Philly Pho ‘Ph’est

Pho Cali 
1005 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

entrance

Once again, I am on the hunt for “pho”-tastic bowls of delicious pho from all over. What can I say? I’m a pho-colic. (#Copyright) One of my old reliable spots where I know I can go for a tasty, steaming bowl of pho anytime is at Pho Cali, located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

wall deco

interior

Pho Cali has very fast service, big portions and a revamped interior—very modern, but still typical layout for the neighborhood. While it’s not a huge place, there are about 50 seats and usually a seat available. Each of the tables is outfitted with its own condiment tray filled with traditional pickled jalapeños, Sriracha sauce, sambal olek—a Southeastern garlic and chili paste, among others, as well as packets of chopsticks, a squeeze bottle of hoisin sauce and Asian soup spoons. Very convenient. While this place might not be as cheap as some of the places on Washington Avenue in South Philly, but you’re also paying slightly extra for Center City location. Typically it’s about $6.50-$9.50 for a bowl of pho. Still cheaper than a lot of other places.

summer rolls

Pho is delicious. Fact. But it tastes even better when it follows some sort of tasty appetizer. Not only does the starter whet the palate, but it also stops me from inhaling the entire bowl of pho in like five point two seconds flat. Is that a world records? One of my favorite appetizers here is the Summer Rolls with Shrimp and Pork or Tom Cuon. The summer rolls are wrapped in a thick chewy wrapper of pliable, soft rice paper. It’s stuffed with big chunks of shrimp, though not a ton of pork, and lots of vermicelli noodles to help fill it up. The dipping sauce was pretty thin and a little bland on its own, but after adding a bit of the sambal, tithe flavors really popped. The heat made the earthy, peanut overtones of the sauce pop. Very fresh appetizer and at $3.95 for two rolls, it’s a pretty good deal.

pho

Up next is the pho. I usually go with the Deluxe House Combo (Dac Bet Xe Lua). For $9.50 you get a huge bowl of food. It might be more expensive than some Vietnamese restaurants, but you get a lot of bang for your buck. The broth is very clean and clear, and doesn’t feel greasy or heavy. At the same time, the soup gives you a blank canvas to work on—perfect to doctor up with some chili sauce, hoisin, lime, herbs, etc. There’s a good amount of noodles and meat—especially for the price—mostly brisket and flank steak. There are also scallions in the soup, which isn’t seen everywhere, but gives it a very mild onion flavor.

garnish

Pho Cali always provides a super fresh plate of traditional noodle soup garnishes including basil leaves, sliced jalapeños, bean sprouts, and lime wedges. The basil gives the soup a slight floral note as well as a sense of freshness, the bean sprouts help cool the soup down, the jalapeños give it s nice bite, and the lime helps cut through some of the fatty meat. I also add hoisin to sweeten it up a bit and chili sauce, which flavors the broth over time. The heat of the broth not only cooks some of the beef, but also helps release the spice from the chilis. By the end of the bowl, I’m ready to gulp down the leftover broth, which is deliciously full of concentrated flavors from all the add-ins.

Overall, is this the best pho house around? No. Is it always tasty and able to satisfy my pho-holic cravings? Oh yeah! Next time you’re in Philadelphia’s Chinatown and craving a meaty, comforting noodle soup, head on over to Pho Cali for your “ph”-illing of pho.

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Searching for Pho-land-ia on the UES

Vietnaam88
1700 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10128

So I have a confession to make. My name is Jon, and I’m a pho-aholic. Yes, I am plagued with this unquenchable desire to find delicious bowls of pho across the land. I yearn for overnight beef broth with just the right touch of fatty content, the perfect slurpable bowl of noodles, and, of course, lots of meat. Sometimes I’ll have a great bowl of pho in a fancy restaurant in Hong Kong, sometimes I’ll find it in a small neighborhood noodle shop in the city, and sometimes it will be in a strip mall in a sketchy looking neighborhood. No matter—if it’s delicious, then it’s where I want to be.

