Every city has their must-have dishes. Quintessential bites that locals are excited to share with visitors. San Francisco has the Swan Oyster Depot’s Crab Louie salad. New York City has Russ & Daughter’s new Holland herring. And Philadelphia has Zahav‘s elusive pomegranate lamb.

Generally only available to parties of nine or more and only if you reserve it in advance, I spent a long time being certain I would never experience the unprecedented bliss of Solomonov’s 2-day brined bone-in lamb shoulder goodness. That is, until the brilliant team at Cook N Solo announced that in February, Zahav’s back dining room would be turned into an all-lamb BYOB. (From what it looked like, the front was undergoing some renovations. Like I said, brilliant.)

The $36 a person meal began, of course, with Zahav’s gorgeous salatim, and hummus tehina with laffa followed by the star of the show. The meal ended with chocolate kanafi, a crispy cloud of shredded phyllo dough with bitter chocolate and pistachios. I could go on about this meal for pages. The familiar nuttiness of the beets with henina, the kale tabouli I could have eaten a pound of, the deep pink center of the blackened lamb shoulder as it melted off the bone, the fact that I was stuffed beyond belief by the time dessert came by the kanafi was so delectable I couldn’t stop myself from devouring it.

No, I won’t go into all that. That would be bragging.

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Menu

 

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Glorious, glorius salatim

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Beets, carrots, tabouli, cucumbers.

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Hummus tehina.

 

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Did I mention no corkage fee?

Lamb of my life.

Lamb of my life.

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Chocolate kanfi.

I’ll miss you, Lamb Shack. I hope we meet again.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a preview of an up-and-coming dinner series gracing Lucha Cartel on March 1st—Meals of Antiquity. The first dinner features a menu painstakingly researched by designing cook and historian Colin Barth, and aims to recreate a hearty, seasonal meal that would have been served during the First Dynasty Period almost 4,000 years ago.

At first glance, the menu may read like a standard, hearty winter’s meal studded with nourishing grains and gamey proteins. But a closer look reveals several less common ingredients like Emmer, nigella sativa, and cypress. The meal is also served with leavened Ninda, a deliciously dense bread the color of burnt umber.

Special thanks to Evi Numen for the beautiful photos.

Barth has been researching the menu since November with a goal of remaining as faithful to ingredients, which hasn’t always been easy. As it goes with translating ancient languages, sometimes meaning can be debatable. He learned this the hard way after a particular mistranslation resulted in a recipe test that failed in such a way he knew one of the ingredients must have been translated incorrectly. It turns out what he read as “pounded yogurt” actually meant “pounded locusts*“.

While I am calling this a “new” dinner series, that isn’t entirely true. A few years ago, special events and concerts group Dancing Ferret organized two sold-out Uyghur dinner events. They’re looking forward to re-launching the series and bringing a unique culinary experience to their attendees.

Tickets are just $45 and are selling fast, so snag your spot now if you want to part of this historic (pun fully intended) event. You can view the full menu here and find more info at dancingferret.com/babylon. Don’t forget to follow Meals of Antiquity on Twitter to stay up to date on future events.

*The Babylonian dinner menu does not contain pounded locusts. Unfortunately.

 

I’m really into eggs. Like, it’s borderline problematic. I am absolutely one of those people that goes ballistic when pretty much anything is topped with a soft egg, so the first time I had shakshuka a few years ago I instantly fell in love. Not only because it was delicious but because it seemed… attainable. And adaptable. After a few obsessive compulsive experiments I realized it’s also extremely forgiving, so much so that pretty much anyone with a standard pantry and a few eggs can whip up a big bubbling skillet of it in about 45 minutes. I tested this theory this week when I resolved to freestyle shakshuka for dinner without absolutely zero planning. The results were so good I’ve officially added it to our weeknight dinner rotation.

