it's okay to play with your food

Monday, July 27, 2009

ROOT Cocktail Competition

My latest post on uwishunu... and I'll be in attendance. You should be too!

Root beer isn’t just for little kids and ice cream floats. ROOT is the new liqueur transforming the classic soft drink into something more adult-appropriate. Based on the (alcoholic) recipe from which root beer originated, ROOT blends smoked black tea, sundry spices and citrus peels to recreate the beverage how our forefathers drank it. ROOT has its “roots” in Philly; it’s brought to us by Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. I tried it in May and can attest: this stuff is delicious.

You can check it out at the ROOT Cocktail Competition on July 28th at the Silk City Beer Garden. Bartenders from Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co., Snackbar, North 3rd, and other local bars will be creating cocktails featuring ROOT. Judges are local writers and alcohol professionals: George Costa (Southwark), Arthur Etchells (Foobooz), Marnie Old (sommelier) and Victor Fiorillo (Philadelphia Magazine).
Guests enjoy free hors d’oeurves and $5 Root cocktails. Admission is free but RSVP to

What would you make with ROOT?

ROOT Cocktail CompetitionTuesday, July 28th, 7-9pm
Silk City Beer Garden (Rain location: inside Silk City)435 Spring Garden St, Philadelphia, PA

Updated: Katie Loeb's concoction Dr. Hadley's Root Restorative took top prize.
.5 oz. Demerara simple syrup
6 large mint leaves
1.25 oz. Lairds Bonded (100 proof) Applejack
1.0 oz. ROOT Liqueur
.5 oz. Benedictine
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
2 dashes Fee Brother's Aztec Chocolate bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Garnish: a Mint sprig
Muddle mint in simple syrup. Add ice and other ingredients. Shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with a spanked mint sprig.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Seven Simple Salads for the Week

Loyal readers of kitchenplay know I dislike Mark Bittman. It’s less about his recipes, and more about his attitude, specifically the attitude displayed towards me and my question during a book talk at the Philly Free Library a few months ago. I won’t go into details, but you can read about my unpleasant encounter at Bite Me Bittman. My friends now get a kick out of secretly cooking with Bittman recipes, waiting till I pronounce my fondness for the dish and then revealing the “man behind the curtain.” I can like the man’s food; I just don’t like him.

That said, his latest feature in the Times caught my eye: 101 Simple Salads for the Season. I cook very little over the summer, disliking the heat my kitchen produces and the lack of central air to combat it. I often get stuck in a rut of Lean Cuisines, peanut butter off a spoon or ice cream for dinner. So his collection of innovative salad recipes has inspired me. Starting today, for the following week, Thursday to Wednesday, I am going to make a Bittman-approved salad each day.

I hit up Reading Terminal for some of the ingredients that ran through many of the recipes I'm interested in: tomatoes, peaches, cilantro, red onion, mint, arugula, celery, carrots, corn, lemons and limes. I'll likely need to make an Italian Market run over the weekend to supplement.

First up? Number 2: "Mix wedges of tomatoes and peaches, add slivers of red onion, a few red-pepper flakes and cilantro. Dress with olive oil and lime or lemon juice. Astonishing."*

This salad was, in the words of my brother, "bangin'." Peaches and herbs (no, I'm really not trying to be funny, I swear.), are my new favorite duo. I recently made a basil peach jam and the cilantro peach combination in the salad tickled my tongue. In fact, I think the same salad could be really good with basil in place of the cilantro, but try it with the cilantro first. I went for a healthy dose of lime juice which also went nicely with the cilantro (unsurprisingly) and peaches (more surprising).

And the kitchenplayer in me does appreciate how Bittman doesn't specify quantities; it's all about proportions that you think will work, that you'll enjoy.

Ok Bittman, in this imaginary little fight of ours, you're starting to redeem yourself. Let's see what else you got.

*Salt is meant to be included in all the recipes though it isn't specified. I used a nice sea salt.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary...

