Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lake Okeechobee Bike Tour

This week, I will be on a five day tour around Lake Okeechobee. I will have updates and pictures along the way. Tomorrow is day one. Should be some interesting food/adventures. Cheers.

Location:Jupiter,United States

Friday, February 26, 2010


707 Chestnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 925-5555

Well I have always been a huge fan of Jose Garces restaurants, way before he was an Iron Chef. I have been to every place he opened in Philly, except for the newly opened Garces Trading Company, and Chifa. I would rank Amada, Tinto and Village Whiskey as some of my favorite fine dining places to eat in the city. Distrito, not so much. But that is another story. Anyway, I have been meaning to get to Chifa, and I was finally able to. I was really impressed, and I will explain why below. Here is the new menu. (Note: The pictures are a bit dark and red tinted because, well, that's what the lighting is like in there)

They start you out with the rolls shown above, on the house. I have read about these things, and let me tell you, they were soooo good. Like a Garces version of the Red Lobster biscuits (a guilty pleasure of mine, much like Olive Garden's salad and breadsticks). These, however, were so good, I actually ate them slow, because I wanted to savor every bite. They are light, doughy and airy, and stuffed with Queso and Manchego. My word. Served with spicy guava butter, I could literally eat them every day. This boded well. Next up was the Banh Mi. On it was pate, char sui pork, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeno. It was a generous size for $7, and as it was the first item to come out, it was hungrily eaten, but I would have to pass on it next time. It was good, no doubt, but I would rather have the authentic banh mi from one of my favorite places in South Philly. The bread was a bit too much and there was an overly generous smear of pate.

The next item to come out was the pickle plate. This involved three dishes of seasonal pickled vegetables. The ones on the ends were very similar and seemed to be pickled in the same kind of sake or plum wine, one was cauliflower and apple, and the other was melon and cucumber. The middle one was spicy greens, and it was a delicious, crisp take on Korean kimchi. This one was my favorite.

If you notice a recurring trend, as opposed to the usual Garces fare, the portions here were ample. I was very happy to see this, because as much as I love ultra savory bites of decadence, I also hate dropping a fair amount of cash and having to eat again later. Next up was the pork belly buns. These were by far the item I was the most anxious to try. I know pork belly is used everywhere and in everything these days, but I love it. I make it every once in a while, and I have even made my own five spice pork belly buns in the past. The buns here were exquisite. Seriously. There was a thick hoisin glaze on them and they were finished on the grill so there was a crust of crunchy, crispy, charcoal flavor that was mind blowing. The pork itself was ridiculously tender, and the pickled daikon and carrot paired with the spicy mayo on the light fluffy buns was on another level. Everything about these buns was perfect. I seriously could have eaten 10. Once again, where I expected to receive one, there were two amble buns per serving.

The next item to arrive was the mussels. Mmmm the mussels. I love to cook mussels, and I love to eat mussels, so this was a must try. And I am glad that I did. They were served in a broth of coconut milk, rocotto (a medium spiced Peruvian pepper), lemongrass and thai basil and garnished with a couple of lightly toasted pieces of bread (as all mussels should). These mussels were so savory and delicious paired with this broth that it was scary. I threw all etiquette to the wind and soon after the last mussel was devoured, I literally slurped the remaining liquid in the bowl with a spoon until the last drop. Classy, no? I couldn't resist the soothing lemongrass and coconut mixture, with the herby Thai basil and bit of spice provided by the peppers. It was that good.

The grand finale was the order of chicken wings I was so excitedly waiting for. To say they were served in a spicy, ginger-garlic sauce was an understatement. There was so much ginger and garlic in the bowl that it was absurd. Absurdly good, that is. The wings were super crispy, large and as you can probably guess, generously portioned. The bottom of the bowl, however, is where the magic lied. It was an spicy oil sauce packed with ginger and garlic and micro greens. A healthy scoop of these on each bite of wing provided some of the most inventive and flavor rich wings I have ever had. I have never seen wings presented with this flavor profile, and the spicy oil did wonders. I will be back for these as soon as possible. Between these and the pork belly (and the dinner rolls) I could eat here in perpetuity and be quite content.