Ingredients

One 28 oz can of tomatoes, whole peeled or crushed
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cups feta
4-6 eggs
cilantro, basil, or parsley for garnish (optional)
salt to taste

So, about that ingredient list up there—it’s just a base, and even the base is pretty flexible. The only things you *need* are tomatoes, onions, eggs, and spices. You can play with the spices as much as you want. Don’t have cumin? Throw in some oregano and make an Italian spiced shakshuka. No feta? Go dairy-free or crumble in some goat cheese. Try this recipe with meat (lamb sausage works beautifully) by browning it in the pan before cooking up the onions and garlic. Throw in whatever veggies you have hanging out in your fridge, particularly peppers and leafy greens like chard. Roast a jalapeño, dice it up, and add that to the mix as well. You are the master of your shakshuka destiny.

Okay, on to the recipe.

Recipe

  1. In a cast iron skillet (or any wide, deep skillet you have laying around), heat the olive oil over medium-low heat and add onion. Cook 10 minutes or so until soft, then add the garlic.
  2. Add your can of tomatoes, liquid and all. If you have whole tomatoes you can dice them before or simply break them apart right in the skillet with the back of a wooden spoon.
  3. Add vinegar, honey, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and salt to taste. I recommend adding the red pepper flakes a little at a time as some brands are hotter than others and everyone has their own heat preference.
  4. Let simmer about 20 minutes until tomatoes begin to reduce. Stir in feta.
  5. With the back your spoon, make a little nest in the sauce for each egg. Gently crack them into the pan, spacing as evenly as you can. Carefully drag a spatula through the whites a bit to help them mix slightly with the sauce.
  6. Keeping the sauce at a gentle simmer, cover the pan and let cook 8-10 minutes so that the whites cook through and the yolks remain runny.
  7. Top with fresh herbs and serve with crusty bread. Extra points if you bake your own.

Kevin and I may not be big on Hallmark holidays, but we are big on pizza. So it seemed only appropriate that we un-celebrate with a homemade pie. Kevin was on dough duty, and after reviving an almost-botched tomato sauce, we added fresh basil and burrata. I am being perfectly serious when I tell you that this pizza refused to NOT be heart-shaped. I swear to you, I tried to make it round and that little dough wound at the top just would not heal. So we decided to roll with it, but in keeping with the Un-Valentine’s Day theme, got a little creative with the pizza cutter.

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Happy Un-Valentine’s Day!

 

I’m new to South Philly, and I’m still kind of getting my bearings. I don’t really know my way around, I can’t gauge walking distances of anything (everything seems to be 15 minutes away, how is that even possible?), and since it’s been cold I haven’t explored as much as I would like to. Especially today. Today was freezing, and I really didn’t want to go outside. However, after a week of being vaguely sick and totally inactive I managed to drag my ass to a yoga class. Then of course, as a reward, ventured down the Avenue for P’unk Burger‘s first lunch service.

The P'unk Burger in all of its glory

The P’unk Burger in all of its glory

Regrettably, I couldn’t try their whole menu today as much as I would liked to have. I settled on their signature burger. I was also hellbent on a black and white milkshake, then when I read the menu and learned their B&W is made with Nutella instead of chocolate I nearly burst into crazed joyous tears.

The signature burger is a beef patty topped with peppercorn bacon from 1732 meats, smoked gouda, an onion ring, and their signature sauce. Generally I prefer some sort of greens on my burger, but with as high as this thing was stacked I appreciated that they pulled no punches with the decadent toppings. I had expected their signature sauce to be In-N-Out-esque but it isn’t at all. It’s more barbecue-inspired than anything and it had a wonderful sweetness that constrasted perfectly with the peppery bite of the bacon. Oh, let me also just say that the roll P’unk uses is sturdy—these burgers have structural integrity. In spite of all the cheese, sauce, bacon, and onion rings, this thing did not fall apart at all even after I put it down a few times. That may seem minor but I really appreciate a burger that doesn’t dissolve in my hands.

