Khmer Kitchen: From Cambodia with Love

My brother is the nomad of the family. He’s lived in Salt Lake City, London, Ohio and myriad cities in the Middle East, just to name a few. Recently, he fell victim to the death of paper journalism and was hit in a round of layoffs at a newspaper in Florida. He quickly began to freelance (which was aligned with the unfortunate events of the Trayvon Martin case just a few miles from Orlando) in hopes of eventually writing longer pieces for The New Yorker and other fancy rags. Amidst a flurry of writing, he submitted an application to the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia. A few months later he was packing up, selling his car and moving to Cambodia. Sure, why not.

When he’s abroad, conversations with my brother (thank you, Skype) often involve food. In Cairo I heard about the falafel cart by his apartment, in Jordan it was the tea. Ironically, even though he’s in Cambodia, he hasn’t eaten much Cambodian food. Because there is such a large Vietnamese population, he’s enjoyed enough pho to last a lifetime. Regardless, when I drove past Khmer Kitchen on 6th and Morris a few weeks ago, I was excited to share a gastronomical experience with my brother across the globe. I pulled over, grabbed a menu and impatiently waited for him on Skype. I then proceeded to read much of the menu to him as he could bear (while holding it up to the camera too, of course.) He pointed out lok-lak, sauteed meat over lettuce tomatoes and onions with lime sauce, as a popular Cambodian dish. Then he asked if any dishes had prah-hok in them. I scanned the menu, finding prah-hok kahteeh under the “Traditional Khmer Dish” section.

“What’s that?” I asked him.

He proceeded to describe the dish as little fish being fermented in large buckets. It sounded disgusting…but also kind of intriguing.

The following week, my husband had off from work on a weekday and we decided to check out Khmer Kitchen. We were joined by my father and his friend–Dad was delighted to go to a Cambodian restaurant as he and my mother will be visiting my brother in November.

We walked into the colorful store and sat down. There are about eight tables, two or three of which were filled. The waiter walked over to our table and immediately told us “the only appetizer we have is the meatballs.” Um, ok. Guess we won’t be getting the grilled meat skewers or spring rolls. Boo. The meatballs were priced at $1.50 so I asked if that was per meatball. He responded affirmatively so I ordered one for each of us, with the exception of my father who eschews pork. We also got the bok la-haong (papaya salad) so there was something for Dad.

The salad came out quickly.

Papaya salad is a staple in many Asian cuisines and this one wasn’t earth-shatteringly different than others I’ve had. Fresh and cool with a bit of a kick for the hot, summer day.

The meatballs arrived next. For $1.50 per skewer, we actually got four hearty pork meatballs with a mild chili dipping sauce.

The ordering of the entrees was a complicated affair. My father, husband and father’s friend planned on ordering the same thing (two with beef, one with chicken,) but the waiter convinced us that the portions were “very, very big” and another gentleman walked by to let us know that “Cambodian food is meant for sharing.” We ended up deciding on the same dish–one of chicken, one of beef; fried calamari and the pra-hok that I was just dying to try. It was a confusing interaction and I was intrigued to see what we would actually end up with.

Khmer Kitchen seems to be a family affair, with the older parents cooking in the kitchen, younger folks waiting tables and youngest children hanging out, playing games behind the counter. The dishes are all cooked to order which can mean hurry up and wait. Finally, the first dish came out.

Whoops, miscommunication. We got two of the sauteed beef with celery and peppers.

The dish was simple yet tasty. The tender beef had a bit of heat and a slight curry flavor. I don’t know that I would order two of the exact same dish next time, but it was certainly a solid option.

Next up was my pra-hok. Yes!

The waiter told me that I could pick up the veggies and spoon a little pra-hok on them all fancy “like caviar” or I could do it “like we do it” and load a bunch of veggies together with a huge dollop of the ground pork. I think I hit those two somewhere in between. When I initially ordered the pra-hok, the waiter perked up, mentioning that it was a Cambodian special. The dish did not fail to delight. It was smooth and creamy with just a hint of coconut and little heat. The vegetables were a great vehicle for the pork, letting the protein shine. My favorite veg for this purpose was probably the cabbage as it has little flavor and perfectly encapsulated the meat. This is a great dish for sharing and no need to be scared of the fermented fish. There was no fish flavor to be found. I’m not sure if I was happy or sad about that one.

Next came the fried calamari.

The calamari wasn’t heavily breaded and was surprisingly tender. It was reminiscent of salt and pepper squid that you might find at a Vietnamese restaurant.

We waited and waited some more and finally out came the chicken saute.

Nope, not the chicken saute. I think it was the Sah-Law Kah-Rhee Mohn, a curry chicken dish also listed in the “Traditional Khmer Dish” section. The waiter did, at some point, suggest that dish but none of us quite remembered ordering it. Oh wells. It was a nice change with lots of veggies, peanuts and a not-too-overwhelming curry flavor.

This feast was a whopping $55 for four people, an incredible deal given the amount of food we ate (and leftovers we went home with.) The service is slow, yet friendly and they pour bottled water to everyone. I will certainly be making a return trip or two and hope their appetizer menu expands on my next visit.

Advertisements

Pitruco Pizza

When my brother, Joe, was younger, he played tennis with this kid named Jonah. They were buddies. Unstoppable on the junior doubles circuit and together all the time, they truly were brothers. Although Jonah was a little taller and skinnier, they even looked alike, down to the same haircut and that fateful prom where they donned matching silver suits (inevitably from Suit Corner or another one of those “high-quality” men’s apparel stores on Market Street) and spray-died silver hair. I felt sorry for their dates, although the memory, captured by a single photograph, is certainly a family treasure.