Photo Nov 21, 8 16 48 PM

I actually found this place through another Vietnamese restaurant in another part of NYC. Up in the Morningside Heights neighborhood near Columbia University, there is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese eatery called Saiguette. At this joint, it’s taking tight quarters to a whole new meaning. There’s window counter seating for about four people—maybe 6 anorexic individuals, but the food is super legit. It is clearly meant to be a takeout and delivery hotspot, and it is. Their food is spicy, flavorful and feels very authentic. In fact, they were written up as a top pick for cheap eats and great Vietnamese food in NYC by Grub Street.

Photo Nov 21, 8 16 59 PM

While Saiguette is super small, with its own brand of fierceness, Vietnaam is their sister restaurant and basically Saiguette all grown up and rebranded for the Upper East Side. t resembles many Asian restaurants that can be found around New York City. There is a large dining room with many tables crowded together by a long booth, and other stand alone tables dotted around, with some sort of Asian inspired decoration to make it stand out. At Vietnaam, there is a beautiful bamboo divider wall between the kitchen and the dining room. It does make the restaurant feel unique, and also serves another purpose of separation of spaces. While the atmosphere might be different—and oh how I missed the squeeze necessity and precarious balance required for the small window stool of Saiguette, I got over that nostalgia quickly since I had a whole table to myself. What a luxury!

Photo Nov 21, 8 18 17 PM

Vietnaam offers a number of Vietnamese staples—from steaming bowls of pho to overflowing plates of vermicelli noodles to aromatic curry dishes or elevated banh mi sandwiches. Regrettably—actually totally not a hardship at all!—it requires multiple visits (or palates perhaps) to try everything that looks good on the menu. They help you out a bit with this by subtly (i.e. overtly) encouraging you to order extra food by making all food 10% off while dining in during lunch. Yesss! Don’t mind if I do, which I did.

Photo Nov 21, 7 11 09 PMThe Summer Rolls appetizer (Nem Chao on the menu), one of my favorites, were a solid choice. They were fresh and didn’t seem super cold, which was good. Often I’ll order some fresh or summer rolls and they are like ice—how long have you kept these in the refrigerator bro? Appetizer foul 😦 The summer rolls here, though, were fresh, with crunchy lettuce and a chewy and elastic rice paper wrapper. They were filled out nicely with a mix of veggies, vermicelli noodles, shrimp and lettuce—though I wish there was a bit more shrimp. The accompanying peanut hoisin sauce was delish; creamy, nutty, spicy and had a wonderful mouthfeel as it coated the roll. These also came with a second sauce—a more traditional nuoc cham sauce that was spicy and vinegary that highlighted the crisp lettuce and soaked deep into the roll’s filling. Wonderful way to start a meal.

Photo Nov 21, 7 18 02 PMIf going for the summer rolls and trying to be “healthy”-ish, then an order of Nem, or Vietnamese fried spring rolls, was absolutely necessary—if only to maintain proper food karma. The spring rolls were super crispy. As I broke through the crisp outer layer, the steaming hot filling of ground pork, shrimp, taro, glass noodles, mushroom and jicama that was both tender and firm filling filled my mouth. The skin was still chewy with a thick texture, and though they were fried the rolls didn’t feel too oily. They were served simply with some of the ubiquitous nuoc cham sauce to give them a fresh finish, though for a couple of extra dollars you could add some cucumber, lettuce and herbs to the dish. I love how it’s so no frills—more authentic that way I think. They also cut these up into bite sized pieces, so easy to eat, which was good since it was a generous portion.

Photo Nov 21, 8 14 22 PMAnother favorite starter from Vietnaam, is the Laksa. Laksa is a curry and coconut milk based soup that is not exactly Vietnamese in origin, but actually from Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines. In the last few years, it has become much more well-known and popular all over Asia, as well as the rest of the world. One reason that this soup rocks is that it is so comforting when done right—they do it right here! It feels like a warm Southeast Asian hug, and will warm you up from the inside out. The broth is creamy and a bit frothy with some tang from the lime, warming heat from the curry, an aromatic aroma and a sharper heat from the accompanying chili sauce. The chicken was cooked perfectly, though they do a shrimp version as well  (or even vegetarian or tofu if need be). They’re all delicious and this makes for perfect leftovers. Not your grandma’s chicken noodle soup!