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B&W milkshake with Nutella

Do I really even need to talk about the milkshake? You know how it was. It was delicious.

I do have one big regret from today. I didn’t get fries. Don’t be like me! If you go to P’unk Burger for lunch (and you should), get the lunch special. It’s $12.50 for a burger, fries, and a soda. With all of the burgers (aside from build-your-own, these start at $7.95) ranging between about $10-$12, it’s a steal.

I’m really looking forward to trying more of what P’unk Burger has to offer, and when it warms up I see many lunches here in my future. Their menu is unique to most burger joints in that they seem to really offer something for everyone. You have your choice of organic beef, chicken, turkey, or ahi tuna if you’re meat-included, or you can get a veggie patty made by Vegan Commissary. Their specialty burgers hit all the right notes, and even include a local take on the Juicy Lucy—which, by the way, is next on my list to try.

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  • Kensington ketchup and spicy mustard
  • Semi-private BurgerTime alcove

P’unk Burger
1823 E Passyunk Ave
http://punkburger.com/

Despite being from South Central Pennsyltucky, I had never heard of the magical elixir that is apple pie moonshine until a few years ago when my friend Maria gave me a jar. I’m not generally one for sweets, but I am an apple cider fanatic and it hit all the right notes. Sweet for sure, but still maintaining the crisp distinct apple flavor with just a hint of cinnamon. Liquid apple pie.

Shout out to Kevin and his beautiful handwriting

Shout out to Kevin and his beautiful handwriting

This jar came with a warning, however, and thus so shall this recipe. This stuff may taste like dessert and be totally devoid of the an alcohol bite, but it is strong. Apple pie moonshine is mean to be sipped, shot, or added to cocktails. It’s delicious straight, but go easy. It creeps up on you.

Ingredients

1 gallon apple juice
1 gallon apple cider
2 cups brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks, or more to taste
1 pinch apple pie spice
1 (750 milliliter) bottle Everclear
1 (750 milliliter) bottle vodka

Assembly

This is the world’s simplest recipe. Combine everything but the booze in a large (and I do mean large) pot and simmer on the stove for an hour. Then, let it cool completely, add alcohol, and bottle.

I made a batch for last week’s Philly Food Swap and it was a bit hit. Turns out swappers love a jar of booze (I knew you guys were my people). It was my first time attending a swap, and I can’t believe I waited so long. I think I was partially intimidated by the overwhelming amount of talented home cooks that come. Either way, I could not be happier that I finally joined in the fun. It was an absolutely whirlwind of an evening that resulted in a gorgeous haul of homemade goodies lovingly crafted by local bakers, canners, and cooks. I even came home with a batch of home-cured bacon.

Food swap haul

That’s right, I snagged bacon, cheese, AND gin.

Gorgeous, right?

I’m already brainstorming my contributions for next time since the word on the street is that swaps may be happening quarterly (please let it be true!) and I want to get creative. If the rumors are true and a spring swap is on the horizon, I think I see some foraged gifts in my swapping future.

My first trip to Montreal was just two years ago. My long time friend Mike and I snagged a deal on the Adirondak train and spent three days wandering about on a tight budget. We stayed at Casa Del Popolo and drank cheap pitchers of Canadian beer at St. Laurent Bifteck. We ate Portuguese chicken, Australian hand pies, and hunted down smoked meat sandwiches at 4 AM. Despite the punishing winds of Canadian March, we were both instantly in love with the city. Especially Mike. When it finally came the morning of our train back to the States, he did not accompany me. Mike made his home in Mile End, and I’ve never seen him happier.

Fast forward to this past December, Mike had settled in a flat a few blocks from the Jean Talon Market and I was finally able to plan a long weekend visit. Kevin and I were fortunate enough to snag a gorgeous AirBnb right around the corner from the market, Metro, and of course, Mike.