While the boys went to different high schools and colleges, they remained close, occasionally entering a tournament together, although they were both occupied by life’s various ventures. After college, Joe spent time in the middle East while Jonah returned to Philadelphia and channeled his background in education and tennis expertise with a position as tennis pro at Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education. Ashe was where Joe and Jonah began their tennis journeys, so it was only fitting for Jonah to return. He was, not surprisingly, quite successful in his position. Years passed and Joe and Jonah maintained this friendship, often separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles. They had one of those friendships, you know how it is, where they could call one another up and pick up conversation like nothing had changed. Beyond their relationship, of course, the two families got to know one another quite well, celebrating Bar Mitzvahs, birthdays and other momentous events together.

__________________________

A few months ago, I was perusing the various local food media outlets and came across a piece about a new food truck, Pitruco Pizza, which would feature a wood burning pizza oven INSIDE the truck. Super cool, I thought. But something else caught my eye. As it turns out, tennis-playing Jonah was one of the partners. What?! Having known Jonah for years, I was intrigued but not at all surprised. With his go-getting nature and entrepreneurial spirit, this was completely aligned with the young man I remember best in his tennis whites. Over the next few days and weeks, I gathered more information about the truck and learned that they would be at a fundraiser for Arthur Ashe one weekend when my brother was home. Ironically, my friend Sean of the nano-brewery, Mellody Brewing, would be at the event as well. I was unable to attend but sent my brother and father off to the fundraiser, with instructions to report back. Midway through the event, I received a phone call from my father.

“Hey dad,” I answered.

“Hey Zoe, hold on.”

All of a sudden, I heard a new, yet familiar voice on the phone.

“Hey Zoe.” It was Sean of Mellody Brewing. Sigh. I am 30 years old and my father still embarrasses me. Yes, it’s true. My father had sought out Sean and, always the overachiever, chose to not simply introduce himself as my father but to call me and shove the phone in Sean’s face. Double sigh.

But this is about Pitruco. When Sean returned the phone to my father, I heard nothing but good things about the pizzas they had tried. In fact, they went to Love Park later that week to sample more pies. At this point, I was jealous. They had tried Pitruco twice and I was yet to get even a taste.

This quickly changed during the Chinatown Night Market. Pitruco was one of the many, many vendors and food trucks selling their goods on the packed street that October evening. Luckly, we ran into some friends (including the aforementioned Sean) who waited in line for pizza while we checked out the other trucks. We were lucky enough to try the traditional margherita and the salame, a red pie with soppressata, mozzarella and a touch of pecorino. Both pies were tasty, with the necessarily crispy crust. I especially loved the chewy soppressata on the salame. Because they were busy that evening, I could only wave hello to Jonah and the guys, while I had a brief chat with his mom, who was helping out for the evening.

After that taste, I knew I wanted more. Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to leave work for an extended lunch hour and it took a few months for me to get another taste.

Last Saturday, we were at a 30th birthday celebration for two of our friends who live in Fishtown. As we left, around 11pm, Zach mentioned that Pitruco was stationed at Frankford and Girard, just minutes from the party. This is why I love my husband, folks. There was no conversation; we simply knew we were getting some pizza.

As we approached the intersection, we spied the truck sitting just across from Johnny Brenda’s. He pulled over and I hopped out to place our order. I was pleased to be greeted by my dear old friend, Jonah. I hemmed and hawed about our order, asking them what I should get, considering the two I had already tasted. They wanted me to get a better dish than what I had tried at the Night Market, because the pizza that night were not up to their high standards. We settled on the traditional margherita ($8) and a sausage ($8.50.) Jonah and I chatted as the guys prepped the pies for him to put into the hot oven.

I love the tiling.

As we caught up on our lives and chatted about business, Jonah deftly operated the pizza peel, sliding the dough towards the flames.

The sausage emerged first, loaded with meat and other earthy toppings.

The margherita followed soon thereafter, with a heat blistered crust that was prime for eating right there on the chilly street. Check out the steam!

Unfortunately, we did not get the pleasure to eat it immediately (and I do think this pizza is best eaten as soon as humanly possible after it is removed from the oven.) I sat the two pies on my lap for the seemingly interminable drive home. As soon as we stepped through the door, we ripped into them. The verdict? The sausage was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever tasted. I didn’t realize it had mushrooms until I was eating it and they created this earthy flavor that balanced the savory sausage, with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized onions and a creamy bechamel. Oh my. And I wasn’t the only one who liked it. I begrudgingly  tore off a small taste of the sausage for my dog and she literally quivered in anticipation as I held it above her head.

The margherita was, of course, everything a margherita should be. A perfect ratio of sauce, buffalo mozzarella and basil created a humble and simple pie, packed with full flavors in each bite. And the crust certainly did not disappoint. I loved chewing on the charred pieces throughout.

Many might say that I had to say something nice about my brother’s best friend, the tennis boy. If I had tried the pizza and didn’t like it, I certainly would have struggled with what to write (and may have opted not to write anything.) Luckily, I wasn’t faced with this challenge in the least.  This post literally wrote itself. I am beyond beyond happy to see the success of Pitruco Pizza and its partners, Jonah, Nathan and Eric who embarked on this journey with incredibly interesting and diverse backgrounds. Besides, Craig LaBan liked the pizza so who even cares what I have to say…

Paella on the Grill!

As I mentioned in my Scannicchio’s post, my father’s dear friend and his daughter came to visit Philadelphia a few weeks back. Last time my parents went to visit Pat in New Hampshire, they came home raving about his paella made entirely on the grill. Sounds interesting, I thought. My mother made her own delicious version this past summer but I knew I had to try the original. On a cold weekday evening, my husband, dog and I made our way to my parents’ house to finally see what this paella was all about.

Pat had spent the day touring colleges but made sure to hit up the Reading Terminal (my family’s go-t0 spot) for lunch and a little grocery shopping. By the time my husband and I got my my parents’ place, Pat had already prepared his mise en place of chicken, onion, chorizo and shrimp.

