it's okay to play with your food

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Merl's South Philly Breakfast Spot

Before heading to the airport this morning, I took my dad to Merl's for breakfast. Merl's is a breakfast joint just around the corner from me and it's become one of my favorite spots. Convenient location aside, Merl's has some of the best home fries and pancakes in town. The home fries (known as Merl's signature home fries) are crispy and salty, cooked with onions and green peppers. The server tends to ask if you would like the fries with onions and peppers. I can't imagine ordering them any other way.

The pancakes are best described by quoting the server. On my last trip there, my cousin told the server how amazingly crispy and soft the pancakes were. Her response: "I think it's all the butter." Or today, when I requested butter before digging in. She said, "There's already butter melted on the pancakes. But if you want more, I can bring some." Extra butter was definitely unnecessary.

My dad described the pancakes as the "perfect combination of wet and dry," which in chef talk just meant the dry ingredients didn't overwhelm the wet ones in the batter. So while the extra butter makes the outside of the pancakes super crispy, the inside is melt-in-your-mouth soft.

He ordered the pancakes and scrapple (Which he claims not to have eaten in two decades! I like to think he was inspired by all my recent scrapple talk.), and the scrapple came thinly sliced and deep fried, much to his satisfaction. I went with the p'cakes and pork bacon.

Merl herself came out at one point and checked to see how we were enjoying everything. When we praised the pancakes, she referred to her "secret recipe." I certainly hope I'm not revealing too much by saying they certainly benefit from copious amounts of butter.

Merl's South Philly Breakfast Spot
1543 Dickinson St. Philly 19146

Friday, March 27, 2009

Texas Caviar

I send out an email every week or two to members of the kitchenplay group on Facebook. This week's email brought me back to a recipe I made last year before leaving for Texas, when I threw my "Texas, Hold Me!" theme party. It's called Texas Caviar and it hails from the Cowgirl Hall of Fame Restaurant in New York. It's more like a chunky salsa, with black eyed-peas, pimentos, tabasco and jalepenos, all the ingredients you'd expect a cowgirl to love.

Texas Caviar

3 16-oz cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed of all juice
1 small jar chopped pimentos, juice included
1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, green part only
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
3 canned or fresh jalapeño chiles, chopped
1 firm, ripe, chopped tomato
2 cups vinaigrette
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced

In a large bowl, stir all ingredients very well. Refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, preferably overnight, in a sealed or covered container. Remember the longer it sits, the better it gets!
Serve with old-fashioned saltine crackers or with corn tortilla chips.

Photo credit: Cowgirl lineup,

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009


So yes, we made it to ScrappleFest. And yes, I consumed more scrapple in one afternoon than I have in my entire life. It was actually really fun. A never ending ring of scrapple fans circled around the sample stations of multiple scrapple makers, including Dietz and Watson, Leidy's and the folks behind Vrapple.

Mike and I liked Leidy's the best... it had a strong sage flavor, which was nice, and wasn't nearly as salty as the others we tried. I honestly wasn't that impressed with Vrapple, though I love the idea. It had a crumbly texture that I didn't like, and not as much spice flavor as I was looking for.

I was very impressed, however, with the wares of Leah Mackin, a local screenprinter. I bought her set of five scrapple character magnets, each one celebrating a famous Philadelphian in scrapple-form: Betsy Ross, an Amish girl, Rocky, Ben Franklin and the Fresh Prince.

Mike and I had toyed with bringing our homemade scrapple for a throw-down. In retrospect, I wish we had, if only because few people seemed to believe we actually made it from scratch. (Yeah, there was some bragging to our fellow scrapple-eaters in line. So what?)

Is this the end of my adventures in scrapple? Likely not. I can't say I love eating the stuff, but it still encompasses two of my favorite food genres: regional cuisines and the ridiculous.

Texas Redux

I leave for another gig with Ft. Worth Opera this coming weekend. That means six weeks of hotel living and cowboys while working as an assistant director for FWO. Surprisingly, for all my northeast jadedness, I really liked Texas when I worked there last year. Not surprisingly, I'm really psyched for the food... bbq, awesome onion rings, paletas, these crazy good doughnuts I got on my birthday, queso, Central Market...

