had. Seated inches from the pebble strewn beach and the crashing clear water, this little bistro blew my mind! It was simple, gnocchi with a tomato sauce and lots of basil, and you know simple is always my thing.

A few experiences have come along since then that could have tried to challenge that night’s dinner. A close competitor was the gnocchi dish I ordered at this little bistro in New York City.  But, I am not always in paradise and I am certainly not always traveling. So, when my feet are firmly planted on the Main Line, some of the best can be found  at Teresa’s Cafe in Wayne, PA where I would recommend their Gnocchi Sorrentino, or even try asking for Gnocchi alla Bolognese.

 

Teresa's gnocchi ... Photo from the blog http://www.dammitletseat.com

What is it about gnocchi that makes it so unforgettable? This post is dedicated to a man in my life that reminded me of just how memorable homemade gnocchi can be…. thanks kid.

Gnocchi is the Mr. Independent of pastas. It’s consistency, size, weight, flavor, and sheer decadence are unmatched by any other type of pasta. If someone wants Gnocchi Sorrentino, it’s not like you can just throw some angel hair into the dish and it will taste the same. Whether the gnocchi are made from potato or from a dough combination, they are like little pillows of perfection in any dish you put them in. All it takes is one bite into one of the little nibs and you will be their biggest fan just like me.

That being said, one of the greatest qualities about gnocchi is that it is a specialty. It is not like you can grab a box of Barilla brand gnocchi when it is on sale for a dollar at your local grocery store. If that doesn’t make them one of a kind and unforgettable, I am not sure what will!

In the March 2011 Food and Wine Magazine I found a recipe for dough based gnocchi that I have been dying to make for the last few weeks…


 

Well, last night I finally got a chance to do it!

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Currently Reading: Philadelphia Magazine (February 2011)

Philadelphia Magazine. February 2011.
Thank you Mr. Postman!
With the incredible timing, Philadelphia Magazine, in all of his hot pink glory this month, found it’s way into work via an early delivery from the mail truck.
Not sure what I love more, the idea to adapt my buttermilk waffles to a red velvet variation, the awesome write-up “In Defense of Uggs” or the insanely adorable “Make Out Session” feature, which is too cute to even attempt to describe.
I love it all this month and whether my productivity likes it or not, you know where my eyes will be fixed for the next few hours….
Thanks phillymag for another awesome issue!
 
… and in other news, can you believe January is almost over?

Thursday’s Tasting: Chocolate Brown Butter Brownies.

Every snowy day, I always crave chocolate….. Which is all your fault Mama.

Not one snow day went by when I was a kid that my mom didn’t reward our re-entry into the garage from a day of sledding, soaked ski pants and snow caked boots in tow, with a mug of hot chocolate. The same little kiddie mugs every time, and if we were lucky, she might even throw a sprinkling of mini marshmallows atop the steaming mixture of chocolate (she kept the “junk” food in low supply).  The best was when she got really creative and brewed up a saucepan full of homemade hot chocolate… If I still lived with you mama, I would love to have a mug waiting for me when I get home from work today!!

However, what I do have waiting might still serve to satisfy the craving. Well maybe.

This month’s issue of Bon Appetit (February 2011) features a larger than life serving of what they have determined are “the best ever brownies”.

 

Credit to bonappetit.com.

What does Aly do when she sees a claim like that? She takes out the butter, flour, and sugar and gets the ovens warm.

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts

Ingredients

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, chilled
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 cup walnut pieces

Preparation

  • Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to prepared pan.
  • Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Taken directly from the Bon Appetit kitchens, I figured if they were “the best ever”, I shouldn’t have to do anything but follow the recipe exactly. The 8×8 pan that came out of the oven could certainly satisfy a craving for brownies, but by no means do I feel that they earn the “best ever” stamp in my kitchen. Even when they were fully cooled for a couple of hours, they still felt like they were missing that little zing! that a dessert should have.

Some adaptations I might suggestion.

1 cup of HIGH QUALITY cocoa…. I used Hershey’s as we ran out of ghiardelli, big fat mistake

1 extra tablespoon of flour…. I might also suggest substituting cake flour for the all purpose. I prefer the consistency

Toast the walnuts before mixing them in…. It will capitalize on the nutty flavor, getting rid of the raw taste of the nut

Add 1/2 cup of semisweet chocolate chips…. Just because I say so. Double the chocolate? Yes, please!