Honorable mention went to the scallion pancakes. They had braised beef and sesame ginger mayo. Meh. The beef was dried and the pancakes themselves tasted of burnt soy. I will skip these next time.

As if they didn't have me already, they finished the meal with a complementary plate of delicious rice crispy treats with edible potato paper on top with an image of a dragon. Awesome. I will certainly be back, as this place is within a reasonable "fine dining" budget, and the portions were on the money.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Nifty Fifty's

1900 MacDade Blvd at Route 420
Folsom, PA 19033

I went here on a recommendation, and I happened to be in the mood for a good, greasy cheeseburger, and a milkshake. Well, I came to the right place. The place is covered in neon, and looks like you might have gotten there in a Delorean with Doc at the wheel. I like the throwback of the interior, and the fact that all of the (female, thankfully) waitstaff call you hun, and babe. Everyone has always raved about the milkshakes and so I had to go for my traditional favorite the malted black and white. This was the first thing to arrive and it was my favorite item of the day. The make their own icecream there, so you know they are serious. It was served in an old school metal milkshake cup, and was thick, malty and absolutely fantastic. Hands down one of the best milkshakes I have ever had.

Next came the spicy cheese fries, cheese on the side. They use name brand cheese whiz, which is a plus. The spice was even on the fries and was faintly reminiscent of Chickie and Pete's crab fries. The fries themselves, however, were great. They were freshly cut and fried, with the potato skins still on. Although they weren't ultra crispy, they were really good, addictive fries. The cheese starts to thicken quickly once it cools (a property that is unique to brand name whiz), so you must eat quickly.

Next came the spicy onion rings with ranch. They actually just give you a squeeze bottle full of ranch, so there is no running out. Another plus. The rings were good, not necessarily spicy, but tasty, however my threshold for grease was nearing maximum capacity (especially with a milkshake also in the mix).

The burger was up at the same time. I chose "The Whole Shebang" double which included two patties, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles and relish.

Here is an upside down version because that is how it was working out for me at the time. It was a good solid flat top grilled burger. I really liked it. Just the right amount of grease, and the pickles and relish were great. Not life changing, but a solid old school burger shack style burger.

As an after thought, there were spicy nuggets involved somehow. I could hardly choke any down, as I was completely stuffed, but they were good nuggets. No processed chicken, just chunks of white meat chicken breast. These were the spicy version, but much like the onion rings, not so spicy. Still good however.

Look at how many toy and candy vending machines they had, and this was only half of them! Awesome. $1 well spent, and 4 rubber wrestlers acquired to round out the trip.

I really, really liked the bike rack out front. I think there will be a group burger and shake ride coming up this spring.

Overall, I really liked it here. I felt like I ate a cement block afterward, but it was worth it. If you want to feel as though you worked up an appetite traveling back through time making sure your parents meet, and battling Bif the local jock, than this is the place for you (please tell me you "got" the Back to the Future references).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Deep Dish Cast Iron Pan Pizza

I have heard of this before, but I have never seen it in action. Although I am traditionally a thin crust pizza fan, I have loved a couple of thick crust pizzas in the past. And when a skillet is involved, I am all in. So when I saw a recipe for the dough with butter in it (yes please) on one of my favorite sites (here), I knew it was time to give it a go.