The clams were outside soaking in salt water. Pat’s theory is that the clams would feel more comfortable in a “natural habitat” and would thus be more likely to loosen up and release any sand and grit. Who knows.

Meanwhile, my dad’s homemade chicken stock (go Dad!) was bubbling away on the stove. Check out the rich, caramel color!

Finally it was time to bring the ingredients out back to the grill. Pat began by sautéing the onions, chicken and chorizo in the pan in a small amount of olive oil. The point is to infuse the olive oil so that when the roast is toasting, it takes in all of the delicious flavors of the onions and proteins.

While Pat was busy working out back, we were busy inside.

Just another Wednesday night, y’all.

Next, Pat toasted the rice in the flavored oil with added saffron. He used arborio (risotto rice) because it is the closest to the specific Spanish rice that he could find.

Remember, all of the cooking is happening on the grill, my friends. Once the rice was sufficiently toasted and aromatic, he began adding the stock ladle by ladle-full, similar to a risotto preparation. Once the rice was mostly cooked through, he added the chicken, chorizo, peas, clams and shrimp along with a healthy dash of saffron (well, this was “saffron” my mother purchased quite inexpensively in Israel so we had some conversation regarding the authenticity of the herb.)

The shrimp and clams went in raw due to their short cooking time. My mother and Pat had a brief “conversation regarding whether the clams should face up or down (Pat wanted down so the juices would release into the dish. Mom wanted up so it would look pretty. Pat won.)

We closed the grill and finished off the last of our champagne.  After a brief but impatient wait, the finished product was brought to the table straight from the grill.

Beautiful! My favorite parts were the crispy rice and chorizo.

Because Pat and Emily were visiting Philadelphia, we had to have cannoli for dessert (well, I went in for cannoli and came out with a few extras including my favorite pignolis and my mom’s favorite Irish potatoes. Something for everyone!)

Scannicchio’s

Last week, my father’s best friend of 40+ years came to visit Philadelphia with his daughter, Emily, for a whirlwind visit to the region’s top colleges. It’s always so much fun when Pat visits. We eat a lot and drink a lot and my dad is very happy. I saw Pat and Emily, twice during the week. The first night we ate in with a massive amount of Pat’s famous grilled paella (to be blogged at a later date.) On Friday night, however, Emily wanted to visit an authentic Italian-American restaurant. It was immediately a battle between Villa di Roma and Scannicchio’s in my mind, although Scannicchio’s won out for two reasons: proximity to my house and its BYOB status. For some reason, I didn’t think Pat would be a fan of Villa’s jug of house red served in juice glasses, although it’s never bothered me. When in Rome, right? Pun intended.  Scannicchio’s it was and no one was disappointed. We first visited it with my parents a couple of years ago for some sort of family birthday or going away celebration. We can’t remember why we were there but everyone had a great time.

Pat and Emily got to our house about an hour or so before our reservations. Emily wanted a cup of coffee so I sent my husband and Pat off to the “Fine Wine and Good Spirits” store to pick up some wines for dinner while Emily and I set out in search of caffeine. Although I wanted to take her for a stroll along the avenue, I thought Ultimo Coffee on 15th and Mifflin, which also has the distinction of being attached to Brew, a boutique bottle shop. How cool is that??? I quickly eschewed my plan for peppermint tea and Emily got a chai latte while I settled for a little taste of the past.

My brother studied abroad in London and we all drank many a canned Strongbow during a chilly December visit. In fact, last time I was at Brew, I requested that they add Strongbow to their offerings so I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was available. Talk about customer service!

We arrived at Scannicchio’s just in time for our 6:30pm reservation and were seated by the owner’s friendly fiancee. As they dropped off the complimentary bread and roasted peppers, we opened my first ever rich, raisiny Amarone.

Our waiter came over to recite the specials and all of the appetizers sounded fantastic. They had my absolutely favorite arancini (which I pretty much have to get when they’re on a menu) so I was pumped! For appetizers, we ended up with two orders of the aranicini (they called them rice balls) and sausage and figs for the table while Emily got a salad of mixed greens and Pat got the special grilled romaine heart with strawberries.

The arancini were, not surprisingly, amazing. They were crunchy on the outside and soft, cheesy and gooey on the inside. As an added bonus, they came with a small serving of greens as well. While each order only had three balls, each one was pretty sizable, making sharing an option–not like you’d want to share this bite of deliciousness.

The sausage and figs was a surpringly good combination, although the darkness of the dish makes for a terrible picture. It was very sweet but the soft figs and chewy sausage provided a great textural combination along with a kick of syrupy balsamic. I would have liked for the dish to have a little more sausage though, as it seemed to be a bit fig heavy.

Pat’s salad could have easily been split between a few people as the romaine heart was generous. Pat believes it was grilled with the outer layer of leaves were removed in order to maintain the smoky grill flavor without the char of the leaves. The strawberry dressing and blue cheese were a perfect marriage for the crisp, clean bite of the romaine. What a refreshing dish.

We opened up another bottle of wine as the entrees came out. I didn’t really taste many of the entrees as I was busy focusing on my heart attack on a plate. I love fettucine alfredo. As much as I enjoy trying different things, I can be counted on to get fettucine alfredo at just about any Italian restaurant (Marra’s, Villa di Roma and Ralph’s come to mind.)  In my very unofficial search for the best fettucine alfredo in Philadelphia, Scannicchio’s is officially leading the way. The sauce was thick, flavorful and creamy. All it required was a quick twist of the pepper grinder and some parmesan for the added texture and it was perfetto!

Look at that thick, white sauce! The fact that I got two meals worth of food for $14.95 doesn’t hurt either.

It was around this time that they noticed me taking pictures and said “I hope you’re going to put them on the internet!” I assured them that I would.

I only tried two of the other entrees. My mom’s pork chop and Emily’s veal chop special. The pork chop was incredibly moist and chock full of flavor.

My husband’s white fish special.