Photo Nov 21, 7 25 18 PMFor the main event, and what I judge every Vietnamese restaurant by, is the pho (pronounced “fuh”). Nowadays, you can find multiple varieties of pho—shrimp, veggie, chicken and even some fancy types such as one made with a Porcini mushroom or duck base. They’re almost always tasty, and if you’re looking for a unique spin on the classic bowl of pho, I highly recommend the Mushroom Pho at Stock in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia or the Pho Bo Satee at Nha Trang One in NYC’s Chinatown. The mushroom pho is as hearty and comforting as a beef based soup, but lighter at the same time. It’s also super earthy from the mushrooms and manages to make the tofu in it taste delicious—a great vegetarian or vegan option. The pho bo satee from Nha Trang One is spicy from an infusion of peanut sate sauce. The sate gives it a wonderful depth of flavor and thickness to the broth. It also has that wonderful peanutty note that many people love about Thai dishes—think a rice noodle soup version of a beef sate appetizer.  Back to Vietnaam….I ordered the Spicy Pho, which I usually don’t do since I like to spicy up the bowl myself. The pho was spicy but still mild—I added additional sriracha sauce to mine. The chili oil used to spice up the soup gave it a vibrant red color, and left a slow, lingering heat that made my lips tingle by the end of the bowl. The broth itself was clean tasting, which means they did their homework and skimmed the fat, but also had a lovely unctuousness to it that we all secretly crave. The bowl was filled with lots of noodles and meat—fatty brisket, firm, but not rubbery beef meatballs, and thinly sliced beef eye round that is placed into the piping hot bowl of soup raw and cooks on its way to the table. This was a big bowl of pho, so it was worth the hefty $12 Upper East Side price tag. I’ve returned for many more bowls of pho.

Vietnaam is a hip, fun place to eat at if you’re on the Upper East Side. They give generous portions, quick service, tasty dishes. Is it the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had? Hmmm…hard to say, but it was definitely some of the best in NYC. Only thing missing was perhaps that certain “je ne sais quoi” that its sister restaurant, Saiguette, has as a hole-in-the-wall joint. Come to Vietnam if you’re ready for a grown up bowl of pho and other Vietnamese favorites..

Recipe: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Sorry I’ve been away for a few weeks, but work’s been crazy! This recipe is actually inspired by all of the craziness. I wanted something that was not only delicious, but also comforting. This lasagna is packed full of roasted vegetables, so it’s also a healthy dinner to serve your family. This recipe might seem like it has a lot of steps, but all of them are simple and can be multitasked. So if you want to feed a crowd, or have a lot of leftovers–which are delicious!–try this recipe for Roasted Vegetable Lasagna.DSC00340DSC00341

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes—my favorite brand is San Marzano for its inherent sweetness, but any brand should be fine
  • ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 ½ teaspoons of dried oreganoDSC00369
  • 1 tin of anchovy filets—it’s important that the anchovies are packed in oil as opposed to water since you want to flavor and richness of the oil to help flavor the sauce. Flat filets are also easier for melting into the oilDSC00368
  • 4-5 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 pound of grape tomatoes—quartered whole tomatoes or cherry tomatoes could work in this dish too, but grape tomatoes are a nice size and roast beautifully in the oven
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size
  • 2 small to medium zucchini, cut into half moons
  • 2 small to medium yellow squash, cut into half moons
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 large onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 pound of ricotta cheese—it might be tempting to use low fat here, but use whole milk ricotta—trust me, you’ll taste the difference!
  • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese—shredded or grated as long as you’d eat it on your pasta
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained—Make sure you squeeze as much water out of the spinach as you can
  • 1 box of oven ready lasagna noodles
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella—one of those Italian blends works too
  • 1 small ball of fresh mozzarella (optional)
  • Olive oil

