Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Get me on the court and I'm trouble"..... Meme

  When you start your day and you want to make the most of it start with the breakfast of champions. If you just took a few beatings on the basketball court, start with two. Your breakfast of champions can be anything you want it to be. Some days for me it is a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a cinnamon raisin bagel. On other days it is fried fish with collards and yams. This past Sunday it was griddle cakes with shaved foie gras.
  Meme is a restaurant with a my kind of menu. If I have difficulty deciding because it is all tempting you have done a great job. Chef David Katz has designed such a menu. He also provided me with some great fried chicken a few months back. This month and this brunch was about foie gras and he delivered again. A side of Benton's bacon, and a cup of my favorite coffee, Illy, almost helped me forget my 0% shooting. I was tempted to have a second order to help ease the pain of loss, but I had more foie to eat.

The Skinny Fat Kid

Mémé Restaurant
2201 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Phone: 215-735-4900

Saturday, February 19, 2011

"Pimp C the wings on the Undeground King"...... Barbuzzo

While the big dogs in Philly compete for real estate and market share, two ladies took a different route. They hustled the old fashioned way. Start on a corner, take over the block. I always wonder when they will start to get the magazine covers. They most certainly have the followers. Since the opening of Barbuzzo the accolades have come pouring in. There has of course been talk of the pizzas and pastas. The salted caramel budino has probably made a few "Turney fiends" contemplate selling toasters in order to afford more. Lunch for me was about another addictive dish in a jar; chicken liver and foie gras mousse.
I am happy to say that I can now echo the adoration. They foie gras mousse was a wonderful start to my day. I even found joy in the pickled beets. One of my least favorite foods was the perfect compliment to a new found favorite dish. I also enjoyed the pizza with brussel sprout leaves and farm egg. I have long lived by the mantra "put an egg on it" to solve all flavor problems. I will now add "put it in a jar" inspired by the ladies of 13th street. (I would say put it in a glass but this is a family blog)

The Skinny Fat Kid
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Ain't no other kings of this rap thing"....Village Whiskey

   Last spring I attempted burger induced suicide. Sounds dramatic right. I really don't know how else to describe it. In Summer of 2009 Grub Street posted a list of 22 notable burgers. I probably should have taken it for what it was; a list. I took it as a challenge. In spring of 2010 I tried them all as well as a few new comers in about two and a half weeks. 25 burgers in two and a half weeks. There was one adjustment I made to the list. I only had tried the regular Village Whiskey burger, not its big brother the Whiskey King. With the craving for burgers finally returning I decided it was time.
   The Whiskey King should not be as good as it is. It should be an example of trying to do to much and something getting lost in the process. I went in thinking it would be like the first times I was allowed to dress myself as a kid. I wore all of my favorite things. They just did not go together. If I had kept those outfits until a year ago and got a fixed speed bike, I'd be killing it right now. Every bite of this burger was heaven. The cipollinis, the bacon and the blue cheese alone would make it great. The foie gras put it over the top. This hands down the best burger I think I have ever had. If I did not have to work I might have the best nap I ever had.

The Skinny Fat Kid

Village Whiskey
118 South 20th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Quack History Month.............. (Foie Gras and the Fat Kid)

 With the glow of an episode of the Boondocks in the background, the resilient remains of the flu in my head and chest, and dreams of fattened liver in my mind, I stare in disbelief. Am I really doing this???? I remember when I got the idea for this blog last summer, one of the months I though about was dedicated  to Foie Gras. I realized the insanity of it. Foie Gras after all is something I and many others order as a luxury. It isn't intended, I believe as something to eat almost every day for a month. It is also one of the most expensive months of eating I will probably experience.
   Foie Gras quite simply is the fattened liver of  a duck or goose. It is generally served seared or in a torchon and also makes it way into  mousse, parfaits and pates. While it has been considered an item of luxury in restaurants around the world it has also been at the center of controversy. The process in which it is created  (gavage) has been the center of debate although some places have been attempting more "humane" ways of producing it.
   I will stay out of the debate. I will stay in the restaurants and my kitchen. In the next weeks I will try some of the classic representations as well as explore some of the more interesting dishes I have come across. At home I plan on attempting dishes that range from charcuterie to dessert.  I hope to recreate a dish that is no longer on the menu at one of Philadelphia's best restaurants. I also am planning a field trip to the farm of one our largest domestic producers.
   This should get interesting. If you have any suggestions for places to visit or know any chefs that would like to be interviewed let me know.