My father and Pat both got clams with white sauce. One of them had fettucine and the other had linguine. About halfway through they realized they were eating the other’s dish. Whoops.

My dad got a side of escarole with white beans. I didn’t eat too much because my dish was more than enough, but the few bites I had were homestyle Italian perfection in the brothy dish.

Last up was dessert.  We had no need for dessert with the amount of food we had just consumed, yet everyone wanted to hear the options. We ended up  with three orders of blood orange sorbet (or was it gelato?), some other fruity gelato–maybe dried cherry and some crazy dessert of nutella ice cream sandwiched by two pizzelles for my mom.

The blood orange gelato was a little too fruity for my taste and I only had a few bites. Blood oranges are EVERYWHERE lately (including my house, where a batch of blood orange-cello was, ironically, straining through a coffee filter as we dined)

Oh whoops, did I forget to take a picture of the complimentary pina colada-cello that came with dessert? I guess we enjoyed them a little too quickly for that! Overall, Scannicchio’s is an amazing place to go with a group of hungry friends or family. While we enjoyed nicer libations, a group walked in with a cooler of Miller Lite and boxed wine as we were finishing up and they were welcomed just the same. Scannicchio’s welcomes all sorts of diners with open arms.

Green Eggs Cafe

My in-laws came to South Philly to help around the house once again (this may become a recurring theme on the blog.) By help, I generally mean my mother-in-law and I hanging out and my father-in-law and husband painting, tiling, spackling and/or sanding.  When they come down, we usually “do work around the house” for a few hours and then head out to lunch. Last time they were here, we tried to go to Green Eggs Cafe, but didn’t want to wait and happily ended up at Stogie Joe’s instead.

Green Eggs Cafe is a relatively new bruncherie at 13th & Dickinson with a second location in Northern Liberties. My husband and I visited a few times when it first opened and always enjoyed the food but the service was just…off.  You know, we had to ask for utensils, ask for drink refills, ask for our toast, etc. And we always sat at the counter. The thing that burned me up the most was that the owner was always there, but was he working? No. He was always just sitting around, hanging out. It’s important for me, especially in neighborhood establishments, to feel welcomed. Why do I like Green Aisle and Fond and Black and Brew so much? The owners are present and friendly and accommodating. I just wish he wouldn’t rest entirely on the fact that a place like Green Eggs was sorely needed in the neighborhood. Take the extra step, dude.

Stepping off of my soapbox.

Anyway, the in-laws, husband and I headed over there for a very late lunch (around 3pm) on a recent weekend and was told there would be a brief wait. No problem. It seems as if they took ownership of the space next door which was being turned into a comfy little “waiting room” while the space where these couches previously were is now occupied by tables.

There’s still a little work to be done but Green Eggs is definitely making better use of their space by adding tables to what was previously a pretty open area–and the previous resting place for the couches.

We were seated within ten minutes and briefly perused the menu (although I had already checked it out at home, of course.) From previous visits, I knew that I was a fan of their meaty, thick-cut turkey bacon, and thought that I’d be ordering from the breakfast side of things. Instead, a special caught my eye–beef bacon reuben. I like beef, for sure, and I like everything about a reuben. That was a winner for sure. It looked awful tasty when it came out.

Look at that carrot-flecked slaw! The sandwich was as good as I expected, if not better. The beef bacon wasn’t really bacon at all. It was kind of just corned beef (or something like that) but I didn’t really care. It was awesome. The sandwich was pressed so all of the flavors were melded together and each bite was simply delightful.

My father-in-law got the BLT with sweet potato fries. I didn’t get a photo of it because the poor guy was so hungry I figured I’d just let him eat. My husband and mother-in-law both got the club with “off the bone” turkey and smoked ham. Check this bad boy out.

We’re talking Koch’s sizes here, folks! With two kinds of meat (there were special raves for the carved, non-lunchmeat turkey,) this sandwich is a bang for your buck at $8.50. My husband hadn’t eaten all day so he managed to finish off most of the sandwich and my father-in-law helped my mother-in-law with hers.

Overall, this was the best experience, and certainly the best food I’ve had at Green Eggs. I look forward to going back and hope that my expectations continue to be exceeded.

Lobster Dinner

When one goes to New England, one must engage in typical New England behavior such as devouring enormous amounts of lobster and forgetting how to pronounce the letter “r” at the end of words such as chowder (chowdah) and bar (bah.) It’s truly a cultural experience. Although we have yet to indulge in lobster rolls (waiting for our side trip to Maine,) we perpetuated the tradition of a family lobster boil. It didn’t hurt that lobster (lobstah) currently stands at $4.99/lb which is UP one dollar from last week!

My husband and I volunteered to pick up the lobsters from one of the multitude of lobster retailers along the bay. We were directed to Captain Joe’s by my father-in-law. This is after we stopped to stock our cooler with ice and get cash from the ATM because the lobster shop was cash only, of course.

It was nice to have some sort of direction because there were tons of viable options along the bay, including a place that lured people in with the alluring scent of a smoker–a respectable side business. When we pulled into Joe’s, there were empty lobster pots stacked around the parking lot. Can’t get much more authentic than that.

We walked up to the garage-like building that butted the harbor.

Unassuming, right? And I didn’t even notice the Porta-Potty until I posted the picture. How appetizing. The structure had openings at both ends and you could see where the lobster boats unloaded right into Captain Joe’s garage. We walked towards the back of the room, wondering if we were doing the right thing. You don’t want to look like an outsider or tourist at a place like this. At the very back, right hand side of the room, sat about a dozen lobster tanks and two men occupying themselves with something, obviously lobster-related. I was trying to fit in and all so I didn’t blatantly take a picture of the set up, although I did take a quick shot of the “price list.”

It’s hard to read, but I kid you not when I say that the lobster were $4.99/lb. That’s right, kids. They were cheaper than steaks and even some fancy, Whole Foods chicken breasts. Lobstah!?!