To Cook:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degreesDSC00345
  2. Toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of oregano and salt, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  3. Spread tomatoes on a sheet pan and roast for 15-20 minutesDSC00343DSC00344
  4. At the same time, use a second, larger sheet pan for the zucchini, squash, pepper and onion and increase to 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of oregano, and 1 teaspoon of pepper
  5. Roast the veggies for around 30 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the components for the lasagna
  6. Drop the heat to 375 degrees when the veggies come out of the ovenDSC00363DSC00362
  7. While the veggies are in the oven, add enough olive oil to a big sauté pan to coat the bottom and heat on medium-high heatDSC00370
  8. Add anchovies to the pan and break them up with a back of a wooden spoon—Don’t skip this step! Even if you don’t like anchovies, the high heat will melt the filets into the oil and it will give needed background and depth to your sauceDSC00371
  9. Once the anchovy is melted, add the garlic and brown for about a minute or twoDSC00372
  10. Add the mushrooms—it’s important for mushrooms to be spread out for them to brown evenly. If they’re too crowded in the pan, then they’ll start to steam and turn rubberyDSC00373
  11. Once the mushrooms have cooked, season with a teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper,½ teaspoon of oreganoDSC00375
  12. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and stir—you want the seasonings to be evenly spread throughoutDSC00374
  13. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the roasted tomatoes are ready to come out of the oven, and then transfer tomatoes to the sauce
  14. Continue to simmer for another 5 minutes
  15. While the sauce is finishing up, you can work on the ricotta layerDSC00364DSC00365DSC00366
  16. In a large bowl, add ricotta cheese, parmesan, eggs, and spinach, as well as a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepperDSC00367
  17. Whisk all the ingredients together for about 3-4 minutes
  18. Time to assemble the layers! In a 9×13 baking dish, spoon a bit of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish
  19. Add the lasagna noodles to the dish in a single layer all the way across—I shingled a little and also got creative by using one noodle that I cracked to fill in empty crevicesDSC00378
  20. The next layer should be some more tomato sauce
  21. Next up is a layer of the roasted vegetables
  22. After the vegetables should be a layer of the ricotta mixture—don’t skimp on the ricotta!DSC00377
  23. After the ricotta comes the cheese layer—add about ¼ of the bag of mozzarella cheese over the ricottaDSC00379
  24. Repeat the layering another 3 times, and top with a layer of noodlesDSC00380
  25. For the final layer, add a thick layer of tomato sauce all over the top, followed by the rest of the cheese, and a handful of parmesan—for my top layer, I actually like to use some fresh mozzarella since it melts so beautifully and makes for a beautiful presentation
  26. I place the whole thing onto a larger sheet tray so that if there’s spillage, it doesn’t go all over the oven floorDSC00383
  27. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes

DSC00384Let it cool for at least 5-10 minutes before you cut into it. In fact, lasagna is a great make-ahead dish that you can keep in the fridge for up to 2 days before heating it. If you plan to refrigerate, make sure you add an additional 10-12 minutes to the cooking time. Also, this makes for a pretty saucy lasagna, but if you want you can reserve some extra sauce and spoon it over the top of each piece as it’s served, and garnish with some extra parmesan. Now who wouldn’t want a piece of that beauty? Buon Appetito!

Key Lime Pie

I learned pretty late in the day that people were coming over for  offer and dessert after dinner. I didn’t want to just serve them fruit or store bought cookies, and decided on one of my favorite pies–key lime pie. This recipe is derivative of many other basic key lime pie recipes, so I can’t take credit for the idea. Sometimes you just don’t want to mess with a classic. I made 2 pies, so the ingredient amounts were doubled, but I’m listing it as a single pie recipe. This dessert is delicious all on its own, but tastes even better with a big dollop of homemade whipped cream!

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Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1 sleeve of graham crackers
  • 6 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar

Filling:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • Lime zest—zest the whole lime, but reserve a few pinches for later
  • 1/2 cup of key lime juice—I might have to turn in my foodie card, but I actually like the sweet tanginess of bottled key lime juice. Just make sure it’s a quality brand!
  • 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

To Make the Pie:

