Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Weekend in Philly: Day 2 (Matcha 101)


The main reason I went to Philadelphia to visit my friend was because she invited me to join her for a cooking class entitled Matcha 101 at Cook, a posh little demo kitchen near Rittenhouse Square. If you're familiar with my blog, you've probably read about my love of tea at one point or another, so it's no surprise I'm close friends with other like-minded tea-loving individuals. After a Saturday spent exploring the city, our Sunday was spent learning about the fascinating world of matcha tea!

The class was lead by Alexis Siemons, a tea consultant and writer local to the area. She shared her wealth of knowledge about matcha tea, from its growth and production to its many uses within the kitchen, both traditional and modern.

Our tasting began with a sparkling matcha lemonade cocktail, a tart infusion of lemon juice and honey brightened with green matcha and a splash of sparkling wine. It was tasty and a fun way to start our matcha experience.

While we sipped our cocktail, Alexis got to work on more of the dishes that we would be enjoying during our class. Alexis prepared ceremonial grade matcha powder into traditional matcha tea, using a bamboo whisk to combine the delicate ingredient with just enough hot water to make a smooth paste before thinning it out to the right consistency with additional water.

Matcha tea on its own is somewhat grassy and vegetal in flavor, and is best complimented with something very sweet. In Japan, they serve small sweets alongside the drink, so Alexis put an American spin on the practice by serving it with matcha rice krispie treats.

The rice krispie treats are sweet enough that a lot of the matcha flavor within them is somewhat masked, however, they really are the perfect complement to the shots of matcha tea, really balancing the flavor of the pure unadulterated matcha tea.

Our next pairing began with matcha fresh juice shots. Alexis combined fresh cucumber juice with matcha, as well as fresh honeydew juice with matcha. We tried both variations, and although they were different I was definitely a fan of both. The cucumber had a light crispness to it, while the honeydew was a bit sweeter, yet still delicate. This is a refreshing way to experience matcha tea!

One of my favorite bites from the afternoon was the matcha green tea and goat cheese crostini! It reminded me more of a tartine (open-faced sandwich) than a crostini due to its size, but that's really irrelevant because it was so tasty! A combination of creamy and tangy goat cheese with vibrant matcha powder is finished with a segment of orange and a drizzle of honey. This crostini walks the line between savory and sweet in the most delicious way.

The final pairing of the afternoon featured matcha custard pie served with cool and creamy iced mint matcha coconut latte. Both are definite winners in my book, and a wonderful finale to a fun afternoon learning about matcha tea in all of its glory!

Alexis was kind enough to let me share some of the recipes from the class, so I selected a couple to include in my post. If you're ever planning a trip to Philadelphia, check out the event calendar at Cook for some fun culinary experiences. I would definitely love to visit again for another class! That would be the perfect excuse to head back to Philly for some culinary fun!

Matcha Green Tea & Goat Cheese Crostini
Makes 8 crostini
(Recipe courtesy of Alexis Siemons of teaspoons & petals)

Small bread loaf
Olive oil, for drizzling
5 ounces goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon unsweetened matcha green tea powder (culinary grade)
Honey, for drizzling
1 orange, peeled, pith removed and segmented

To make the crostini, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Slice loaf into 8 half-inch pieces, place the slices on a baking sheet, and drizzle both sides with olive oil. Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until slightly crispy (note: You can make the crostini ahead and store at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 days).

While letting the crostini cool slightly, microwave goat cheese to soften. Sift matcha over softened goat cheese and mix until completely combined (no granules). Spread on warm crostini, drizzle with honey, and top each slice with one orange segment.

Tip: To preserve the bright green matcha color, mix with goat cheese right before serving.