As I gear up to leave on Sunday, I figured I would pull out my Texas posts from the kitchenplay archives. I never did get around to sharing my food love for Austin, but it is plentiful and strong, so I promise to get to it soon.

My quest to understand the taste behind the man at the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco.

A lazy blogger's run-down of some of the good food I had in Ft. Worth.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Post is About Scrapple; Read at Your Own Risk

I am a proud Philadelphian, especially when it comes to food. I embrace the plasticine sheen of the butterscotch krimpet, the heart attack-inducing cheesesteak, and the salty goodness of the soft pretzel. One food that I never quite understood, however, was scrapple.

I mean, I understand it. It's an early incarnation of the Head to Tail eating philosophy: don't waste any part of the animal, including the offal. Originated by the Pennsylvania Dutch, the recipe has endured hundreds of years and much scorn by many eaters. Yet for as many people who detest scrapple, you can find about as many who adore it. Passionately.

And despite never wanting to eat it, I've always been fascinated by it. I remember reading my first scrapple package at the Wawa on 2nd and South and being 100% disgusted by the ingredients. And while I thought that moment of discovery would quell my curiosity, it appears only to have fed it, leading me to this week: the week I made scrapple from scratch.

My friend Mike is a master of meat. He makes bacon, pancetta, sausage, foie gras, etc. And yet, he never made scrapple. Inspired by this Saturday's ScrappleFest at Reading Terminal Market, we embarked upon a scrapple making adventure. Well, Mike led the way, and I followed, kinda freaked.

But just like the gelatinous broth that was melted and mixed with the ground pork, so too melted my fear of the trotters and snouts laid out on Mike's counter. First of all, the snouts were very cute. We named one Alfred. And as we combined the chopped meat with a tea ball full of allspice berries, peppercorns and cinnamon, I realized how well these sweet spices would meld with the offal-flavor.

Simmering the meat till tender took longer than anticipated, and I had to leave, so Mike actually did much of the meat separating/grinding on his own while I wiled away hours elsewhere in ignorant bliss. The next time I saw Alfred, he was just combined with starch and set to simmer on the stove till sufficiently thick. We poured him into two greased loaf pans and he has been setting since then. (If my camera hadn't been acting up on Tuesday, I would have photos for you. I promise more to come.)

While it looked disgusting that night (think grey goop), I have to say, the sample I tried was delicious. The liver flavor was the perfect potency and I actually was more appreciative of the taste knowing what exactly was in it, rather than being grossed out by the fact.

See you at ScrappleFest!

Mike's Scrapple

2 trotters, split lengthwise

1lb liver

.5lb pork shoulder scrap (sausage making style)

1.5lb snouts

Three cloves of garlic, crushed

An onion, quartered

About 20g mixed sweet spices (grated nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, black pepper, allspice, clove) in a tea ball

One bunch sage

1 T salt

1 t black pepper

2 C corn meal

2 C buckwheat flour

Chop all meat into smaller bits. Cover with water, add tea ball, a few sage leaves and onion. Simmer for about five hours.

Separate meat from broth, pick over meat for bones and onion skins. Chill meat and broth.

Let broth set into a solid, jiggly mass. Scrape the fat off the top.

Progressively grind meat: all of the meat went through the large die, then half of that went through the small die. Mix with the rest of the sage (chopped) and the salt and pepper.

Melt the broth, add in the ground meat. Bring to a boil, add starch, whisk to prevent lumping. Reduce to a simmer, let sit for an hour, stirring frequently.

Put into Pam-ed loaf tins, let set.

To serve, slice, dredge in flour, and fry.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

First Philly Food Blogger Potluck

One of the awesome things about the Philly food blogging scene is that... well... there IS a scene. For instance, the writers behind the blogs come together for potlucks every few months. Well, kitchenplay's first potluck is this Friday and I'm blanking on what to make. Obviously, I feel a bit of pressure to prepare something great. I'm also thinking that I should stick to something I know will come out well.