  1. Mix together the crust ingredients until they take on the texture of wet sand
  2. Press the mixture into a pie tin or dish and bake at 325 degrees for about 10-12 minutes
  3. Let the crust completely cool before proceeding to the next stepDSC00282DSC00284DSC00285DSC00286
  4. For the filling, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix until it becomes a homogenous blendDSC00291 DSC00292
  5. Pour into pie crust so that it goes almost to the top edge, but leave a slight border all around so you can see the crust. Plus it saves room for whip cream!DSC00293
  6. Chill for 10 minutes to slightly set, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  7. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes—make sure it doesn’t brownDSC00333
  8. Immediately transfer from the oven to the fridge for at least 3 hours, and up to overnightDSC00339
  9. Garnish with whip cream, a sprig of mint, and a sprinkle some reserved lime zest before serving

Recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks with Moroccan Lemon Couscous

I recently attended the 2015 International Food Bloggers’ Conference in Seattle, organized by Foodista. Until I actually got on the plane, I was waffling back and forth on whether to actually go. I kept thinking to myself—will they like me? Does my blog have a relevant and unique voice? Will I learn anything? As a matter of fact, I had an amazing time and learned so much. So much so, that you should expect to see a major uptick in the frequency of blog posts 🙂

2015-09-19 16.37.06One of my favorite sessions was all about lamb. We got to hear all about the versatility of lamb, the variety of cuts available, insider cooking and butchery tips, and even got to sample some delicious lamb pate, lamb’s cheese and cold smoked lamb loin. Yum! So, when I got home, I was inspired to put my own spin on a lamb dinner. While lamb chops and rack of lamb might be more prevalent, and often seen on your favorite steakhouse’s menu, lamb shanks are the unsung hero of the lamb family. All they need is a little TLC and time, and they become tender, succulent and out of this world delicious. My version of braised lamb shanks is great for entertaining guests at an elegant dinner party, impressing that special someone, or even cooking for your family—perfect for the slow cooker! I serve mine with Moroccan inspired, lemon couscous and homemade pita chips (see recipe here), but feel free to substitute mashed potatoes, creamy polenta or any number of sides. Enjoy!

DSC00271DSC00209Ingredients:

  • 4 medium to large lamb shanks—you should be able to find these in the meat section of your grocery store, but if not, then you could just ask your butcher. Short ribs could be a good substitute, but they won’t have the same presentation
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of AP (all-purpose) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sliced onion—minced onion works fine too
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch of fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 package of fresh mint
  • 2 large Spanish onions, chopped
  • 5-6 large carrots, cut into chunks
  • 5 medium garlic cloves (or 4 large cloves), chopped
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb. package of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups of red wine—use something you’d drink, since the flavor will end up concentrating as you cook out the alcohol
  • 4 1/2 cups of chicken, veal or beef stock—I only had chicken broth, but veal or beef is really the best to use in this recipe
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 2 cups of couscous
  • 1/4 cup of slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup of dried dates, halved or quartered

Lamb Shanks:

  1. Pat the lamb dry, this will help them stay moist when you cook itDSC00218
  2. Mix the flour, cinnamon, pepper, salt, turmeric, dried parsley, dried onion, cumin, and a teaspoon of chopped rosemary (about 1 sprig) in a medium-sized bowl
  3. Coat the lamb in the seasoned flour mixture—this will do double duty for you by helping make a crust on the lamb, and also thicken up the braising liquid into a sauce later on
  4. In a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot heat oil—use a neutral oil since you’ll require a very high cooking temperature to sear the outside of the meatDSC00220
  5. Add the lamb shanks—in batches if necessary—and brown for a few minutes on all sides. Contrary to popular belief, the sear does not “lock in the juices,” rather it helps make a great crust and caramelizes the spices on the outside of the meat DSC00223 DSC00224 DSC00225DSC00226
  6. Once the shanks have browned take them out and put aside on a plate—don’t clean out the pot. All of those delicious drippings and brown bits on the bottom of the pan = flavor!DSC00227 DSC00228DSC00229
  7. Add a bit more oil and add in the chopped carrots and sauté for another couple of minutes, then add the garlic and one onion to the potDSC00230
  8. Cook for a few more minutes, and then add the chickpeasDSC00232
  9. Once the veggies have started to brown, it’s time to deglaze the pan—deglazing means you add liquid (in this case tomatoes, wine and broth) in order to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot
  10. Add the crushed tomatoes, and bring to a simmer
  11. Add about 1 1/2 cups of red wine and 1 cup of the stockDSC00239
  12. When it starts to bubble slightly, it’s time to add the lamb back in, and don’t forget the meat juices DSC00235Add the roasted tomatoes, as well as a few sprigs of rosemary and parsley to the pot and give it a big stir
  13. Let the pot simmer on medium for about 20-25 minutes uncovered—this helps cook out the taste of raw broth and wine. Give it another big stir and move the lamb and veggies all around the pot
  14. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to medium low and let it braise for at least 2 hours—you should stir the pot every 25-30 minutes, but don’t mess with it too much. This is important spa time for your meaDSC00263
  15. After a couple of hours, the meat will super tender and following off the bone—In fact, your shank bones should look like they’ve been frenched, which means the end of the bone is cleaned of meat so you can hold it like when you order rack of lamb at a fancy restaurant DSC00265
  16. Remove  the lamb shanks, and crank the heat back up to medium to medium high for another 5 minutes uncovered. The sauce will continue to thicken a bitDSC00267
  17. Plate the lamb shank with the bone prominently displayed, and smother the meat with the braising liquid that’s chock full of carrots, herbs, onion, garlic, chickpeas and meat that’s fallen off the boneDSC00269
  18. Garnish with the gremolata, and serve alongside some couscous and some homemade pita chip for dipping