Iced Mint Matcha Coconut Latte 
Makes 2 cups
(Recipe courtesy of Alexis Siemons of teaspoons & petals)

2 teaspoons unsweetened matcha green tea powder (culinary grade)
1/4 cup mint leaves (tightly packed, stems removed)
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey

Add coconut milk, mint leaves and honey to the pitcher of a blender. Sift in matcha. Place lid on the pitcher and blend on high speed until mint and matcha are combined. Add ice to two glasses, pour latte into glasses and serve.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Weekend in Philly: Day 1


This past weekend I visited one of my best friends from college who lives in Philadelphia. I've been to Philly on a couple of brief occasions in the past, but this was the first time I spent more than a day in the city. I let her do all the planning with one request: I wanted a Philly cheesesteak. Other than that, everything else was up to her to plan. She did an awesome job selecting delicious spots to try, showing me various neighborhoods around the city, and just being a fantastic companion for exploring (why do you think we're friends after all?).

I thought it would be fun to show you all a glimpse of my delicious fun weekend in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, the Birthplace of our Nation, and of course the land of Rocky Balboa ("Adrienne!!!!!").

On Saturday we started with brunch at Cuba Libre, a really fun spot in Old City with excellent Cuban decor and ambiance that makes you feel like you're practically in Havana.

We split the Homemade Latin Breakfast Breads basket, which contains banana bread, a guava cream cheese hojaldre, a crispy churro, a coconut-berry muffin, and a chocolate-chocolate chip muffin, along with mango butter, coconut-lime preserve, and guava marmalade for spreading.

Homemade Latin Breakfast Breads $11

We actually saved the muffins for later, but snacked on the other sweets before our meal arrived. The guava cream cheese hojaldre and the churro were my two favorites! I enjoyed all the spreads, but the the guava marmalade was the real winner. Guava rules!

Meanwhile, we both sipped on some of the non-alcoholic aguas frescas. I loved the hibiscus-blood orange-mango flavor!

Habiscus-Blood Orange-Mango Agua Fresca $5.50

We decided to split one of the breakfast tapas as well as the Cubano sandwich. The pressed Cuban sandwich is made Ybor City style with sour orange marinated pork loin, Genoa salami, ham, provolone and Swiss cheese with yellow mustard-pickle relish. It was delicious and satisfied that looming craving for a Cubano after my most recent viewing of the movie Chef.

El Cubano $16.50

We also split the One-Eyed Ropa Vieja Hash, which features a classic Cuban shredded beef brisket stewed with tomatoes, bell peppers, potato, boniato, maduros and corn hash, all topped with a fried egg. It was flavorful and juicy, and the runny yolk from the egg was just the icing on the figurative cake here.

One-Eyed Ropa Vieja Hash $9.50

I could practically feel Ricky Ricardo's spirit enter my soul after finishing up this Cuban meal ("Lucy!!!!").

About a block away from Cuba Libre is the Franklin Fountain, an old-timey ice cream parlor complete with an actual working old school telephone. I actually called it while we were there to see/hear it ring, and had one of the employees answer it. Pretty cool!

I love the vintage feel of this space (as well as the turn-of-the-century feel at Shane Confectionery, it's sister shop next door). The staff is very friendly, and it's definitely worth a visit! We tried a caramelized banana milkshake. It was super thick and decadent! Thankfully after our large meal of Cuban food, we were smart enough to split it instead of each getting our own.

Regular Caramelized Banana Milkshake $8.50

We wandered and shopped quite a bit while enjoying our shared milkshake. Eventually, we made our way to South Philadelphia, through the Italian neighborhood (we made a few stops along the way to buy cheese, because obvi), and finally reached our destination at a crossroads of Philly Cheesesteak nirvana.

Across the street from one another are two of Philadelphia's most legendary cheesesteak spots: Pat's and Geno's. The rivalry between the two, much like that of the Crips and the Bloods of LA, or the Montagues and Capulets of Verona, is pretty hard-core. People tend to pick sides and they are passionate about their choices.