At any rate, what Bon Appetit features on their cover definitely has potential to be an easy solution to stop people from buying boxed brownie mix. With a few simple steps, and still just one bowl (or in this case, saucepan)….

 

Simple, all natural ingredients.

Only takes about 1-2 minutes to brown the butter.

 

Using the foil makes clean-up and serving much easier!

crumbly, chocolatey.... brownies.

 

there can be a plate of brownies waiting for you on any snowy day!

Currently Reading: Main Line Today.

Thanks to my lovely receptionist, Jennifer, a subscriber to Main Line Today, I have had my hands on the February 2011 issue for the past couple of days.

February 2011 Cover: Main Line Today Magazine.

 

One of the best publications to serve the Main Line area, whether you are looking for a fun weekend plan, a great boutique, or information for a local photographer, they keep each issue useful and easy to read.

As if I needed more motivation to eat out at more restaurants, this is their “Best Restaurant” issue…. (Cue opening the calendar to see just how I can squeeze in visiting 47 more restaurants).

I always say how important it is to support the local economy, and all of the little restaurants with big dreams, so I will certainly be dining at as many as I can. Listed in alphabetical order in this issue, it will be my goal to create my own ranking system for each stop by the end of the year.

 

Also find your way to their website to support The Best of the Main Line. Each ballot must be completed by February 28, 2011 and all of the winners will be shared in the July 2011 issue. It is a great way for local hotspots to get the attention they deserve!

(50) Square 1682… The Review.

I will in confidence say that for my first restaurant review, I could not have chosen a more wonderful hidden secret in Philadelphia. Maybe not so secret after Philadelphia Magazine placed Square 1682 at 50 on the list of “50 Best Places to Eat” and certainly not so hidden considering that I could only secure a 6 o’clock reservation last Friday night.

Chef Guillermo Tellez does it like I like it; simple and subtle from the outside, but full of life as soon as you step inside his eatery. An LEED certified restaurant, details are noticeable if you find them, but the decor for the untrained eye is really just scattered shapes, vibrant colors, and a simple ambiance. Thematically it is very much disjointed, but with the cuisine being considered, “New American”, it is only right that they invented their own flavor in terms of menu construction and interior design. That is not to say that I think the menu is flawless. I found myself struggling to understand not only the flow of it, but what the rationale was for some dishes being considered appetizers when clearly they would hold their own as an entree, and even why there needed to be so many dishes involving fish. I hate when that happens…. Not that I am any expert on menu formulation, but there is nothing worse than not being able to choose courses because you are spending too much time just trying to read the menu.

Seated on the second floor, a mere spiral staircase ascent from the hustle bustle of the hotel happy hour going on in the bar and lounge below, I found myself snuggled very comfortably into the booth side of one of the two person tables that dotted the center of the room. This was clearly the intimate dinner refuge for those that wanted to get some semblance of peace in a restaurant on a busy block in the city. The crowd downstairs cared more about their drinks and their shared plates, being a bar scene fed in from their sister establishment, the very hip Kimpton Palomar Hotel.

It is easy to forget that the restaurant is linked at the elbow of the hotel, in most respects at least. If it had to be connected to anything, the Palomar is perfect as it is far from predictable style wise, and stands alone as one of the few boutique hotels in the city… Therefore what filters in from the hotel, fits in with the rest of the clientele that 1682 caters to.

As I sat taking in the great aromas of my  glass of Predator Zinfandel, and enjoying cracking off bites of the well seasoned olive oil flatbread, the sites were minimal. Different menu items passed by my table, but with very little in the way of eye catching decor, I found myself searching for something to notice other than the what seemed like oversized desk lamps that cascaded off the walls shedding light over the diners.

 

crusty bread, olive oil flat bread, and focaccia.

My first course amazed me with the sheer extent of flavors and textures it encompassed. Bacon Wrapped Roasted Dates. A perfect combination of the sweet smoothness of a date, exploding in my mouth enveloped in a smokey sensation of the bacon, salty zip of the local goat cheese, and tied together with the pop of the piquillo peppers. At first I forgot what flavor it was that I was actually enjoying the most; it was stone ground mustard, marbleizing itself amongst the sauce that each bacon wrapped gem sat happily in on the plate. A spectacular starter, perfect finger food, and certainly something that Chef Tellez will find me coming back for.

 

bacon wrapped roasted dates.