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Gremolata:

  1. Mix together about 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary (about 2 sprigs), and zest of a lemonDSC00245 DSC00254
  2. Use as garnish for heavy dishes, and add when it’s still hot—the gremolata will not only help cut through the richness of the dish, but also perfume the plate as the heat slightly cooks the herbs and lemon peel

Couscous:

I like my couscous a little more moist and stuffing-esqe as opposed to many recipes that like each of the couscous pearls to be separate from each other. Try it my way, and if you don’t like it, then go back to the other way next timeDSC00255

  1. In a medium-sized pot, add some oil
  2. Add the remaining onion to the pot and start to sweat the onions
  3. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprikaDSC00258
  4. Saute the onion until it starts to brown and caramelize
  5. At this point, add 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and the juice of both lemons to the pot. Increase the heat to medium or medium-high
  6. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then add the couscous. Stir to make sure all of the couscous is covered, and not sticking together
  7. Turn the heat off and cover the couscous
  8. After 4 minutes, add the dates, slivered almonds, as well as the remaining parsley and mint
  9. If the couscous seems dry or not soft enough for you after 5 minutes, add some more stock or lemon juice, stir and cover again for a few minutesDSC00261 DSC00262
  10. Serve the couscous garnished with some lemon slices and a squeeze of lemon over the top

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Classic Comfort Food in Center City (Philly Burger Round Up – Week 4)

Photo May 20, 7 49 58 PMSmokin’ Betty’s
116 South 11th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Photo May 20, 7 49 30 PM

Photo May 20, 7 49 46 PMIn the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there is an entry for comfort food. Comfort food, according to Webster, is defined as “food that is satisfying because it is prepared in a simple or traditional way and reminds you of home, family, or friends.” There is nothing quite like dipping some ooey-gooey grilled cheese into some velvety tomato soup, or having a spoonful of creamy, decadent mac n’ cheese, or a big bowl of chocolate ice cream. Eating comfort food somehow taps into our sense of nostalgia and makes is us feel warm all over. Burgers—at least for me—are one of the biggest comforting foods around. So for the next stop on my Philly Burger Round Up, I’m heading to Smokin’ Betty’s located in Midtown. Smokin’ Betty’s is a haven for comforting sandwiches, saucy barbecue, meaty burgers with lots of delicious twists on classic American food.

Photo May 20, 6 56 29 PMLuckily we had gotten to the restaurant in time for the tail end of Happy Hour, so were able to have some cocktails for only $5. They also have some of their signature appetizers available for 1/2 price as well. The Berry Lemonade ($5) is available everyday at happy hour and was made with Citron vodka, and came in a decent sized tumbler. It wasn’t too sweet, but nice and tart. It had a good amount of alcohol so it had a bite and there was enough to know it was there in the background. It was delicious with the burger to come!