Geno's is definitely the flashier of the two. Pat's looks a bit more run-down, but I think that's part of its charm. Based on the feedback of friends and family, I had decided long-ago that if I stood at the crossroads of these two, I wanted my first Philly Cheesesteak to come from Pat's. In theory, I would have loved to get a cheesesteak from each location and try them both simultaneously, but after a big Cuban brunch, an artery-clogging milkshake, and cheese-sampling along the way, my friend and I decided to split a cheesesteak between the two of us, because we still had dinner plans only a few hours later (true story).

Pat's it is! We opted for an American (cheese) wit (with onions). I argued with my friend, "I don't know if I can eat any! I'm still so full!" and then I easily scarfed down my half cheesesteak, it was so damn good! The bread was soft, yet chewy. The steak itself is sliced super thin, tender and incredibly juicy. And of course the cheese can range depending on your choice, but we found that the American melted really nicely beneath the hot steak. The experience was priceless, watching the cooks speedily putting together cheesesteak after cheesesteak, but truly the cheesesteak itself was the pinnacle of our adventure. It was delectable, delicious, every fantasy I had hoped it would be. I'm craving another one. Right. Now.

American wit (onions) $10

Remember I said we had dinner plans after this? Fortunately we had a few hours between death-by-cheesesteak and our next meal. I didn't fully document our dinner (it was pretty casual and I left my fancy camera at home), but I will share a few bits and pieces. We went to a small, laid back bistro called Miles Table near Rittenhouse Square. We started out by sharing a bowl of Blue Nachos. It was classic, yet nicely executed.

Blue Nachos w/ Guacamole $13

I only photographed my own entree choice, but it was also delicious. The Eggplant Parmesan is quite crispy when first served (before the basil marinara starts soaking in). It's layered with mushrooms, arugula, and gooey mozzarella, and served with a side of very lightly dressed greens. I kind of ignored the greens to be honest. The eggplant parm definitely stole the show, and I even enjoyed leftovers the next morning for breakfast. Good times.

Eggplant Parmesan $17

Although I don't have any photographic evidence, after dinner we stopped next door at Magpie where we ordered a few slices of pie to go. This would be part two of my breakfast the next morning. I selected the pear ginger with oatmeal crumble topping. It was a great way to start the day! Tune in next week for an exciting look at my second day in Philly, where we went to a cooking class and learned all about glories of matcha tea!

Cuba Libre
10 S 2nd St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 627-0666

The Franklin Fountain
116 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 627-1899

Pat's King of Steaks
1237 E Passyunk Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 468-1546

Miles Table
1620 South St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(267) 318-7337

1622 S St
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(267) 519-2904

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Soup Swap Party: Maine Lobster, Leek, and Corn Chowder


Have you ever heard of a soup swap? It's like a cookie swap, but with soup! I discovered this fantastic concept when reviewing a newly released cookbook entitled Soup Swap by Kathy Gunst. I was asked to participate in a Soup Swap Blog Party along with a group of other bloggers.

We are virtually swapping soups through our blogs, but an actual soup swap would consist of a group of friends bringing pots of soup to a host's home, sampling all of the soups, and then taking home leftovers of each in containers supplied by themselves. I think this is such a great idea, because as much as I love soup, after a few days of the same soup, I'm ready for something different. This enables you to eat soup all week long, but with a much greater variety!

Even if you do not host soup swaps with your friends, the Soup Swap cookbook contains tons of wonderful soup recipes to make your own soup adventures much more interesting throughout the year. Although fall and winter are most traditional times of year for soup making and eating, there are some great spring and summer soup recipes supplied as well.

From a chapter highlighting homemade Broths and Stocks to chapters featuring Vegetable Soups, Chicken & Turkey Soups, Meat Soups, Fish & Seafood Soups & Chowders, and finally Side Dishes and Garnishes & Toppings, Soup Swap is a treasure trove for any soup lover. Some particularly enticing soups include Parsnip and Cauliflower "Vichyssoise" with Gremolata, Five-Mushroom Soup with Mushroom-Thyme Saute, Sopa de Lima, Short-Rib Ramen with Soy Eggs, and Provancal-Style Fish Soup with Rouille, just to name a few.