The Skinny Fat Kid
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Friday, February 4, 2011

My First Interview............Tim Spinner Chef/Owner Cantina Feliz

   One of the things that I have always wanted to do when I started this blog was to talk to people about food. I am interested in what makes the things I obsess about great. I also cook at home and always like to experiment and see what works. I am excited to have my first interview on record fro my blog. I first met Chef Spinner over 5 years ago when he was a sous chef at Amada. I did not know at the time that we grew up not to far from each other and knew a lot of the same people. I also did not know at the time that Rex Ryan would take Chef Spinner's victory-challenged Jets to 2 consecutive AFC Championship games while my victory- challenged Bills sat at the bottom of the AFC East.
   I feel honored to have watched Tim Spinner grow as a chef and to see him finally see one of his life dreams accomplished, his first restaurant. below is a short interview i conducted with him about Mole and his passion in cooking.

What made you gravitate toward cooking Mexican cuisine?

 Chef Tim Spinner: I fell in love with not only the food of Mexico but also the culture and the people-which in turn made me love the cuisine even more.  I started working at El Vez back in 2003.  There was fairly many Mexicans who worked there.  They taught me so much about their food and they taught me the proper way of cooking it as well.  The food is also so festive,  What better to celebrate a special occasion than with tacos and margaritas.

What was your first experience eating mole? What was your first experience cooking it and how successful were you?

Chef Tim Spinner: There was a great mole coloradito on the menu when I first started at El Vez.  They served it with turkey.  I'll never forget that moment because up until then I never knew what mole was or how it was made.  I remember making mole for the first time with Chef Mike Isabella when he worked at El Vez as the Executive Sous Chef.  There were so many different ingredients.  It tasted amazing.

What types of moles do you have on the menu for Cantina Feliz? Do you have plans to do others in the future?

Chef Tim Spinner:  We have a mole poblano on the menu at Cantina Feliz that we serve with an organic airline chicken breat, rice and plantains.  It is turning out to be a huge hit.  I can't keep up with the chicken.  We get whole birds in that are broken down, brined and then sous-vide.  We plan on doing a Mole Verde as well that we want to serve with some Kansas City ribs.

Is there any advice that you would give to home cooks in making their moles better? 
Chef Tim Spinner:  For the home cook I would say take your time and be creative.  make the mole your own-experiment with different chiles, nuts and fruits.  It is also very important that when you refry your mole to make sure that lard is very hot (you don't want to break the mole sauce).  Stir quickly because if the mole splashes on your arms it tends to burn like hot tar. 

Side Note: I had gotten the don't burn yourself making mole advice from another chef as well. since I had already successfully made 2 moles, I didn't think much about it. I later burned myself while refrying my mole.  that is why I do this folks. I want to keep arms safe across America.

I again would like to thank Chef Tim Spinner for his time. I recently had the opportunity to have dinner at Cantina Feliz in Fort Washington. The Mole Poblano was great as was the sweet plantain rice it was served with. I was aslo a big fan of the Ceviche Verde and I cannot wait to go back for the Strip Steak with Bone Marrow. 

Cantina Feliz

424 S Bethlehem Pike
Fort Washington, PA 19034

It is easy to get to on regional rail. An express will get you there in 20 minutes. When you get off the train turn left and walk up the hill. Then order a maragrita; you deserve it.

Who's House?,,,,,,,,,,,,(Mole at home part 2. From the jar)