But here's the glitch. It's Friday at 6:30, meaning I really need to make something on Thursday night that will also travel well, quite possibly in my bike basket.

I set up a poll at left to collect some suggestions. Have I made something for you in the past that you really loved? Have I posted about a recipe on kitchenplay that you think would turn out well? Any help would be much appreciated, if only to narrow down the possibilities to a more manageable handful. The poll will close tomorrow (Thursday) at 5pm!

Update: With cupcakes and white bean dip tied, my own lazyness and pragmatism reigned. I made the dip. Garnished with fried sage leaves and served with pita triangles, it came out pretty well. Next time I'll make it earlier and let it sit overnight.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Celebrating Green

Ok, so maybe it's not what they mean when talking about green on St. Patty's Day, but I'm starting a garden.

I've never thought of myself as "domestic" despite my love for cooking and knitting. I always figured that my disinterest in pearl necklace-clad vacuuming and my general messiness negated the influence of such Martha-esque hobbies.

But then I bought a house. And I became a nester.

My room is still messy but I now find myself tending to plants and brainstorming the best way to store spices. I daydream about paint colors for the second floor and future renovations. Sometimes my domesticity involves power tools. I like that. It also never includes pearls.

And now it's March and I have embarked on new and slightly unfamiliar homebody terrain: gardening, one of my 2009 Food-to-Do items. Since I'm a novice at this whole "gardening" thing, I don't exactly have the proper supplies yet. My shovel is a cheap plastic spatula and yogurt container combo. And my hands.

The planter on my back patio isn't huge (see pic above), so the garden will be simple. I'm thinking of planting arugula, peas (since they can grow on a trellis and save space), chili peppers and maybe cucumbers. I'm also going to grow a collection of herbs, either outside or on a windowsill in the kitchen. For the trellis, I'm trying to brainstorm good found objects that I can use. One website recommended using old bed springs. I also found a cool one from IKEA I might get.

And in a more traditional Irish manner, I will be eating homemade corned beef and Irish potatoes tonight, most likely with copious amounts of beer.

Happy St. Patty's Day!

2009 Food-to-Do Update

Buy a candy thermometer
Don't break my new candy thermometer
Compost (Started it, loving it)
Start a garden patch behind my house (Working on it)
Buy Mark Bittman's new book, Food Matters (Yeah, right)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Visual Proof

A couple weeks ago, my drunken noodle arrived from Plan-Eat-Thai and was very photogenic. Since I didn't post pics in my first review of the Newbold Thai restaurant, I figured late is better than never.

Since that first post, at least one person in our home orders from there on a weekly basis. I've found the drunken noodle to be spotty... mostly amazing, sometimes just passable. I've also become a big fan of their soups (coconut milk and lemongrass with chicken are two favorites), ringing in at $2 a piece. The broths are delicate and spicy, and both come with sliced red onion and mushroom.

Who else has tried Plan-Eat-Thai since my first post?

Crush of the Month: The Anti-Food Porn

The Bacon ExplosionTM found its way from random idea to web phenomenon to New York Times article to book deal. It also made me curious as to what other food blogging phenomenons are taking place out there in the Internets.

This is Why You're Fat: why eat a regular old hamburger when you can stuff it with a McChicken sandwich, pour Cheese Whiz on it, and fry it in lard? Similary disgusting (yet fascinating?) culinary train wrecks are on display.

Cake Wrecks: When cake makers love airbrushing a little TOO much and don't care enough for accurate grammar and spelling, you have Cake Wrecks. That said, she also shows off some amazingly intricate and impressive cake decorating. (Thanks to Amelia for the tip!)

Any other awesomely gross food sites out there?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Stuffalo, kitchenplay style

by daniel k, kitchenplay guestblogger, and kp

A couple of months ago, our friend Samara shared a table in a crowded Fairmount-area coffee shop with a stranger. Casual conversation ensued and an idea was shared... a culinary creation oozing with the influence of our Dominos-inspired food culture: the Stuffalo, a pizza with a crust stuffed with Buffalo chicken. It was inspired.