OK, I lied. Apparently I took one quick picture of the lobster containers. This ain’t fancy, folks. The lobsters were divided by size and stored in these long containers.

Here is a view from the dock where they “receive” the lobster–I literally stood in the edge of the dock.

Because I’ve been trying to write this post for about a month now, I’m not going to get into the lengthy argument, ahem, conversation we had about the preparation of the lobster. I will say two things, however, There were a few strong opinions and one too many cooks in the kitchen. My husband’s aunt had recently read an article in Yankee Magazine with a different technique of cooking lobster. They advocated steaming them in a couple inches of very salty water instead of boiling them.  The recipe came from Bertha Nunan, owner of the Nunan’s Lobster Hut in Kennebunkport, Maine and my husband’s aunt was very emphatic that we try it. Bertha Nunan believes that boiling the lobster leaves the crustacean too soggy, while steaming it allows for the perfect consistency. As a former vegetarian who has a terrifying lobster slaughtering experience, I wasn’t a fan of steaming them. I was a fan of the quick and dirty boil–we’d put those little suckers out of their misery in a snap–but realized that there were two many opinions and retired to the deck with a book in hand.

A few minutes (and lots of talking, pots clanging and timers beeping) later, my father-in-law emerged with this:

The Nunan method was a success! The lobster was perfectly cooked and the heavily salted water imparted just a hint of ocean flavor to the meaty lobsters. We pounced on them with dishes of butter by our sides and this beautiful tomato salad compliments of my sister-in-law. We had corn too, but I was too busy with my lobster to grab a photo.

Fannie Farmer’s Peach Cobbler

On the way back from Kathy’s Cafe on Friday, my husband and I stopped at Dincher’s Roadside Farmstand in Tivoli, PA to grab a few tomatoes for dinner. Fifteen dollars later we left with a a carton of tomatoes, half a dozen ears of corn, garlic, lemon, nectarines and a bushel of peaches. OK, it probably wasn’t a bushel and I’m not even entirely sure what a bushel entails, but let’s just say we bought a lot. For some reason, my non-baking self smelled the peaches and became immediately inspired to make peach cobbler. We were busy making a tasty pasta meal for dinner that evening (oh yeah, have to blog that one) so I figured I’d save the cobbler for the next night when I had a little more time.

The next day was a gorgeous, sunny Saturday–one of the last beach-worthy days we’ll get up in the mountains as the temperature tends to run 10 degrees cooler than here in Philadelphia. I spent most of the day lounging at the beach and sailing with my father, an activity that deserves a non-food related post all to itself. As a side note, I spent the weekend reading The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway. Erway spent two years “not eating out” in New York and blogging the process. More about this later.

Mid-afternoon I tore myself away from the beach to run home and prep the peaches for the cobbler. Marion Cunningham (p.s. Wikipedia gives Marion NO love!) told me that I can peel peaches by dipping them briefly in boiling water and then removing the skins with a sharp knife. This technique has always scared me for no good reason. Hence my permanent face off with tomato sauce, or any recipe that involves peeling tomatoes, for that matter. Much to my surprise, this technique was SHOCKINGLY easy. I dipped the peaches in the water for 15-30 seconds and drained them with minimal splash burns to my arms and torso. I then brought them outside to the back deck and peeled them with my fingers. I don’t need no stinkin’ knife! The skin slipped off like (insert a cheesy simile here.) Aren’t they gorgeous?

I set them aside for later that evening. We were making these little guys,

so I wanted to time the cobbler so that we were able to eat it hot out of the oven. I’m not sure why the picture’s sideways but you get the idea.

Fannie Farmer’s Apple Cobbler (I substituted peaches. Marion told me it was ok)

Ingredients

12 tablespoons butter, melted

3 cups peeled and sliced apples (I used peaches, duh)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 375′. Pour 4 tbsp of the butter into the bottom of the pan and spread the peaches over it (I felt as if 4 tbsp was a ton of melted butter and only used 2-3 tbsp. It was still a lot)

Before I continue, let’s remember two things–I am not a baker. I don’t do well with recipes that require, um, following. In something like peach cobbler, say, one tbsp of baking powder is a heck of a lot different than zero tbsps. Remember this for later.

Mix 1/4 teaspoon of salt with 1/4 cup of sugar and sprinkle over the peaches. This is where my problems start. I think I need to do a blog post on something I’ve recently deemed “OPKs” or “Other People’s Kitchens.” I’ve done a fair amount of cooking in OPKs lately and always seem to encounter a problem. In this situation, I discovered that my parents did not have any sugar. After pitching a minor fit, I found a rock solid box of brown sugar in the fridge. My mood improved as I especially love brown sugar. After watching me dangerously saw hunks of sugar off of the larger mass, my mom told me that I could microwave the sugar to soften it. That didn’t work too well.

I returned to my hacking ways and got enough brown sugar chunks to equal 1/4 cup or so.

Pour the remaining butter into a bowl, add the milk and egg and mix well.

Mix the flour, baking powder, remaining 6 tbsp of sugar (somehow I missed that she gave this measurement and channeled my 7th grade math class to figure out 2/3-1/4)  and remaining 1/4 tsp of salt in a bowl. It was about this time that I realized that my parents did not have any baking powder. I frantically paged through the cookbook trying to find another recipe–a crumble, a brown betty???–that did not require baking powder, and ordered my husband to start reading recipes to me. It was at that moment that my mother saved the day and recalled that there was baking powder in the pantry. Mom to the rescue! By that time, however, I had already added the flour to the egg/milk/butter mixture with a big old dash of what the hell. I never understood why baking makes you mix things in separate bowls anyway. How picky and unnecessary. I then glopped the batter onto the peaches, tossed it in the oven and prayed.

Look at the sugar chunks. Ridiculous.

