Archive | March, 2011

Oh what a night!

23 Mar

“Hi, this is Joanna from Kitchen at Penn. We are just calling to confirm your order – it is the same one that we received and filled two hours ago… Chicken Pot Pie, no mushrooms. Did you receive your first order already?”

“Oh yeah, I got the first one. I just liked it so much I wanted another meal.”

Music to our ears. Having been through the first month of service, where some technical problems combined with lack of expertise in the kitchen (I myself am guilty as charged) has led to several mishaps filling orders that don’t exist, doubling orders accidentally, etc. etc., realizing a double order was not a mistake but rather a deliberate compliment to our cuisine was a welcome event.

So, we prepped two more of our little handheld Chicken Pot Pies, baked them to perfection, and added a side of roasted Sweet Potato Wedges (instead of the Garlic Mashed that were part of the first order.) I can’t tell you what a sense of pride it gave me to seal the bag with a Kitchen sticker and send out a second meal to the same person in the same night, just because the food was so good he couldn’t get enough.

In other news, that same Tuesday broke a record for us with the highest number of orders we have ever received. It can partially be attributed to Nate and Dan’s efforts earlier in the day, where they passed out samples of our Banana Bread Pudding on Locust Walk, as well as menus which included info about our new days and specials. But, it was also the fact that the food was on spot, delivered on time, with delicious results.

Tonight we are trying a few new things – a Salmon with oil, lemon and herbs as well as Eggplant Parmesan (a specialty of Nate’s). If you happen to find yourself in Philly, give either of them a try. But if, as we predict, our readers are mostly (well, entirely) our families – then just drool from where you are and promise to order the next time you are visiting us!

The Traveling Kitchen Team: Eating in New York

21 Mar

The Thursday night before Spring Break ended with a sigh of relief: it had been a month since the opening, an unpredictable, sometimes wild, yet rewarding and satiating month. As we headed to our different holiday destinations, we were prepared for a change in environment, but not a break in our culinary explorations.

Nate and I decided to spend a week in New York, hoping
to get through our papers and exams we had sometimes mildly neglected due to hectic Kitchen days, and maybe also to enjoy some good food here and there. We had an ambitious plan when it came to food: a few restaurants we had to try out, and many dishes we wanted to create and cook. It was a discovery: each meal was more or less planned out (from breakfast to dinner) and we were careful to pace our day accordingly so we would be starved by the time lunch or dinner came around. On Tuesday we ate the house roasted turkey sandwich at Torrisi Italian Specialties, an incredible combination of slow roasted herb turkey with a slightly spicy tomato sauce and for the adventurous, you can add Brussels sprouts to your bun. Wednesday we set off for a few days in the countryside, armed with ingredients for two dinners and granola. We wanted to recreate Nate’s all-time favorite granola (if you ever make it to Canada, here it is: http://www.wildflourbakery.ca/breakfast.htm). We stirred thick oats with sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, wheat germ (we had never tried this and looked at the jar suspiciously), and puffed wheat. We boiled maple syrup, honey and canola oil (next time I want to substitute the canola oil with extra virgin coconut oil), and mixed the syrup with the oats & co. We placed the raw granola on large sheets and baked it in the oven for twenty-minutes. While the granola was still hot from the oven, we stirred cranberries and let it cool. After a half hour the granola had taken a crunchy texture. I made a berry compote with raspberries and blueberries to pour onto the granola and whole-milk yogurt.

But the dinners were the highlight of our week. With a few bottles of wine, some pork and whole fish, we flipped through the Tyler Florence book and improvised our own recipes, according to the ingredients we had at hand. One night we made whole fish, Branzino, stuffed with lemons, thyme and onions, garnished with a Brussels sprout and heirloom tomato salsa. We made lemon creamy mashed Yukon potatoes, along with Brussels sprouts sautéed in pancetta. We attempted to roast artichoke in the oven, rubbed in garlic and lemon, but this unfortunately failed. Two hours later the artichokes stubbornly refused to soften. I think we should have boiled them, but that will be for next time. The following night we cooked pork which we had cut open, filled with herbs and fennel seeds, and then wrapped tight. We couldn’t find string to tie the pork, so instead we sewed the pork with toothpicks. We roasted fennel in the oven and added feta cheese that melted at the contact of the hot fennel flesh. Next was the kale: blanched and sautéed in a little garlic and lemon juice.