 

 

Last time I was in Montreal I was flat broke. I was going to school full time while moonlighting as an event planner for a restaurant tour company and getting all the freelance writing contracts I could handle. This time I was no longer a starving writer, and I budgeted in the most important part of any trip—food. My goal was to essentially eat my weight in pork and foie gras, and I think I came pretty damn close.

Day 1

Jean Talon Market was like like a francophilic Reading Terminal and it was glorious. Wall to wall cheese, chocolate, meat and foie gras. We even managed to find foie gras macarons, and while we didn’t expect to like them I think we wound up eating about 5.

  • All maple everything
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  • I'm officially sold on foie gras in dessert

That evening we ate at the iconic L’Express. There are few better ways to end a day than with martinis and red meat.

  • I stole his olives.
  • Bone marrow with coarse salt
  • Escargot.
  • Egg with mayonnaise
  • Hanger steak with shallot butter and fries

 

Day 2

We spent most of the day walking around and eventually wound up in Vieux-Port, which had been turning into a lovely little winter village. We made our way back to Mont Royal for a late dinner at Au Pied de Cochon to feast on its namesake plate. And I do mean feast.

Seriously, look at that thing.

Seriously, look at that thing.

Not the most attractive thing I’ve ever seen but possibly one of the best. It’s an entire pigs foot stuffed with foie gras on top of a bed of polenta blended with so much cheese it took on an entirely different form. It was phenomenal. If you are ever in Montreal and want to spring for a night out, you absolutely have to have this place at the top of your list. Have a late lunch and make reservations for after 10 to save your sanity.

Day 3

Our final day consisted of a bagel expedition which due to its unexpected complicated nature, I did not photograph, followed by a much-needed pitstop at Crudessence. This place is just so lovely. Big bright windows and two cozy communal tables, as well as a very impressive raw vegan menu. It was snack time, so we stuck to dessert and smoothies.

  • Mango, cranberry, orange, goji berry, ginger, dates, almond milk
  • Cashew un-cheesecake/faux-fromage
  • Cacao, maca, banana, coconut, Brazil nut milk, dates

 

Oh, by the way, did you know Montreal has a cat cafe? Because after we got smoothies we spent probably two hours there drinking tea and giggling at the furry residents.

  • So. Many. Cat. Puns.
  • BFF
  • A cat tree doing cat tricks

 

We had an early train back, so we initially planned to keep it simple for dinner.

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Don’t judge me.

However, I thought it would be borderline criminal to bring Kevin to Montreal and have him not experienced smoked meat  and poutine. So, after a few pints at trusty St. Laurent Bifteck, we set off for Schwartz’s to split their famous sandwich then proceeded to trek across town to Resto La Banquise for some of the most well known cheese curds in Montreal.

  • Classic poutine
  • Schwartz's medium fat smoked meat sandwich

I regret nothing.

  • Is Nicole's dining room gorgeous, or what?

Being in that awkward tiny-family-20-something space, the majority of my Thanksgivings are spent with my fellow Philadelphia holiday-orphans. This year the festivities took place at Nicole‘s lovely new home in Fishtown, and although the turkey was a bit late (we forgive you, Anthony), it was a fabulous success.

The menu

Anthony’s famous (totally worth the wait) grilled turkey
Green bean casserole – From scratch, of course. Put that soup away and make a roux, will ya?
Twice-baked sweet potatoes with chipotle pecan streusel – AH-mazing. I love when sweet potatoes go savory, but the heat and pecans take this to a new level.
Chorizo cornbread stuffing – Don’t be afraid to double the chorizo. Or triple. It’s Thanksgiving, go crazy.
Hasselback potato gratin – 1000x yes.
Cranberry sauce with walnuts and pears – My favorite cranberry sauce in the world. I use this recipe but substitute Applejack for the brandy and use pecans instead of walnuts.