Bake the cobbler for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. OK, apparently you’re supposed to cook until a toothpick inserted in the cobbler part comes out clean. I didn’t do that, mine just looked done. While it was baking, we enjoyed these little fellas (which took a little longer than expected, but that’s another story)

If you have never tried beer can/beer butt chicken, please do. It’s the easiest thing in the world and the result is a lovely tender meat with a crispy and well-spiced skin.

The cobbler had a slightly cobbled appearance with a lovely golden brown top.

And we enjoyed it with a scoop or two of vanilla fudge ice cream from Hillside Farms, the best dairy in the whole wide world.

Kathy’s Cafe

My family has been vacationing in Eagles Mere, a small mountain town in Pennsylvania nicknamed “the town that time forgot,” for over twenty years now. We began coming when I was a wiry tomboy who rode my bike recklessly to the beach and athletic field during the day and the ice cream and penny candy shop, The Sweet Shop, at night. Each year the five of us spent the first two weeks of August biking, swimming, hiking and competing in a “sports week” in which there were various semi-competitive events such as chin ups, nail driving and cannonball contests. As I grew older, the summers were spent sleeping the day away and learning how to be a teenager at night….whatever that entails…

In my early twenties, my parents made the impulsive decision to purchase a house in Eagles Mere. Suddenly we moved up a notch in the world–we were no longer renters, we were owners. Now we were a few steps higher in the local pecking order. Ever since they bought the house, we have had the opportunity to experience Eagles Mere throughout the year rather than solely the first two weeks of August. We have been there for snow storms and beautiful autumn breezes and have enjoyed many games of Scrabble before the heat of the wood stove. In June 2009, my husband and I celebrated our love for one another and for this special place as we had a memorable wedding weekend in Eagles Mere.

Planning a wedding in Eagles Mere could only be described as a unique experience. While I live in Philadelphia, a metropolitan city in which I need not look far for anything I need, all of our wedding vendors were located in the nearest “big town,” which was 45 minutes away. Williamsport is known for the Little League World Series, which, coincidentally, culminated this weekend.  Congratulations, Japan.

On the way to Williamsport is the small, blue-collar town of Hughesville, Pennsylvania. About two years ago, my parents mentioned that they had heard about a little cafe in Hughesville that served up unique, organic fare. They checked it out and we were intrigued yet skeptical when they mentioned that my dad had enjoyed a shot of wheatgrass. Folks don’t eat or drink wheatgrass in Northeast, PA, home of “Welcome Bowhunters” signs and hunters’ breakfast specials. However, my parents enjoyed it and we decided to check it out. Well, I don’t really remember our first meal there, but I will say that we now try to visit Kathy’s Cafe each time we’re in Eagles Mere.

I have an admission to make. I’m a mixer. I love eating a number of food items mixed together into an unidentifiable and toothsome glob. One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving leftovers is taking a little mashed potatoes, coleslaw, gravy, corn and a splash of cranberry sauce and mixing it all up for breakfast the next morning (or maybe a little late night snack.)  Kathy’s has embodied this secret love of mine in breakfast form and it’s called the Scromlet. The etymology of “scromlet” is pretty decipherable. It’s a mix between a scramble and an omelette. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  The scromlet is comprised of two eggs scrambled with hashbrowns and veggies and topped with cheddar cheese. I should clarify that I am referring to the “Sarah Scromlet,” which I order every single time I visit Kathy’s–including twice this weekend.

Kathy’s is fashioned to look (and sound) like a 1950s soda fountain. The booths and chairs and red vinyl and the walls are decorated with posters and albums from the era including Elvis, The Beach Boys, Marilyn Monroe, The Platters and Sam Cooke. They also have a number of license plates from various states that, coincidentally, all have our wedding date on them.

I was in the mood for poached eggs on Friday but chose to abstain because my parents would be coming into town and I knew I could talk my dad into making his famous poached eggs for breakfast Saturday morning (I ended up going to Kathy’s again, but that’s another story.) I ended up ordering the Sarah Scromlet and wondering why I even bother looking at the menu.

Kathy’s is a bit of a dichotomy (or tri/quadotomy) While it presents itself as a 1950s cafe, the the menu is full of fresh and local ingredients. The waitresses are old and slow, yet extremely friendly, although I’ve heard a mispronunciation of the word “heirloom” more than once.

Kathy’s also lists the source of many of their ingredients without looking pretentious as many restaurants tend to do. I ordered the Landis farm turkey sausage (okay, I order that every time too.) My husband ordered a glass of the fresh squeezed grapefruit juice because they were out of apples. The only problem that arises in ordering these fresh squeezed juices is the fact that they actually are fresh sqeezed. If there’s only one waitress on duty and the table in front of you orders a  juice–worse yet, FOUR juices–don’t expect coffee any time soon.  Luckily, we were the only ones ordering juice and our drinks and food came quickly. The Sarah Scromlet was as good looking (and tasting) as ever.

I’m a really nice mom because I always take home a hunk of sausage to my dog, Jewels, even though I could demolish the entire patty myself. My husband had the original scromlet with eggs, hashbrowns, ham and velveeta cheese. This is the truth.

I cannot even begin to describe the pleasure of biting into a scromlet. Imagine all the best things about breakfast. Now imagine them together. Then make it taste a little better. There’s a scromlet. If you are ever, ever in the area of Hughesville, PA, Kathy’s Cafe is a do not miss.

p.s. When I went with my mother the next day, she told the waitress that I was writing a blog post on Kathy’s. The waitress didn’t know what a blog was. Did I mention how much I love this place?

A Family Affair

I love when I get emails from my father like this one entitled “Softshells tonight.”  Look at those beautiful golden tomatoes.

Or this one, simply titled “Our dinner”

Or a text from my sister saying “I read your blog” with this picture

Is that a heart in the middle?

Followed by “didn’t have cucumber but used tomatoes and lime juice, yuuum”

I’m proud that she was able to veer from the recipe and worked with the ingredients that she had at hand. Atta girl, Soph! The final text of the night just said “Look!”