This is what we discovered: a new concept for serving food. Because we were running low on dishes Nate decided that we should place all food, including the sides, on the same plate, which turned out to be an oven pan. And then we shared the meal. What if there was a restaurant where we could order a few sides and entrees and have them all arrive on one big platter or wooden plate (I know it sounds extravagant, like a Rabelaisian dish or perhaps a feast from the Satyricon if you are feeling decadent), but why not have all of the colors and flavors on the same platter and then share? Forks are knives would be provided of course. I wonder if Nate’s creative idea stems from his dislike of washing dishes, or if it is simply a way to enjoy diverse dishes and have easier access to mixing and combining flavors on the same plate. Despite my preference for many small dishes in small bowls (this must come from my Japanese mother who likes to spread the table with dozens of small plates), I loved this idea of sharing food among many on one surface. It’s kind of like sharing a big table, a concept I first encountered at the Belgian Pain Quotidien restaurant/bakery (just opened in Philly at 15th and Walnut).

For lunch we decided to go out, exhausted and full from the cooking. We ate Dosas at Hampton Chutney (http://www.hamptonchutney.com/), trying the curry chicken and the vegetarian spinach and roasted tomato and cheese. Both were delicious. The Dosa looks and tastes like a very light, crispy crepe. To me, it was almost like a buckwheat galette, the ones they make in Brittany in the west of France.

Back in the city on Friday we made our way to Aldea for lunch for one of the best meals of the week. Aldea is a Portuguese/Iberian influenced restaurant run by the young, talented and handsome Chef George Mendes. We were treated to a curry emulsion as an appetizer, and then shared the arroz con pato (essentially a paella with duck that is so tender you can cut it with your fork like butter), and salty cod mixed with eggs and olives. For dessert we tasted the banana pudding cake, which tasted like a banana flan on top of a crispy, buttery crust. The portions were small but so flavorful that I didn’t mind their size, if anything they were the expected size of a European dish. The twenty-four dollar three-course lunch menu is not to miss: http://aldearestaurant.com/

On Saturday we braced ourselves for a dinner at Momofuku, Ssäm Bar. The wine and beer charmed us, and then came the food…. The famous steamed buns and crispy pork belly buns, the short rib sandwich which was my favorite (with each bite I took I hoped it would never end), the grilled trout with squash, the very very very spicy pork sausage with rice cakes, and the oxtail dumplings. The flavors of the meal were exquisite, and even as we sweated and sipped water to douse the spicy pork sausage, we couldn’t stop ourselves from eating. I did feel a little too overwhelmed by so much pig, pork this and pork that, but for one dinner I didn’t mind the richness of the dishes. The meal was crowned with a late night stop at the Milk Bar, right next door, where I tasted cereal milk and salty pretzel truffles. Cereal Milk tastes like that milk at the bottom of your cereal. It is five dollars, but I recommend at least trying a sip, or if you have a sweeter tooth, you can order the cereal milk milkshakes.

Our culinary journey, away from Kitchen, came to an end.
But of course, we’ve brought a few tastes and glimpses of our world to Kitchen. Kale was a special side, maybe there will be some fennel some-time soon.

home-made granola with berry compote

Nate's Kale

Stubborn Artichokes

Fennel and Feta

Roasted Pork with Dijon

Pork Buns

Spicy Sausage

Bringing Kitchen Home

9 Mar

Traveling home on the long two-leg train ride for my 10 day spring break, I let myself breathe an ever-so-slight sigh of relief that I would have a rejuvenating respite from the first few hectic weeks of working in the Kitchen. This idea was short-lived, however, when my dad picked me up from the train station, and we drove directly to Trader Joe’s where he had left my mom and little sister to pick up goodies for the upcoming week. After learning so much from Jordan, how could I not pick up the ingredients to make some of my favorite Kitchen at Penn dishes for my family? So of course I naturally gravitated towards the semolina flour, the green beans and chicken, and obviously butter, that would allow me to re-create some of my newfound home in Philadelphia for my parents and little sister.

First came my personal favorite: chicken pot pie. Baked as usual with the pie crust bottom and biscuit topping, the simmered chicken and vegetables coated in béchamel nestled beautifully (and de-virginized) my new green pie dish. The reception was positive all around, confirmed in the following days by my mom (the queen of leftovers) eating both remaining pieces for two consecutive lunches. The extra biscuit dough, in true Kitchen style, was made into tiny biscuits shaped like stars instead of hearts, and devoured by my sister as dessert… they are just that delicious.