In the same way, the lemon scented hummus amazed me, and as a little lebanese girl that is a rare occurrence as I have had more hummus in my days than 1682 has yet to serve to its clients. As my waiter, who was beyond spectacular to boot, approached my table with my second course, I smiled. The presentation was oh so obvious, yet I had never seen it done before. Hummus, packaged perfectly in a shallow jar, with house made preserved lemon slices hugging the sides of the glass. He removed the lid of the jar and balanced it gently on the plate, exposing the beautiful swirled around dip ready to be enjoyed. The garlic and herb naan could have been more fluffy, but with each dive it took into the hummus, the lemon flavors mixing with the nutty sesame tahini and the perfectly smooth chickpeas, it served its purpose. As I was directed, I didn’t cast away the preserved lemons. I urge you to follow suit… the slight chewyness of the rind mixed with the incredible sweetness that the once very sour innards had now taken on was remarkable. I was a little overwhelmed by the use of spices in this appetizer however. Obviously intentional, I felt that the spiciness took over your mouth after a few tastes and you lost the wonderful lemony influence that the title of the dish boasts.

 

lemon scented hummus with garlic and herb naan

For an entree that I did not anticipate choosing that evening, the Goat Chili, one of Chef’s specialities had a uniqueness about it that restaurants don’t usually choose to take a gamble on. Amongst several predictable options, this dish did not quite go with the rest of the palette I had been enjoying moments before, but it was a creative take on a very typical homemade comfort food. The black eyed peas were a great spin on things, and the pancetta’s influence was evident. I loved the presentation, the slice of cheddar cheese, floating like a boat lost at sea amidst the ocean of chili, keeping it’s mate, a hunk of delicious cornbread, above water, while it served as the bed for the piece de resistance, the shredded goat. That being said, I am not sure I would order it again. The cornbread got mushy too easily, and the amount of ground meat in the chili itself was a little overkill… But even if you order it just to taste the shredded goat, it is something to not miss.

 

goat chili topped with a slice of cheddar cheese and piece of cornbread.

As if I needed another reason to smile and roll my eyes into the back of my head, I made the wise decision to wrap the red bow around my evening with a taste of the Chocolate Bar dessert. This is the dish that a 3 musketeers and snickers bar spend their nights dreaming to become. A layer of fouilatine combined with coconut as the foundation to a heavenly helping of chocolate mousse delicately balancing atop was then covered by a significant layer of the most delicious semisweet chocolate, dotted with a puddle of mint gelee and chocolate covered almonds. It is the dessert that I am going to spend the next 300 days trying to perfect. I have never had something that combined the flavors of mint, chocolate, almond, and of all things coconut; it was a wonderful surprise to see a pastry chef take the same risks that the rest of the menu’s New American cuisine embodies.

 

the chocolate bar dessert.

The experience was unforgettable, not because it was my first time considering every bit and piece that I consumed both with my eyes and my stomach, but the service was spectacular, the presentation was original, and I truly believe that there is not another menu in Philadelphia that matches the one that Chef Tellez and his team have put together for Square 1682. A must taste. [A A A A]

(I am using the rating system of “A” instead of stars. A restaurant can earn a maximum of 5 “A”s)

Great for:

Shareable plates.

One of a kind dishes.

Bar scene.

Bite before a night on the town.

Girls night.

Weeknight adventure.

Romantic dinner.

Quiet meal alone.

Currently Reading: Food Network Magazine.

Scooped this goodie off the shelf of my local pharmacy after work tonight.

Food Network has really done a great job with this publication.

January 2011 Issue.

Tonight’s bedtime stories will have titles that go something like this …

“Guy’s Pretzels with a Twist”

“50 Nachos!”

“A Mexican Brunch”

“America’s Worst Kitchen”

“Weeknight Cooking”

“10 things you need to know this month”

and of course ….. how good does this sound? …. “Almost Famous Molten Chocolate Cake”

 

Alright, back to turning the pages.

Currently Reading….

I am from Philadelphia. I love Philadelphia restaurants. I love Philadelphia Magazine. Therefore, I am not even sure why I am taking  a break to tell you I am reading their January 2011 Restaurant Issue right now…..

My goal for 2011 is to dine at each restaurant featured in this issue (yes, all 50 of them) and tell you if the, while I may say very comprehensive, assesments and polls concerning my beautiful city’s eating situation is accurate, or maybe slightly harsh?

Stay tuned for those posts.

A reservation at Union Trust Steakhouse, number 29 on the list, is waiting in the wings for this month already.

But in the meantime….. Buy the issue. Have I steered you wrong yet?