   For the home cook on a budget or who just isn't interested in the amount of cooking or cleaning necessary to do it for real there are options. I have often walked past the jars of Don Maria mole paste on the shelves of my local bodega. Quite honestly they scare me. I think it is the layer of oil that separates from the paste due to the amount of time they sit. The instructions are pretty simple. You add 1 part paste to 4 parts stock and allow to simmer in a pot. The real test shall be how the taste compares to the real thing.
   The first thing I notice about the Don Maria Paste after I pour off the oil is that they are quite solid paste. It takes a bit of stirring and pressing to get all the chunks to combine with the stock. I was able to, with some adjustments, get the paste to resemble mole sauces. Taste is a whole different story. I could see with further tweaking being able to get the darker mole to a passable flavor, the verde was hopeless. I highly recommend making your own Mole Verde. First it is the simplest to make. Second the flavor of a sauce made with tomatillos you just got from the store as opposed to this travesty is infinitely better.
  My next test was using mole paste I purchased from the Puebla Market on 9th street. these paste are kept in a refrigerated case in small deli cups with lids. They were around $6 and had none of that oily layer the mole in jars had. They also had no instructions or claims that they would be great until June 2012. The flavor was so much better in the Oaxacan Mole and the Mole Poblano. I could definitely see using them in a pinch for time. the flavor was pretty close to some restaurant moles I have had. I have also seen people Latin people buying these and have read of some restaurants that buy similar paste from Mexico.
   If you must buy paste my advice would be to get them at a Mexican grocery where they are refrigerated and fresher. there are also some places online that sell them as well. If you get them in the Italian Market, you can also grab some fresh tortillas from Tortilleria y San Roman.

The Skinny Fat Kid

Who's House?,,,,,,,,,,,,(Mole at home part 1. From Scratch)

   In my part one of my attempts at making mole at home I will cook from two different recipes. The first is a recipe for Mole Poblano and the second a Mole Negro. I found the Poblano in a cookbook called Mod Mex. The book contains recipes from  Chef Scott Linquist of NYC’s Dos Caminos. The second is from author Susana Trilling a recipe that I found online with a quick search.
   My first advice for the home cook making mole is be prepared for some hard work and lots of dishes. Although this is as satisfying as making your own stock, or the first baked bread you made from scratch, it is way more time consuming. I made the task of shopping a bit easier by making a spreadsheet listing all the ingredients I would need for both recipes and it summed up the total amounts. I also spent an hour going through my cupboards and checking what ingredients I had in house. I have a horrible habit of buying things only to come home and already have three of them. I found most of the things I needed in the Mexican grocery stores in the Italian Market. I was also able to get a good amount of things from Iovine Brothers produce in Reading Terminal Market. One observation though, while I was able to get a good amount in the Reading Terminal, it is difficult to find all the dried chiles you will need there.
   The Mole Poblano turned out very good. It received high marks from some friends who are chefs in a Mexican restaurant. It also went over well at a dinner party. There are a few things that i would do differently however. First the recipe in the books serves eight. I was cooking for myself to test the recipe and made about a gallon of mole. Luckily it freezes well so I froze three quarts of it. Second I recommend straining your mole through a mesh strainer a few times before you do the final heating to serve. My blender did an admirable job of pureeing but was clearly over matched for the amount of work this one sauce gave it. I also used duck fat instead of lard because I still had a half gallon left from a sandwich battle I did recently.
   The Mole Negro was less successful. The flavor was still great, but I had a hard time getting the color as black I have seen them. According to some recipes I have found most of this comes from the charring of the seeds. A chef recently told me that her black mole is darker because of the amount of stone fruit she uses. I also believe I used too much stock, because at one point my mole was darker than the final, but I may have thinned it too much. If you have vents in your kitchen please use them when frying or toasting your chiles. I basically tear gassed a friend while making a batch.
All in all succesful test with some hard learned lessons. Next up, mole off the shelf.

The Skinny Fat Kid

Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Lupe steal like Lupin the Third"....(La Lupe)

South of the Market Street Mason-Dixon in the heart of The Italian Market lies a Mexican restaurant with a reputation.  A reputation of authenticity and excellence. It is often difficult to separate a neighborhood from its reputation, especially when your neighbors have so much neon signage. La Lupe is a simple Mexican restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner and serving some of the better Mexican in Philadelphia.
On a rainy afternoon I settled into the restaurant for a plate of chicken in Mole Poblano.  The spice level on this mole was a standout. The cooks at la Lupe did not settle into the too sweet or chocolate heavy failings of some renditions. The portion size was the most generous of any place I visited. there was one thing that I did not like about this mole. It was very thin. I am not sure if this was intentional, but it is definitely not my preference.The chicken was served bone in with rice and refried beans and fresh tortillas. This is the way you see it in Mexico, so prepare to get your hand dirty. the tortilla should be your fork and spoon anyway. I look forward to trying some more of La Lupe’s menu when I have time in the future.
The Skinny Fat Kid