Or so the story goes…

Who was that mystery man? Could he have been one of the members behind the Stuffalo pizza at Meal Ticket, only unveiled yesterday? Is it possible that our destinies were linked over many months, leading to this week: the week that both teams independently brought The Stuffalo to life?

Or was it someone else entirely? Someone who has been making The Stuffalo all along, in total anonymity?

Regardless, after much talk about the Stuffalo in our friend circle, we here at the kitchenplay test kitchen decided to make The Stuffalo last weekend during an outing to the Poconos. While we considered going the route of breaded buffalo chicken, we opted instead to stuff the crust with a mixture inspired by North Carolina pork barbecue: slow-cooked, shredded dark-meat chicken and diced onions, marinated in Buffalo sauce.

The real debate, however, concerned what pizza toppings would go well with the aggressive flavor of The Stuffalo crust. A Buffalo-style pizza with Buffalo sauce and blue cheese would simply be too much. But a standard red pizza would be too sweet. We decided to do a white pizza topped with six cheeses, caramelized onions and a bit of oregano. And the result was amazing.

I hope the Meal Ticket team gets a look at our version. We should do a Stuffal-off! Or combine forces to create the Ultimate Stuffalo!

The kitchenplay Stuffalo
1 lb dark meat chicken, slow-cooked and shredded
1 onion, diced
Buffalo sauce
Pizza dough
4 oz. Crème fraiche
2 tbsp cream or milk
Assorted cheeses, shredded (mozz, parm, provolone, fontina, Romano and asiago)
1 onion, diced and caramelized

Preheat oven to 375. Combine the chicken and onion with enough Buffalo sauce to coat thoroughly. Roll out the pizza dough, leaving about an inch hanging off the edges (this will allow you to roll the dough over the stuffing to form the crust). Spoon stuffing around the edge of the pizza and fold the excess dough over the stuffing, pressing down to seal dough. Combine the crème fraiche and the cream or milk and spread over the pizza. Top with the shredded cheeses, caramelized onions and oregano. Drizzle the top, if you’d like, with a bit of Buffalo sauce. Bake for 20-25 mins, or until crust is golden-brown and cheeses bubbly.

Future ideas: in keeping with the Domino’s way, perhaps some kind of ranch or bleu cheese dipping sauce. Or baking crumbled bleu cheese directly in the crust.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

More Beer in Newbold...

City Paper is all about beer this week, not surprisingly. Their Top 5 section looks at the top 5 underappreciated beer bars in town. Newbold's The Station makes the list...

4 Station Bar & Grill
1550 McKean St., 215-467-1871
This upstart restaubar has a tap list curated by Bella Vista Beer's Chris Fetfatzes. It starts with local session staples like PBC Kenzinger and Victory Prima Pils, and continues with the likes of Lakefront IPA, River Horse Belgian Freeze, Boulder Never Summer and Offshore IPA.

The Station opened (I think) in the late summer, after an extensive renovation, just as I was moving into the neighborhood. I haven't made it down there yet, but have heard good things about the beer selection and the food is supposed to be pretty good too. Who wants to check it out with me sometime?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

kitchenplay on Facebook!

Just a friendly reminder... join the kitchenplay group on Facebook!

So far I've been sending out emails on Fridays with recipes and any other food-related info that may be interesting. We've seen Mark Bittman talk at the Free Library and fundraised for Newbold while eating awesome Indonesian food. Members have shared recipes, questions and R. Kelly videos. Plus, I have some other ideas percolating...

You can search for kitchenplay or follow this link.

Don't Read This if You Dislike Cheese

or tomato sauce.... or Italian sausage...

Because the following recipe relies on generous amounts of them all.

I've had a friend's Baked Ziti recipe on my fridge for months now, bringing back the memory of this amazing dish on a daily basis. I finally made it for an impromptu dinner party on Tuesday. I've never cared for baked ziti in the past. It's usually too dry and crusty... my baked pasta preferences tend to be in the lasagna and macaroni & cheese realm. But THIS? THIS is amazing. In large part because of the five types of cheese involved.

