Wednesday, October 7, 2009

School may begin, but foodlove never ends

Well, Philadelphia is certainly a foodie haven.

Here I am at the White Dog Café, sitting in front of the most fresh and delicious cobb salads I've ever tasted (turkey, bacon, avocado, beets, bibb lettuce, blue cheese and tomato, all locally grown and raised):

And here's Ali, my younger sister, with (if I remember correctly) seared halibut atop a bed of delicious golden orzo, served with a cool lumpmeat crab salad:

Oh, how happy we were.

And how could I forget the dinner at Parc, where Geoff and I had country paté with cornichons and mustard?
And for my entree I decided on the monkfish:

I'd never had monkfish before, so I was a bit surprised to find the texture springy, yet tender. If a fish could be al dente, this would be it. And just take a look at that beautiful golden crust--it was divine. Overall, I'd say the various components went quite well together, with the effect of being both a clean and complex dish. The meat was perfectly roasted, the broth warm and rich, with the tomato and eggplant salad a savory and fruity accompaniment. Harmonious.

Of course, you need not reach for the cream of the crop (and deep into your wallet) to be satisfied here--these were just the two times I did, and I wanted to share them with you. On the other hand, I could wax terrifically on the food carts, with students and faculty alike lining up for the falafel and vegetarian chili; a great coffee shop with the best beer happy hours (I got a brown ale that was just perfect, with dark fruit undertones of fig); a chocolate gelato so rich you'd swear you were eating fudge. But I think I'll focus on the other side of Philly food culture...

...that is, the community you build, the company you keep.

These pictures are from a brunch with some fellow first-years. Ana and Lydia graciously and beautifully adorned a mascarpone tart with nectarines, while Divya made multigrain pancakes on my stove that--minutes later--would fill the apartment with insidious smoke. (No fault of anyone! My stove just doesn't have a hood.) Luckily we survived intact; my smoke alarm, however, did not. I certainly plan on having a food gathering again; despite my studio's limited capacity (which I plan on testing quite thoroughly one of these days) and dangerous of near asphyxiation, we had a lovely time. There's nothing like good friends and good food in a warm kitchen. And the tart--oh, the tart! That tart deserves its own post.

But it is with this picture that I close my post today:

I think this is my favorite one. It's a loaf of bread, the first successful one I've ever made. My first attempt was actually years ago in one of those bread machines, and it turned out bland, unpromising, and above all, empty.

Bread, my friends, should never taste empty.

The bread pictured above, however, was everything but empty. It was sweet, soft. It had the texture you hope for from a white bread, substantial and pliant with a gentle crumb. It was golden in color and cream-like in taste, with a hint of warm sweetness from the maple syrup. In short, it was a lovely first bread to bake in a new city that, while having a vibrant food scene, also offers you the pleasure of standing in a kitchen, watching as you take in the peace and sweetness of slowly rising dough.

Maple White Bread
makes 1 loaf

● 1 cup milk
● 1/4 cup maple syrup
● 4 tbsp. sweet butter
● 1 tsp. salt
● 1 package active dry yeast
● 1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
● 1 tsp. sugar or maple sugar
● 1 egg beaten
● 4 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour


1. Place milk, maple syrup, butter and salt in a saucepan and scald. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

2. Dissolve yeast in warm water along with the sugar. Set aside for five minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. Transfer the milk mixture to a large bowl, stir in the yeast mixture and then stir in the egg.

3. Stir in two cups of the flour. Then add more flour about one-half cup at a time until a ball of dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about eight minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn the dough to oil on all sides, cover lightly and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.

4. Punch down dough, turn onto a lightly floured board and knead for another minute or so. Roll dough into a rectangle about nine by 12 inches, then roll tightly, jellyroll fashion, starting from the narrow side. Pinch the seam and ends closed. Fit the dough seam side down into a greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch baking pan.

5. Cover and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread in the oven and bake about 45 minutes, until well browned. Remove from pan and allow to cool freely on a rack before slicing.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that bread should not taste empty. I'm not much of a bread-baker (too much precision required), but I like the sound of this recipe. :)