Well, I can't speak for Mary's garden, but mine is growing with the help of homemade compost and a small army of children from my block.

Newbold Neighbors Association has done a great job starting a community garden this year, a couple blocks from my house. I'm just now greening my thumb, so I'm learning a lot along the way.

For instance, if you decide to shop for seedlings with three small children, the oldest being 6 years old, really pay attention to what you're buying. That way, you won't end up with 10 tomato plants and no peppers instead of the more well-rounded collection of tomatoes and red peppers you originally planned.

Similarly, if you decide to plant with three small children, pay closer attention to where they are digging and what they are putting in the ground. That way, you won't end up with a rogue tomato plant in the midst of your cucumber patch.

Sigh... but these are lessons learned along the way and hey, the kids are having fun with the garden. If you want to see children fight over vegetables, this is way. ("That's MY cucumber plant!" "No, it's MINE! THAT one's yours!" "Where's MY tomato growing?") They are also really excited for the "vegetable party" we're going to have at the end of the summer. As in, "Can we make a tomato salad? Please?"

Less overt excitement accompanied the laying of the compost. I fished out some of my compost, put it in a bag and headed over to the garden with two of the older kids from my block, about 8 and 9 years old. I hadn't noticed how the compost smelled till we got to the garden. In the words of John, the 9 year old, it smelled like "dookie." And he was right.

I suspect I wasn't turning the compost enough, letting it aerate properly. It doesn't smell now and seems to be well-integrated into the soil. Nothing has died, so I think it's ok. I went home and added cardboard to my batch in the Envirocycle and have been turning it religiously. Hopefully this next round will be more earthy, less dookie-y.

My pics are from last week, but I was just there again today. The black eggplant have quadrupled in size and the Lavender Touch eggplant is finally showing its light purple blossoms. Plus I have some very funky curly cucumbers growing. The tomatoes have yet to turn red but they are nice in size. And with all those tomato plants, there will be much tomato salad at our vegetable party come late August.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The NoLibs Series

I haven’t been as busily posting on kitchenplay lately, in part because my duties as Volunteer Coordinator with the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival are gearing up. Live Arts is a two-week long theater and dance festival in September and about 200 volunteers help make it happen. As per my job title, I get to “coordinate” them.

The Live Arts main office just moved from Old City to Northern Liberties. So while my opportunities for blogging may dwindle as the festival nears, I want to take advantage of the new neighborhood by exploring all the fine food it has to offer. I don’t make it up to No Libs often, but that is about to change.

I ate at El Camino Real a few weeks ago and am going to start off my No Libs Series with that later on this week. Any one have any tips for places to hit in No Libs?

And do you want to volunteer for Live Arts? Email me at

The To-Eat List
Bar Ferdinand
Honey’s Sit and Eat
A Full Plate
Brown Betty

Been There, Dug That
Standard Tap
Silk City

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brew Alert

Word from Brew is they could be selling beer by Thursday! Stay tuned...

Grub Street just got the word from Aaron as of a few hours ago. The word is "snags"... various snags seem to be preventing those lonely refrigerators from getting stocked with beer. In the meantime, we have delicious Counter Culture coffee and 4 Worlds Bakery baguettes to sweeten the wait.

Apparently protesting is one of the aforementioned snags. As a Newbold resident, albeit one a few blocks from Brew, I'm curious to know who is up in arms against the place. I wonder if the Newbold Neighbors Association could be of assistance. They were definitely helpful with getting
Lucky Old Souls moving along.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July Crush of the Month: The Kitchn

The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy’s food and kitchen spin-off, is nothing new to webby food lovers. And I read it, comment on it and refer to it regularly. But just this week, it’s entered my life in multiple and wondrous ways. It’s my July Crush of the Month.

So what exactly has gotten me so excited?

My latest purchase at IKEA:
cookie cutters shaped like mountain wildlife, including a hedgehog, moose and squirrel. I first read about them on The Kitchn weeks ago.