I bought 5 types, but actually only used four, all procured from DiBruno Bros. in the Italian Market. This was my first experience with homemade ricotta and I don't think I can ever buy Acme brand again. And at $4.99 a pound, it isn't that much more expensive than the supermarket versions. I omitted the sharp provolone from the ziti. It was so amazing, almost fruity, that it seemed a shame to diffuse the flavor with the other cheeses. So I added it to the Roasted Beet and Orange salad. That, plus homemade garlic bread, and you have a meal for 8. The only adjustment I made to the original recipe is I made the amount of each ingredient a bit more precise.

Kyle's Baked Ziti

1 lb. ziti
1 lb. Italian sausage (I used half mild and half hot)
1 lb. ricotta
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
1/2 lb. sharp provolone
1/4-1/2 lb. freshly grated Romano
1/4-1/2 lb. freshly grated Parmesan
About a jar of tomato sauce (I used Barilla roasted garlic)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook ziti. While ziti is cooking, start grilling the sausages. Toss cooked ziti in olive oil to prevent it from clumping together. Mix in the ricotta. Mix provolone, Romano and Parmesan together. Add that to the pasta/ricotta mix. Add a little bit of tomato sauce at a time and mix till you get the desired consistency. You want the tomato sauce to be distributed well throughout, but too much sauce makes it watery (so says Kyle). At this point, sausages should be cooked and cooled. Slice them into half-moons. Finally, slice up the ball of mozzarella directly into the pasta/cheese mixture and mix in. Put in oven for about 45 minutes. If the top starts getting crustier than you would like, try adding a bit more sauce on top and/or covering with foil.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Philly Beer Week in Newbold

If you've been living under a rock for the past couple months, then maybe this piece of information is news to you: Philly Beer Week starts this Friday.

Not surprisingly, the South Philly Tap Room is part of the festivities. Every time I check the PBW website for events at SPTR, something new has made the list. So as of today, here is what's coming up...

Events are free unless otherwise noted. All event descriptions come from the PBW website.

New Glarus Kick-Off Toast, 3.06 @ 10pm

The first 40 will receive a free glass of New Glarus Belgian Red. Ask your server/bartender for a ticket.

Meet the Brewer: Arcadia, 3.07 @ 5pm

Join founder and president Timothy Suprise in tasting a special selection of Battle Creek, Michigan's finest brews.

Meet the Brewer: Troegs, 3.10 @ 6pm

Join the brewers from Troegs for a tasting of their delicious line of brews plus a firkin of Flying Mouflan.

Meet the Brewer: Chuck Silva of Green Flash, 3.11 @ 9pm

Enjoy some tasty beers with Green Flash Brewmaster Chuck Silva. It's going to be a blowout. Specials from the taps and kitchen.

Left Hand Lumberjack Night, 3.12 @ 8pm

Dress like Paul Bunyan for a crazy tasting of Left Hand's Big Mo series. Special $3 glasses, lumberjack menu and prizes for the best dressed.

Rare Founders Beer Dinner, 3.13 @ 7pm (Tix are $95)

The largest selection of Founders drafts in history outside of the brewery. Tickets are limited to 40 and go on sale Feb 20th @ 11. Awesome!

Founders Tasting Party, 3.14 @ 4pm

13 Founders Drafts, including rare beers and new beers. The most Founders draft in history outside the brewery. What?

Allagash and St. Louis Beer Brunch, 3.15 @ 11am

Get rid of your week-long hangover the only way you know how. Juicy lambics and wheat beer specials. Oh, and the best brunch around.

South Philadelphia Tap Room
1509 Mifflin St.

Call for Recipes: Newbold Neighbors Cookbook

Calling all Newbold residents!

From the NNA weekly newsletter:

The Fundraising Committee is beginning to compile recipes for a neighborhood cookbook to sell this summer. Please submit your family favorites and ask your neighbors for a recipe they love. Email recipes and relevant photos (optional) to The idea is that the cookbook will reflect the many different flavors of our awesome and diverse neighborhood.