I love that my family has become inspired to step outside of the proverbial box and explore unique and delicious recipes. I also love that they feel compelled to share these images with me.  On a less serious note, I find it adorable that my parents and sister both had spinach for dinner on the same night, but that’s just me being silly.

The Kennebunk Inn-Academe

I will preface this post with the subtitle–“A Tale of Two Restaurants.”

A few years ago, I fell hard for former New York Times food editor and (then current) Gourmet Magazine editor, Ruth Reichl.  I read a number of her books, which would fall under the increasingly growing sub-category of “food memoir,” but became particularly smitten with Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise. In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl discusses her tenure as Times restaurant critic and the costumes, meals and emotion involved in the job. The book is an easy yet interesting read, divided into chunks that centered on the restaurant she was reviewing and how that fit into her life at the time.

Two interesting side notes to this book. First, my best friend borrowed the book shortly after I finished it. She, too, enjoyed it immensely, but owned up that she had spilled red wine on my hardback copy and had gotten me a paperback replacement because that was all that was available at the bookstore. Instead of taking the new book, I opted for my increasingly tattered and now wine stained book because every tear, wrinkle and stain tells a story. The other story is a bit more serious. Five years ago, my father was in the hospital for a month with an undisclosed lung infection that necessitated a medically-induced coma. I sat faithfully by his bed each day until he shocked the medical world (true story) by turning the corner and is in impeccable shape today. Because I was so distraught by his illness, it was difficult for me to concentrate on anything serious. Instead, I spent hours reading and rereading Garlic and Sapphires, allowing Reichl’s words to take me to another place with Bob Dylan and the Band on repeat on my ipod.  I saw Ruth Reichl at a reading at the Free Library of Philadelphia a year or two ago and became emotional when I had the opportunity to meet her. It’s amazing to think how much someone can have an affect on your life without even knowing.

But I digress yet again.

In Garlic and Sapphires, Reichl is often faced with the dilemma or wrapping her head around the “meaning” of her job. Although she held a lofty position and had the opportunity to have red carpet treatment at every restaurant in the City, she wanted to be sure she was able to truly and honestly critique the restaurants for “the people.” She wanted every Tom, Dick and Harry to understand what his experience would be like should he opt to eat at Le Cirque, for example, rather than having them read about her amazing meal only to come and be treated like a (gasp) normal person or worse. To combat this concern, she had different personas that came complete with wigs and costume overhauls so that she truly got the everyman’s dining experience.

Although we did not wear costumes at The Kennebunk Inn’s Academe Brasserie in Maine, we had the unique opportunity to do something we’ve never done before–eat dinner at the same restaurant two days in a row. Let me back up a bit. My husband and I were planning a trip to New England to visit his aunt, sister and brother-in-law. We decided to take a side trip up to Kennebunkport, Maine, which is only about an hour north of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In googling “dog friendly hotels Kennebunk” (more budget friendly lodging than the ‘Port as locals call Kennebunkport) I came across The Kennebunk Inn. It turns out we stayed at The Kennebunk Inn three years ago when we were last in Maine. According to the dog-friendly website and a confirmation call to the hotel, dogs were not only allowed, but we would be able to leave her in the room if we wanted to partake in any dog-unfriendly activities in Maine. Score! Many of the supposed dog-friendly hotels will not allow you to leave your dog in the room unattended.

We got into Kennebunk mid-day on Wednesday and went immediately to Kennebunkport for a lobster roll and clam strips at the Clam Shack and a stroll around town. Stay tuned for my lobster roll post. We went back to the hotel room and I found a local pet supply store while my husband explored the area on his bike. When he returned, we took Jewels to the beach for her first experience with waves. She loved it!

The weather was lovely and we decided that we would have dinner at the Inn that evening. We headed to the private courtyard and made ourselves comfortable (despite the wicked Maine mosquitoes) while waiting for our martinis. For $7.50 and $8.00 for dirty Absolut and Beefeater martinis respectively, we got a great deal. Especially considering the mini shaker that came with another half a martinis worth on the side.

The martinis were fine although I still haven’t found one that holds a candle to James or Le Virtu’s skilled bartenders. We enjoyed them while we perused the vast menu. I had already checked out the menu online and couldn’t help but be drawn to the chicken croquettes. Why? I’m not sure. However, I couldn’t peel myself away from them. I decided to be piggy and go with the chicken croquettes and the lobster pizza. When in Maine, right? My husband ordered the specials–haddock chowder and an intriguing scallop dish.

Our appetizer arrived we tore into after the deliciously moist and fresh out of the oven rolls. My croquettes were larger than expected.

The order came with three substantial croquettes surrounding a heap of crunchy romaine, cucumbers and tomatoes with ranch dressing. Where shall I even begin…The chicken was smooth and creamy, yet chunky enough to grasp the freshness of it. The cool crunch of the salad played perfectly with the warm creaminess of the croquette and I loved the light breading on the outside. Although these were phenomenal, I only ate 2/3 (well, a little less with tastes by my husband and the dog) and brought one back to the room for a midnight, Top Chef watching snack.

The Haddock chowder was creamy and flavor rich with huge chunks of Haddock. We had a fair amount of chowders on this trip and Academe’s haddock chowder stands out as one of the best–heavy on fish, light on filler.

Look at those big chunks of haddock!

Our entrees came out rather quickly afterward, although we had some interesting dialogue with both the chatty folks at the next table over and the quirky and absent-minded yet friendly and eager-to-please waitress. My lobster pizza had a nice combination of freshly picked claw and tail meat.

I would have liked to see a little more of the truffle flavor and less of the roasted tomato. In my mind, lobster warrants a white pizza and while this one did not have sauce, the chunks of roasted tomato confused my eager palate.