Here is the ingredient list:
  • 3c flour
  • 1 packet of yeast
  • 1T salt
  • 1/2t sugar
  • 1c water
  • 3 1/2T butter

To start, put the water in the microwave until it is just warm. Add the yeast and stir until it dissolves. Add the sugar and stir until it also dissolves, and set aside for about 5 minutes. At this time, you should mix together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. In the meantime, throw the butter in the microwave for about 8-10 seconds. You want it to be soft enough to mix well with the dry ingredients, but not to be liquid. When the yeast is activated (about 5 minutes after adding to the water), dump the yeast mixture and the butter into the mixing bowl. If you have a nice mixer, feel free to use it. I just got into it with clean hands and kept turning the dough and mixing it. It is really quite easy, and does not take long at all. You can add a pinch of flour or water if your dough is too wet or dry. Roll it into a ball and put it in a glass bowl that is rubbed with olive oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place it in a warm spot.

Now you need to let it your dough rise. Most people say it takes about an hour. I have never found that to be the case. Give this yeasty masterpiece at least an hour and a half to two hours, or make it the night before and leave it in the fridge until you are ready to use it the next day. So, now you have your dough that has risen (you DID punch it down halfway through, right?) and you are ready to roll it out or stretch it by hand. Your choice. Throw some flour down and get to it. Unlike its thinner cousins, this is not a huge ordeal. I stretched it by hand in about 30 seconds. Uniformity is not critical, as this is a deep dish pie. I was also worried about the flour burning inbetween the dough and the skillet, so I just patted it off first and there was no problem. And by no problem, I mean this pizza is absolutely fantastic.

You will need to grease the skillet. Well. I had an already greased skillet, and then took the extra 1/2T of butter and rubbed it all over skillet. Next, take the dough and place it in the skillet, pressing it around the edges of the pan. If some pieces are too long, just rip them off and fill in where the dough is thinner.

Up next, is the sauce, just give a liberal rub around the base to start. I used organic mushroom marinara.

While you were waiting for the dough to rise, you WERE prepping your ingredients, weren't you?

Here I used Italian meatballs (beef, pork, veal), sliced pepperoni, green pepper, thin sliced sweet onion, and kalamata olives. Some sliced mozzarella works really well also. You can use any ingredients you want, and one of the best parts is experimenting. I wanted to go with a (sort of) traditional supreme pizza. I also threw in some Italian shredded blend cheese in the middle layers, to give a nice cheesy flavor base.

I made three layers and I used a light coat of sauce in between each to help keep it moist.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Here is the finished pie before going into the oven. I went light with the onions so as not to over power the flavor.

Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until you see the dough pull up from the sides and the toppings start to brown. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes (it will be hard to wait), and then carefully use a spatula and two sets of hands to slide it out of the pan. I was surprised at how easy it was to (carefully!) remove intact. Look at how amazing it looks below!

Letting the pizza sit longer will allow the ingredients to set up much better (it looked/tasted great the next day). But, if you are like me, there will be no chance for this pizza to cool. It looked as though it might be fork and knife pizza (casserole) when I first cut it, but it was not at all. I was able to eat it like a regular slice with no difficulty. I was beyond impressed with the results. This pizza was awesome. Possibly the best deep dish I have ever had. The crust was light, buttery, flaky and moist. The ingredients mixed perfectly together to create a cheesy, salty, meaty harmony. I will definitely make this again soon, and it is SO EASY to pull off. Not to mention, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

El Fuego

723 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 592-1901

I like a good big (relatively) cheap burrito. I used to frequent a place in Salt Lake that was exactly like El Fuego, and I am glad that we have this place to fill the void that might have existed in my eating life. It is in no way shape or form authentic Mexican food, and it is great. The burritos are huge, and the ingredients are fresh.

Their chorizo is unlike most places, in that it is either cured, or it tastes/looks like it. I usually go with the spicy beef. It is moist, tender pulled beef (barbacoa) that complements the other ingredients well.

When you enter, there is an assembly line where they steam the tortilla, and then you choose black or pinto beans, they add rice, lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and your choice of salsas (I get all three), and they wrap it up. Guacamole costs extra and I skip it, because it usually is all concentrated in one spot, and you get a bite of tortilla and guac only. So if you are looking for a filling, cheap lunch in Washington square, this place might be your best bet.