A cure for ridding my kitchen of a multitude of pesky fruit flies: a small bowl full of cider vinegar mixed with dish soap. The vinegar smell attracts the flies; the dish soap traps and kills them.

The trick for making ice cream without an ice cream maker. The lack of an ice cream maker has been gnawing at me all summer. But I think I’ve found what I need and it involves things I already have or can acquire quickly and on the cheap. In fact, I’ll be making my first batch this weekend.

funny little water thermometer that multiple friends brought to my attention. It starts singing opera when your pasta is ready!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company

Behind a black, unmarked basement door on 18th street is the newest spot for cocktails in Philly. The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Company opened last month with an excited hush. Rumors abounded, many of them proving to be true.

The place was so exclusive that a password was required for entry. (Not true)

Drinks are pricey, but deservedly so. (True and true)

Signage would be nonexistent. (True)

Inspired by the speakeasies of yore, Franklin Mortgage does not boast its presence. Once Daniel and I found the place, a dimly lit, narrow alley of a space greeted us. The burgundy booths, dark walls and sparse lighting made me pine for a gun in my garter belt.

Nicholas Jarret (whole mixology I last enjoyed at the Root liqueur tasting) tended bar. We took our seats and our hostess brought each of us the menu, a multi-page tome divided into categories like American History and Revivers and Tonics.

I was decidedly overwhelmed, with many of the ingredients foreign to me, but I spotted something that recalled a French 75, the Doc Daneeka Royale: gin, fresh lemon juice, maple, grapefruit peel, and sparkling wine. It was light and clean, with bright citrus at the front and the warm maple flavor hitting you at the back. It was my favorite overall by the end of the evening. Daniel's Hoff's Law Cocktail, a mix of rye, elderflower liqueur and sweet vermouth, put hair on my chest (and tongue).

The devil is in the details at Franklin Mortgage. The glassware is unique and matched to its particular cocktail. Three types of ice are served and also paired with the appropriate drink.

Luckily, Aaron joined us a little later on, which meant more cocktails for sampling and comparing. Overall, we tried six different drinks. (See details and pics below)

Food is not served which was disappointing, particularly since the drinks are strong and I would have liked something with which to soak them up. So after shelling $12 per cocktail, we made an economical and delicious next stop: Five Guys for burgers and fries.

I will definitely be returning, though likely later in the evening and donning a Fedora. It's just that kinda place.

Some of our beverage choices for the evening...

Center City Swizzle: rye whiskey, amontillado sherry, ginger, lemon juice, velvet falernum, angostura bitters. Very gingery, which I liked, but Aaron thought it overpowered the other flavors.

Diamondback: rye whiskey, apple brandy, yellow chartreuse. Daniel's second choice, another hair maker. As I recall (confirm please, Daniel), this was his favorite of the two.

Pass and Stow Punch: aged Bermudan and Jamaican rums, pineapple and lime juice, marschino cherry liqueur, seltzer, grated nutmeg. A nice, evenly balanced punch. My second cocktail. I also love nutmeg so I liked the inclusion.

Simo Cup: gin, Pimms No. 1, fresh lemon juice, cucumber, and strawberry. Another sweet summer drink. Aaron could have used more bite but it totally hit the spot for me. I definitely don't think of myself as a girlie drink person but apparently I do like cocktails that go down a bit easier.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Durham Farmer's Market

Final part in a three-part series on eating in The Triangle of North Carolina

I am finally concluding my series on a long weekend spent eating around the North Carolina Triangle (Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh). In town for the wedding of friends, I enjoyed some traditional (and some unexpected) North Carolina cuisine.

After a day that included my first coffee cupping, bbq and paletas, the wedding was upon us. With just a few free hours available in the morning, it was a perfect opportunity to visit one of the many farmer's markets in the area.

Farmer's markets comprise an important part of life in the Triangle. As good farmer's markets should, they function as places for selling/buying locally grown and produced food, and also community gathering. The two larger ones are those in Durham and Carrboro. With only one morning available, a choice needed to be made, and Sarah and I opted to visit the one in Durham.