I’ve been in Philadelphia for almost 8 years, but I was raised in the Harrisburg area. Hummelstown, to be exact. In high school my days were split between normal classes in my public school and Capital Area School for the Arts in downtown Harrisburg. At the time, the art community was blossoming. Food-wise however, there wasn’t a lot going on. Since I moved to Philly, quite a bit has changed downtown and it has actually become a bit of a Central PA dining destination.

I visited Rubicon their opening week, and I was pretty blown away, and not just by the gorgeous transformation the interior has undergone since it was Neptune Lounge. Just the small sampling I had of their menu was more than enough for me to want to return as soon as possible. Decadent, French-esque fare and cocktail artistry.

I started off with the Jane Avril at AJ the bartender’s recommendation, although I would have probably decided upon it for myself in the end anyway. Consisting of Bulleit Bourbon, Benedictine, Creme de Casis, ground cayenne pepper and lemon, it was the perfect twist on my usual drink order of bourbon-based, bitter cocktails.

For appetizers we ordered the Charcuterie De Maison Au Garnis and the Tartine Blanc De Blanc “Cojonudo”. I rarely order charcuterie, but this particular night I was sold on the fact that they had blood sausage on the menu, and it did not disappoint. The tartine was also fantastic—very light with playful textures and a delightful pop from the tobiko.

I had known what entree I was going to order before I set food inside Rubicon—the Faux Pho. Bone marrow-stuffed beef shank topped with seared foie gras in a Franco-Vietnamese broth. I don’t think I need to say much else. It was absolutely insane.

I’m not a huge dessert person as a rule, but when I saw Baked Alaska on the menu I absolutely had to try it, and it didn’t disappoint. The presentation alone is worth an order.

The folks behind Mangia Qui and Suba have always impressed me, and Rubicon is no exception. I see many more dinners in downtown Harrisburg in my future.

 

With tomato season rapidly coming to a close in Pennsylvania, it seems like the right time to share one of my new favorite summer brunch standbys. It takes just a few ingredients (Even less if you cut corners like I did and use a frozen pie crust. Don’t judge! I’m still mastering the homemade version.) and has a surprising zing that comes from whole grain mustard. It’s fresh, summery, and portable. This tart works from breakfast to dinner, fresh from the oven or chilled.

I made this for the first time for a small event I organized with a few of my girlfriends. It seems like we’re so busy these days it seems like we only really see each other in large groups, often by chance. When we do see each other we’re often accompanied by significant others or male friends. I love my guy friends, but I require girl time. So I decided to organize an event that no men would try to weasel their way into—a potluck picnic brunch.

This recipe is adapted from a David Lebowitz recipe that he adapted from Kate Hill’s book, A Culinary Journey in Gascony. Most notable change was a reduction in the temperature of the oven.

Ingredients

1 uncooked pie dough, homemade or store-bought
Whole grain mustard
Enough heirloom tomatoes to cover your tart—I used a single enormous tomato
Olive oil
Chopped fresh herbs of your choice
8 oz fresh goat cheese
Honey (optional but highly recommended)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Assembly

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Roll out your tart dough and fit it into your pan. Dock the dough into the pan by making indentations with your fingertips. You can also make a freestyle tart by rolling the dough out about 14 inches then laying it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. No need to dock the dough if you take this route, just be sure to leave a 2 inch boarder around your filling so you can fold it up before baking time.
  3. Spread about 2 tablespoons of mustard on the bottle of the tart dough evenly, then let set about 10 minutes.
  4. Slide your tomatoes into pretty rounds and arrange them on top of the mustard-coated dough. Drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Add your herbs, goat cheese, and some more herbs for good measure, then drizzle with a touch of honey.
  6. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Pop it in the oven for about 30 minutes, keeping an eye on the crust so it doesn’t burn. If it starts to burn before everything looks good and cooked through, take it out and gently wrap some tin foil around the outer edge to protect the crust.
  8. To brown up the cheese more after cooking, hit it with the broiler. Just be sure to watch it like a hawk to make sure you don’t over-do it.

Happy baking!