The next day I made Turkey Burgers, on english muffins, with Jordan’s toppings minus the avocado. Having forgotten to check with Jordan about what goes into the lemon-dijon sauce, I just had to eyeball it. But, the sauce did get an approving comment from my dad who hates turkey burgers, so that says something. The other thing that I took away from Kitchen was making the entire burger ensemble so thick that it took significant effort and forethought to actually manage to fit a bite in your mouth. Excellent.

Tonight I made ravioli, which isn’t exactly on our menu, but making fresh pasta is a skill that I have picked up at Kitchen. It was a simple cheese filling, and the pasta (rolled out very thin – I know Jordan, if you have to ask if it is thin enough, it isn’t!) still managed to taste delicious. Only issue was I undercooked the pasta, worrying that the thinner parts would burst and let the cheese seep out. Despite this, my family still downed more than their fair share, and I think we might have a new Kitchen special in the making…

Not to worry, I have experimented in my “off” time with other recipes too – a caesar swordfish that makes my mouth water just thinking about it, a rectangular pizza with tuscan sauce, tomatoes, mozzarella and shredded basil, and last but not least creamed corn made with reserves from the summer harvest at our cousin’s farm. Maybe some of these will make it onto the specials section, and my kitchen at home will continue the exchange with Kitchen at Penn.

Family Dinner at Kitchen

3 Mar

Yesterday Chef Jordan Miller told Nate: I got a duck. This was in the morning; we only saw the duck at around 9:40pm, when Jordan began to prepare our first Kitchen family meal.

The family is getting bigger. This week, the talented Penn student Max Hass joined Kitchen as a line cook. To say the least, Jordan and Max work as a perfect team, and with the recent renovations at the kitchen, there are more hands and space to meet the rapidly increasing demand for food. And yet, despite these improvements (or perhaps because) we still managed to run out of most of our dishes last night, especially a few of the sides (mac & cheese, mashed potatoes). The innovative idea of the night was sweet potato tater tots. But the brilliant premise did not ensure success: the tots kept disintegrating whenever we tried to fry them. So no tots, and by 9pm, almost no mac and very little mash. We apologize if we weren’t able to give you your desired meal, and promise to return better prepared after break! Indeed, Kitchen will be closed for a short week during Penn’s Spring Break. I hope you weren’t discouraged or daunted by our meager menu last night, and encourage you to order again, with promise that we will have all ingredients according to the menu!

To return to Jordan’s duck. Jordan had planned an extravagant family dinner after service, with duck sushi and duck tacos. Because of a busy night, the duck preparation only began at 9:45pm, meaning that we had been nibbling on biscuits (our staple bread and water), or tasting Max’s freshly baked banana bread. We were famished. I watched Jordan press the duck on a pan and observed the fat sizzling. Jordan had already cooked the rice, and quickly made two sushi rolls with pickles in rice vinegar. Once the duck was ready, he thinly sliced the meat and spread it on top of the sushi. We added the Banh Mi sauce and picked away with our fingers. It was a feast. While we swallowed more than chewed – we were hungry and it was late – Jordan also made blue corn tacos with the extra duck. Thus began and ended the Family Dinner in true Kitchen spirit: in the midst of cleaning, with more savoring than mastication, Jordan’s whistling as the soundtrack, and Max grilling a leftover meatball. That night our brave delivery men tasted the Turkey Burger. If you haven’t tried it, you must. The three delivery men stood at the entrance eating in unison their steaming burgers, and of course, in silence – they were too busy with the task at hand.

The other day I asked Jordan to make me tuna, except I wanted it well done, not seared with the raw flesh in the middle. He stood shocked, unable to respond. What?! He finally exclaimed. You want my tuna well done? I think part of his surprise was that after witnessing my terrific apple-peeling skills he respects my culinary preferences. Also, my mother is Japanese, and the thought that I, the daughter of a Japanese woman, might dislike raw fish, is too troubling for Jordan. However he still made me my chewy tuna, and I ate it with great delight.

It was a long night, but every night is long and busy and exhausting at Kitchen. You don’t notice until the end of service when your legs are aching from standing since 5pm and your hair smells of food. By 10pm the only thing that matters is a hot shower and sleep. Except most of us are college students, so our night can’t — and doesn’t — end so early. Sometimes we go a little crazy after service. There’s some singing involved, a lot of laughing, occasional swearing… Yesterday Nate couldn’t find his car keys. We searched and ran in circles, until finally, after calling one of the delivery men who suggested Nate check his car door, Nate retrieved the key.

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