To help us bloggers get started, we received some additional goodies in the mail to heighten our soup-making experience. First, you must have sharp knives for slicing and dicing all of those soup ingredients (especially some of those tougher root vegetables and squashes during the winter). The wonderful folks at Chef's Choice supplied us with a top rated knife sharpener. The Chef’sChoice® ProntoPro™ Diamond Hone® Knife Sharpener is a 3-stage manual sharpener can sharpen nearly any kind of knife, whether it is European, Asian, or even serrated.

We also received a couple of items from a company that makes my favorite ice cream scoops! Zerroll provided all the bloggers with a Stainless Steel Ladle and a Stainless Steel Slotted Serving Spoon. Both items feature comfortable grip handles in fun, bright colors (my ladle is Lemon Yellow, while the spoon is Blue Berry), with durable stainless steel bodies. If you were going to an actual soup swap, having unique and brightly colored serving ware will make sure you and your friends don't mix up which belong to whom.

So we've got the cookbook, freshly sharpened knives, and the perfect tools for stirring and serving our soup. Selecting a single recipe to try is the true challenge here, as there are countless options that are intriguing. I wanted to make a soup that is seasonally appropriate for late summer/early fall and is also something I can make with local ingredients at their prime.

Enter the Maine Lobster, Leek, and Corn Chowder. Not only do I have access to sourcing exquisite locally grown sweet corn from a nearby farm (Confreda Farms in Cranston, RI), but I can purchase fantastic quality lobsters as well since I live in New England (Rhode Island if we're going to be specific). Eighty percent of New England's lobsters are harvested between July and October, and that just happens to coincide with corn season, so this soup is kind of the most perfect thing you could make right around now.

My biggest challenge with this recipe was sourcing some fish bones (frames) from white fish to make the fish stock. I contacted nearly every local supermarket and seafood market, and the best anyone could do was give me salmon bones, which are too fishy and oily to make a light fish stock. So I went back to the drawing board and found a very highly rated concentrated stock from More Than Gourmet (like a bouillon base) that contains essentially the same ingredients I would have used in my homemade stock, minus a few aromatics. No preservatives, no artificial ingredients, just the following: Fish Stock, White Wine, Dried Fish Stock, Fish Gelatin, Salt, Mirepoix Stock (Made of Carrot, Celery and Onion Stocks).

I halved the chowder recipe, so I needed 4 cups of fish stock. To 4 cups simmering water, I added the entire 1.5 ounce container of More Than Gourmet Classic Fish Stock base and it had a less watered down flavor than most commercial fish stocks. It really did the job well, and I would plan on doing this in the future after my frustrating experience sourcing fish bones.

With that said, the rest of the recipe is easy as can be! I actually prepped all of my ingredients, simmered the stock, and chopped all of the vegetables before heading to my local supermarket to purchase a lobster (I only needed one since I halved the recipe). The most time consuming part was cleaning the lobster after it was cooked.

I placed the cooked lobster on a rimmed plastic cafeteria tray (I use these a lot for prep work, and they are available at Restaurant Depot) to catch all of the lobster juices. Instead of simply cutting the lobster legs in half, I halved and then removed the small bits of meat within, so there wouldn't be any shell to have to worry about in the finished chowder. I also found that using good quality kitchen shears to cut apart the shell of the lobster was the easiest way to proceed.

After a bit of sauteing and simmering, we were ready to chow down! I swear, all of the components in this chowder remind me of a traditional clam bake, minus the clams of course. You've got your decadent lobster, tender potatoes and crunchy sweet corn all in a flavorful creamy broth enhanced further with some melted leeks and freshly snipped chives.