We started with the Black Angus Beef Cheesesteak Eggrolls ($9), served with smoked tomato jam. I mean, come on, this is Philly–what’s more comforting than a cheesesteak? Fried cheesesteak eggrolls! The sweet dipping sauce is a nice alternative to ketchup. The super crispy wrapper was tightly wrapped so the filling did not go all over the place, and it was easy to eat. The filling was not too heavy from the meat and had a slightly smoky taste inside—it was probably cooked near the BBQ meats. The portion size was a bit on the smaller side since there were only 4 of them, but it was a perfect size plate for two people to share.

Photo May 20, 7 18 59 PMI was feeling like a more traditional burger, and my dining partner wanted to try something a little more “out there,” so we each ordered a different dish. The Betty Burger ($13.95) is a classic burger, but made special from the delicious toppings and garnishes. The patty is made with 1/2 pound of quality ground sirloin. It’s then topped with some super tender confit pork belly—confit is just a fancy way of saying it’s cooked in fat, usually its own. Pork belly has a very, very high fat content, so as you cook it the fat cooks down and bastes the meat to keep it moist, chewy and melt in your mouth soft. Next up is some creamy avocado, sharp cheddar, crunchy lettuce, slightly acidic tomato, and a slightly runny sunny side up egg. The bun is slathered with a house made roasted garlic aioli to finish it off. The meat is cooked to temperature (medium-rare) and so juicy, and though the cheese was kind of lost in the shuffle, but the rest of the garnishes make up for it. As you bite into the burger you get that hit of meaty goodness, the pork belly is salty and chewy, the avocado is creamy, the lettuce and tomato give crunch and cooling effect, then egg yolk breaks open and coats your palette to add another level of richness to this burger. The juice starts to run down your hands and it’s basically an orgasmic experience. Yum!

Photo May 20, 7 18 44 PMThe Tur-Duck-En Burger ($12.95) is, on the other hand, unique from the get-go. The meat is smoky and slightly gamey with a nice crust. The poultry patty stayed moist, which might have been from the gravy—it was hard to pinpoint, but was definitely felt. The layer of stuffing was soft inside and crisp on the outside—my favorite part of thanksgiving. The cranberry sauce wasn’t too sweet, but had a nice tartness, and the sweet potato ribbons gave the sandwich a velvety softness. This burger basically is Thanksgiving on a plate, but much more handheld.

Photo May 20, 7 19 04 PMThough the burgers usually come with regular french fries, we decided to switch things up and order Sweet Potato Fries (extra $1) with our burgers, which were on point. The potatoes were rustically cut thick and clearly homemade. They were meaty on the inside, but also slightly crisp on the outside—probably from a double frying technique. The regular fries are great here as well, but this time the sweet potato were the right choice this time and played well with the other dishes. They complemented the slight sweetness of the cocktails, and definitely matched the holiday theme of the Tur-Duck-En burger. Plus, they serve you a jumbo sized portion of fries with your burger.

Photo May 20, 7 49 27 PMAfter our meal, I was definitely feeling comforted—and maybe a little stuffed lol. Everything on the menu at Smokin’ Betty’s tastes delicious, and the service is pretty great too. If you want a night of comfort food that’s going to make you reminisce about wonderful experiences in the past, or an amazing delicious weekend brunch, come eat here any day of the week!

Photo May 20, 7 19 07 PMBetty Burger: A
Tur-Duck-En Burger: A-

Recipe: Mediterranean Inspired Lamb Flatbread

The other day I was in the mood to make some fish tacos at home, but the local market I went to only had these small onion flatbreads. So, I decided to scrap the idea for the night. The  flatbreads actually turned out deliciously for my “new” tacos—or really chalupas maybe—and I ended up having a few of them leftover. So I thought of what I could do with a flatbread and was feeling in a very Mediterranean mood. I felt this was a very appropriate recipe since I’ve dedicated the last couple of weeks of blog posts to my recent vacation in the Middle East, and decided to do a fusion of Greek and Israeli cuisines.

These (not so mini!) lamb flatbreads were an experiment, but I knew the flavor combinations would mesh well together. The spicy lamb mixture, the creamy and tangy feta sauce, the briny pickled red onions and the soft, chewy onion flatbreads make a killer combination for dinner, appetizers or even to entertain!