My husband scored big time with the scallops

The dish was complex and well thought-out. There were four nice sized diver scallops pan seared with roasted figs and tomato carpaccio topped with pancetta and a reduction of grapes from their garden. On the end of the plate sat a large goat cheese ravioli. I am not, unfortunately, a scallop eater, due to a nasty bout of food poisoning the night before the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance, but my husband enthusiastically devoured them and gave them two thumbs up. I had a small yet satisfying bite of the ravioli which had a thin and tangy goat cheese filling.

We finished the evening with a glass of port and decided to forgo dessert although they had really interesting sounding desserts including a reverse root beer float that had vanilla soda over root beer flavored ice cream. They also allowed for moderation portions, which are smaller portions of any of the desserts for an affordable $3.50. This is my kind of place.

If you want to read an awesome review of an amazing meal, stop reading now. If you want to read the full story, please continue.

The next day we had a bit of a snafu with the dog-friendliness of the hotel. This is a food blog so we’ll leave it at that, but I will say that I am out $35 for a kayak trip that I was unable to take. Instead, I shopped with Jewels who was admired by many. After my husband returned from his solo trip, we drove out for more lobster rolls, chowder and clam strips (ah, life is good) and then returned to the hotel where I shopped and he went for a bike ride until 5pm when the beaches are open to dogs. Because we were having such a nice time, it was 7pm before we left the beach and the three of us were tired and hungry. Due to the bark nazis at the hotel and the fact that we greatly enjoyed our meal there the previous night, we decided to just return to Academe.

We got to the restaurant around 7:40. I waited in the courtyard with the dog while my husband went inside to get us seated. He came out shortly afterwards with two menus in his hand saying that the hostess had asked him to seat himself. This should have been our first warning, but we practically didn’t notice. After ten minutes had passed (and I had difficulty deciding because I wanted to hear the specials) with no server in sight, I went inside to speak with the hostess. Our conversation went as follows:

Me: I just wanted to check to see if anyone knew we were outside?

Her: Um. Probably not. I’ll tell them

Me: **A little confused** OK, thanks

I went back outside and we waited another 5-7 minutes. I got up again, much to my husband’s chagrin. I tracked down the hostess and tried again.

Me: I was just wondering if anyone was going to come outside

Her: Oh, no one has given you anything?

Me: No

Her: No water, no nothing?

Me: No, and I am staying here at the Inn and I ate here last night and right now I’m pretty unhappy.

Her: OK, I’ll have someone come right out.

I turned around on my heels, absolutely furious at this point. It took another 3-5 minutes for a waitress to come out, followed by the hostess hurrying to fill our water glasses. The waitress sat down and I expected to hear wholehearted apologies from both of them. Instead we got hurried apologies and a recitation of the specials, while our waitress got a comfortable seat.  We ordered our drinks which came out slowly and put in our food order.

I am a bit ashamed to say that I did another thing that I have never done before. Not only did we eat at the same restaurant two nights in a row, but I also ordered the same thing–chicken croquettes. They were so darn good the night before that I decided to have them again. I also ordered the other pizza I had been eying the previous night–shaved beef with mashed potatoes. Interesting. My husband went with the iceberg salad and the surf and turf.

While we were waiting, waiting, waiting for our appetizers (and our waitress disappeared time and time again) we heard the kitchen banter through the screen connecting the kitchen to the outdoors. I enjoyed hearing the orders being fired and the working chatter of the kitchen. I did not enjoy hearing out waitress ask about rolls only to hear her response–“oh shit.” Shortly thereafter she brought out our appetizers with no silverware. When I asked for rolls she said “we’re working on that” and returned with some lukewarm crusty bread that may have otherwise been good, but was no replacement for the luscious rolls. Apparently they had run out.

Luckily, the croquettes were just as good as the night before. Yes, I took another picture.

You’ll notice that the picture quality is not quite as good. This is was getting progressively darker during this long, long meal. My husband got the simple yet refreshing iceberg salad. He was hoping for a wedge, but this was probably our fault for not reading the menu carefully enough.  The salad was tasty and refreshing with all the crunch that iceberg offers. Besides, there was a healthy sprinkling of bacon on top, so he couldn’t really complain.

Our entrees were good, yet didn’t quite reach the first night’s success. I enjoyed the interesting flavors of my pizza–beef, mashed potatoes and a vanilla port reduction, although I didn’t love the pizza itself. This is my fault for ordering pizza two nights in a row–oh yeah, and for ordering pizza in Maine period. It was still an interesting dish and made for some tasty late night, Jersey Shore watching snacking.

The surf and turf was interesting. The beef was extremely tender–no detectable chewiness whatsoever–and was cooked perfectly. The lobster corn croquette, on the other hand, was overpowered by vanilla while there was not nearly enough lobster. We had both been eying the dish since the previous night, so I’m glad he ordered it. It was just underwhelming.

Although we were planning on getting desserts, the mosquitoes were killing us and we could not bear to sit outside for another moment after the interminable meal. It took me 15 minutes to even get the bill and pay while my husband retreated to our room with the dog. When I got the bill, I noticed that we were charged full price for everything. I do not own a restaurant and thus would never tell someone how to run their business, but I will say this–unhappy customers should be appeased in some manner. I felt as if the apologies we were given were fruitless and nothing more than lip service. I would have asked to speak to the owner(s) had I not known that they are both chefs. Last time I had a poor experience at a restaurant, they bent over backwards to apologize and make up for the errors that I will certainly be returning. The next day the hostess (who was also working the front desk) apologized and told me that they were overwhelmed with diners that evening. Well, after they’re on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate” for their lobster pot pie, I hope they’re ready, because this ain’t gonna cut it. The Academe Brasserie is an excellent example of a place that has tons of potential but needs some fine tuning in the front of the house to counter the interesting and just plain fun things that are going on in the kitchen. Best of luck to them and here’s hoping it’s just growing pains.