This is truly one of the best chowders I've ever had, and I've had a lot living in New England. The balance of ingredients is exceptional, and the broth itself is quite light compared to some thicker, creamier white chowders. I can't say enough about how much I loved it! This is a recipe I will certainly be making again.

I hope I've inspired you all to get cooking. Click on the image below to check out more of the offerings from our virtual Soup Swap Party, and don't forget to grab a copy of Soup Swap. Thanks again to Zerroll and Chef's Choice for the awesome kitchen utensils and knife sharpener. They are an asset to my kitchen!

Maine Lobster, Leek, and Corn Chowder
Makes 12 to 14 tasting portions or 8 to 10 full servings
(From Soup Swap)

8 cups fish stock (recipe follows)
3 1/2 lb live Maine lobsters
2 medium leeks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup (20 g) minced fresh chives
1/2 to 3/4 cup heavy cream
3 to 4 ears fresh corn or 2 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups (350 to 465 g) frozen corn kernals
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Sweet Hungarian paprika for garnish

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, bring the fish stock to a vigorous simmer. Very carefully remove the rubber bands from the lobster claws (the lobsters can pinch you, so pay attention). Place the lobsters, shell side up, in the pot, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, flip the lobsters, and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Using tongs, remove the lobsters and let cool. Working over a flat, rimmed dish, such as a pie plate, to catch any released juice, remove the meat from the claws and the tail and cut into generous bite-size pieces; reserve the lobster meat and juice. Remove the legs (not the claws but the thin spiny legs on the body), cut in half and reserve.

Trim off the dark green sections from the leeks and save for making vegetable stock. Halve the pale green and white sections. Rinse under cold running water, pat dry, and cut crosswise into thin pieces.

In another large stockpot over low heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and half of the chives and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the stock and reserved lobster juice, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the potatoes are just tender.

In a small nonreactive saucepan over low heat, bring the cream to a gentle simmer. Remove from the heat, add the lobster pieces and the leg pieces and let steep for 3 minutes. Then, add the cream and lobster to the stock.

If using fresh corn, shuck the ears, remove the silks, and trim off the ends so that you can stand the cob flat. Using a sharp knife and standing each cob on its end inside a large bowl, remove the kernels from the cob by working the knife straight down against the cob. Using the blunt side of the knife, scrape down the cob after the kernels have been removed to release the corn "milk," Repeat with the remaining ears. Add the corn kernels, corn milk, and 2 tablespoons chives to the pot; season with salt and pepper; and cook for 5 minutes, or until the soup simmers. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.

Ladle the chowder into mugs or bowls and garnish with the remaining 2 tablespoons chives and the paprika before serving.

To Go: Cook the chowder; add the lobster, cream, and corn; and immediately remove it from the heat. Pack the chives and paprika separately. At the party, carefully warm the chowder over low heat just until it simmers to prevent overcooking the lobster.

Fish Stock
Makes about 8 cups
(From Soup Swap)

4 pounds fish frames (bones), with or without heads, gills removed (you may need to coarsely chop the bones to fit in your stockpot)
3/4 cup dry white wine
1 large onion, quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 bay leaf
8 peppercorns
1/2 cup (30 g) packed chopped fresh parsley
6 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large stockpot, combine the fish bones and wine. Add enough cold water to just barely cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off the white foam that forms on the surface and turn the heat to low. Add the onion, carrots, celery, bay leaf, peppercorns, parsley, and thyme and season with salt (go easy; you can always add more at the end). Partially cover and simmer gently (try not to let it boil or simmer too vigorously) for 20 to 45 minutes. Taste the stock (it should have a mild briny flavor) and adjust the seasoning, adding ground pepper and more salt if needed. (Remember that a lot of seafood, particularly crustaceans, are salty, so you want to avoid oversalting the stock.) Strain the stock and let cool.

Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book, a knife sharpener, ladle, and slotted spoon. My opinions are always my own.


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