Beneath an open-air roof, many of the standard farmer's market stalls were present, selling baked goods, vegetables, plants, meat, arts and crafts, etc. A highlight? The 7 layer cookies from one local baker, packed with butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and coconut.

An unexpected surprise was the Only Burger hamburger truck. True to its name, it sells primarily burgers, along with fries and a basic drink selection. The burger was just what I needed that morning, a bit more well-done than I like, but topped with gooey melted cheddar and fresh onions, lettuce and tomato within a toasted bun. Sarah, the vegetarian, opted for a potato and mock ham pasty-type thing from one of the other vendors.

Then it was off to the wedding, where beef brisket and mac and cheese helped make up the Southern themed dinner menu. Not surprisingly, I was pleased!

Our trip ended the next day after a lovely family brunch. One place I didn't make it to is Crooks Corner. Nicknamed the Chez Panisse of the South, it is credited with taking traditional southern cooking and elevating it to a finer type of cuisine. With quite a few friends either from the Triangle or having studied there for grad school, I bet I'll be making a return trip.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Strawberry Plum Jam: Part 2

So the results of my first foray into jam making? Pretty awesome.

As a recap, I hastily embarked upon my first jam venture by buying a ton of fruit, but lacked all of the other necessary equipment, like... jars, pectin, large pots, a clue as to what I was doing.

Between fruit buying on Tuesday and jamming on Saturday, most things came together. I bought jars, forsook pectin, borrowed a large pot, and started to have a clue. Strawberry plum jam was made. And it's good.

The cooking down of all the fruit with sugar was simple. No issues there. However, I was reading various methods for processing the jars from websites, friends, and the
instructions from the jar manufacturer. (Processing is the term for pressurizing the cans and sealing them. I was specifically doing a boiling water process.)

I made my jam in two batches, starting with the small jars. None of these sealed properly and I don't know why. However, my three large jars all sealed. The big difference was that I used the jar manufacturer instructions with the small jars. They specified keeping the jars in the canning water till they reached room temperature. Other instructions said to take the jars out immediately after boiling and let them cool at room temperature outside of the water, which is what I did for the large jars. I also may not have filled the small jars enough, the excess room at the top making it harder to create a vacuum. The recipe below outlines what I did for the large jars.

Strawberry Plum Jam
Jackson’s Jam, since I was mascerating berries and plums while listening to Thriller just a few hours after MJ passed. It seems appropriate.)

3 lbs. strawberries
2 lbs. plums
2 cups sugar + 8 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 lemons, juiced

Optional step 1: Mascerate berries and plums in 2 cups sugar and the seeds of one vanilla bean, let sit over night, covered and refrigerated. (I used about equal parts light brown sugar and white sugar. I also let it sit for two nights.)

Prepare your canning pot before starting to cook the fruit. I used a large pot and lined the bottom with a towel before filling it with water. I filled it with water till about 3/4 full.

In a large pot, cook all fruit with the 8 cups of sugar and lemon juice for 25 to 30 minutes on medium-high heat. Stir continuously once fruit starts to boil. Skim off any foam that may accumulate on the top.

Let cool for a couple minutes then fill the jars, leaving about 1/4 inch space between the jam and the top of the jar. Screw on lids and wipe off any excess jam with a towel dipped in boiling water.

Place jars in the canning pot, placing towels in between the jars to prevent them from touching. Bring water to a boil. Then, depending on your elevation and jar size, boil for the recommended time. In Philadelphia, the pint jars needed to boil for 20 minutes. Water needs to completely cover the jars, so if the water levels starts to get low, add more.

After the recommended processing time, remove jars using a pair of tongs and let them sit, untouched, till they are properly pressurized.

Thanks to Marisa for her inspirational strawberry jam recipe and the advice along the way! Also E, Mike, Jim and Aditi.