La Lupe 
1201 S 9th St  (At Federal St)
Philadelphia, PA

"Back when they though pink Polo's would hurt the ROC"....... (Distrito)

Early in the expansion of the Graces empire Jose turned his eyes westward. While looking to expand into new territory, he also wanted to settle unfinished business. Garces, before setting out on his own was the mind behind El Vez, a Mexican restaurant in the Starr organization. He was finishing what he started for another and bringing many, including my skinny-fat self a new restaurant to love.
In Philadelphia it is easy to find cuisine from Puebla, Mexico. Most of the Mexican population in Philadelphia and the restaurant industry at large hails from the region. Bad news is you see Mole Poblano almost exclusively. Distrito is one of the places that has variety in its mole offerings and its small plate menu allows you to do what I love the most; eat as many things as possible.
Distrito’s Mole offerings are Mole Poblano with duck breast, Mole Verde with pork belly and Mole Amarillo with rabbit. I decided to do all 3.
The Mole Poblano was one of my favorite renditions that I've had this month. The texture was great and the flavor beautifully complemented the duck breast. Mole Amarillo made with yellow peppers and tomatoes was served over rabbit loin and garnished with diced grilled pineapple. The sauce itself was beautiful and the pineapple added just a touch of sweetness. For those afraid to try rabbit I say to you this is the one you should do to ease your way in. The Mole Verde was served with braised Berkshire pork belly. The garnish of pumpkin seeds added the one thing i find lacking in most Mole Verde, texture.
A truly special dish was in order this night as well. In February, Distrito’s Chef De Cuisine  Maria Schmidt is offering a special tasting menu on Wednesday nights. the menu is Oaxacan themed and the 4th course is Mole Negro with roasted pheasant and pomegranate . This dish stole the show like a whistling Omar Little. Other highlights on the tasting were the Cocido Verde and Banana and Cajete empanandas.
If you are looking to try the most moles in one place Distrito should be on your list.

The Skinny Fat Kid

3945 Chestnut Street (entrance on 40th

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Window Shopper.... (Grocery Shopping in the Italian Market)

Lupita Grocery

   In order the task of making molé at home, you first need to be able to find supplies. While there is great quality and shopping variety to be found for most things in traditional supermarkets, this requires specialized shopping. The benefit of living in ethnically diverse cities is the ability to find the ingredients necessary in cooking these dishes. Though I have been able to find pockets of Latin residents throughout Philadelphia, I will limit most of my shopping to the Italian Market area .

Puebla Meat Market
Tortilleria y San Roman


   The Italian market has been the center of the “gravy belt” in Philly for a very long time. in recent years because of the low cost of housing the surrounding areas have began to attract an influx of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. With the influx of new residents, various entrepreneurs have opened stores which carry the items necessary to give these immigrants a taste of home. These store fronts have provided the rest of Philadelphia’s residents with the opportunity to share in these authentic flavors. I for one am excited by this although one local businessman doesn’t like the languages in which some of the new residents order their cheese steaks. FTG (fuck that guy).

   All along 9th street you will find restaurants and non-descript bodegas that will carry everything for your molé making needs. From produce, nuts, seeds and dried chilés to a selection of paste from Mexico that just need the addition of stock. . I was also lucky enough to find a place in Philadelphia that makes fresh tortillas daily.  There is also a bakery that makes fresh churros a.k.a the breakfast of champions.

Enjoy your shopping!

The Skinny Fat Kid

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I swear I am alive.

I know that my posting this month has been sporadic and quite lean. I apologize. This month has been more difficult than expected due to my arch nemisis , Mother Nature. As a restaurant employee who works evenings I do not often find myself able to get to restaurants before closing time in most kitchens. Add to the fact a lot of the places that serve moles only do so at night and you have a lot of day-off eating. When your days off coincide with winter storms it makes you wonder. Is eating my Sunday night football game with Michael Nutter and Roger Godell playing spoiler? Why is it getting harder to be a fat kid? Alas mole month is done...almost. I have one more to try tomorrow and all post will be up in the next 2 days. Then I am getting ready to unleash a special February.

Thanks for your patience
The Skinny Fat Kid
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