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. of ground lamb
  • 8 oz block of Feta cheese–I’m going to echo the Barefoot Contessa by saying that you should make sure to use a quality feta in your dish—preferably Greek or Bulgarian
  • 1/2 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt, plain
  • 1 teaspoon of mint, dried
  • 6 large garlic cloves (or 8-9 small cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons of black pepper
  • (optional) Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 7-8 dried red chilies
  • 1/2 can of pitted Black olives
  • 1 teaspoon Olive oil
  • 1 large red onion
  • 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Feta sauce:

  1. In the food processor, add the 3/4 of the feta cheese, lemon juice, yogurt, mint, 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  2. Whir it up until the feta is completely broken up, but the sauce still has some consistency to it—I like my sauce to still have some body to it, but blend to your own preference
  3. Taste for seasoning!—I don’t add any salt since the feta is already so salty, but everyone has a different palette.

Pickled red onions:

  1. Peel and slice the red onion thinly and place into a sieve or pasta strainer with small holes
  2. In a jar or bowl—whatever canister you’d like to use to make your onions, I use a mason jar for my leftover—pour the sugar, tablespoon of salt and crushed red pepper
  3. Cover with water and fill the jar, but leave enough room for the onions as well. Stir to dissolve
  4. Add the vinegar—plain white vinegar is alright as well. Even rice wine vinegar could make these delicious for a banh mi sandwich
  5. Boil a few cups of water in a kettle or on the stove, and when the water comes to a boil, pour over the onions
  6. Place the par-blanched onions into the sugar-salt bowl. There should be enough water/vinegar mixture to cover all of the onionsPhoto May 18, 11 48 35 PM
  7. Leave for at least one hour, but I left mine most of the dayPhoto May 18, 11 50 55 PM.jpg

Lamb mixture:

  1. In your food processor—no worries if it has residual sauce, it’s all going on the same dish—finely chop the olives, chilis, and remaining garlic
  2. Mix together the lamb, salt, cumin, oregano, chile-olive-garlic mixture, olive oil, and the rest of the pepper in a bowl—use your hands to really get the meat to absorb the marinadePhoto May 18, 8 42 24 PM.jpg
  3. Don’t mix the mixture too much or you might make the meat tough when it eventually cooks
  4. Let the meat sit and absorb the spices and marinade ingredients for at least 30-45 minutes and up to overnight

To assemble the flatbreads:Photo May 18, 11 33 11 PM.jpg

  1. Lay flatbreads flat on a baking sheet—a pita or even naan bread would be a good substitute. Just make sure you use a bread that has a large flat surface and has some heft to itPhoto May 18, 11 35 25 PM.jpg
  2. Spoon some feta sauce on the bread and spread around the surface with a spoon to almost the edge—I put a good amount of sauce, but don’t use it all!Photo May 18, 11 38 00 PM.jpg
  3. Using your hands, spread the equal amounts of the lamb mixture onto each flatbread and form into semi thick layer—at first I was going to cook the lamb first, but actually ended up forgetting to. By the time I remembered, it has already started cooking and the fat from the lamb ends up absorbed by the bread and flavored the whole dish amazinglyPhoto May 18, 11 38 40 PM
  4. Sprinkle some feta over the top of the lamb, and slide these babies into the ovenPhoto May 18, 11 47 18 PM
  5. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes—some ovens vary so if your oven tends to get super high, maybe stay on 350 insteadPhoto May 19, 12 05 53 AM
  6. Remove from oven and let rest for a couple of minutes Photo May 19, 12 05 55 AM
  7. Scatter some picked red onions all over the flatbreads after it comes out of the ovenPhoto May 19, 12 07 49 AM.jpg
  8. Crumble some fresh feta over the top, as well as a few dollops of feta sauce
  9. This last step is purely optional, but I thought it gives it a wonderful fruity afternoon and a bit of panache. Pour a little bit of thick balsamic vinegar over the top to garnish. I used a deliciously thick grapefruit, white balsamic that I had in the pantryPhoto May 19, 12 09 44 AM.jpg
  10. Slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy! Απολαύστε το γεύμα σας!