Archives for February 2012

In-and-Out Burger: The cure for what ails you

I think that I’ve mentioned before that I travel a bit as part of my job. When I tell people this, they almost always say something along the lines of, “Oh, that sounds like so much fun!” Well, to be honest, after a few years of trying to make an overstuffed suitcase fit in an overhead bin and eating one too many mini crab cakes at cocktail receptions, I don’t really enjoy it all that much. My sleep, exercise and eating routines get all thrown off and I inevitably end up feeling tired, frumpy, ugly, and old. *Cue the sad violin music.*

I spent most of last week in Southern California, where all of the women are tall, skinny, well-dressed and gorgeous. Granted, most of them are also Botoxed and spray-tanned beyond belief, but, by the end of the week, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I took to Twitter to elicit sympathy from my friends and received two bits of excellent advice: 1) to eat my feelings (thank you, Shannon) and 2) In-and-Out Burger solves everything (thank you, Jeff). You can guess what my next stop was.

Double-double, animal style, with fries and a vanilla milkshake. Wish I could have gotten a better burger photo, but my phone died two seconds after I snapped this.

Now, I have been to California quite a few times, but have never been to an In-and-Out burger until this most recent trip. If you don’t know, In-and-Out started on the West Coast in the 1940s (most of the locations are still in California, although there are also a few in Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Utah), that serves a basic menu of made-to-order burgers, fries, and shakes. Then, there’s the “Not-So-Secret Menu,” that let’s you create your own variations.

First, you choose the number of patties and slices of cheese that you want. So, you could have a 3×3 (three patties, three slices of cheese) a 2×4 (two patties, four slices of cheese), etc., as long as you don’t exceed 4×4. Then, you decide if you want your burger “protein style” (wrapped in a lettuce leaf instead of a bun) or “animal style” (the patty is cooked in mustard, and served with extra pickles, grilled onions, and tomato-mayo spread). The latter is the way to go, if you ask me, because you get a little bit of extra crunch and flavor in each bite. You can even order your fries to your specifications: “well” if you want them cooked longer so that they turn out crispier, “light” if you want them softer, or with the “animal style” burger toppings. But, they were pretty perfect just dipped in ketchup.

The only disappointment was the milkshake. The mix comes out of a big industrial-looking container (I saw them filling up the machine) and tasted just like a thicker version of what you would get at McDonald’s. In other words, it’s nothing special.

As far as fast-food burger places go, I don’t think I would rank In-and-Out above Five Guys or Shake Shack, but there is something magical about it. Almost as soon as I got back to my hotel, I slipped into a grease-induced coma and woke up the next day ready to face the last couple of days of chatting with alumni and braving the insane traffic in LA. Jeff was right (I know he loves to see this phrase in print): those burgers and fries really are the cure all.

On all future California trips, I will need to build time into my schedule to go there as soon as I leave the airport. I’m pretty sure that a stop at the beginning of a trip would really go a long way in helping me maintain a positive attitude.

Now, when can we get a branch in Philly?

Recipe: French Silk Pie

For our Valentine’s dinner at home, we decided to keep things simple and make macaroni and cheese. It’s not fancy, but Chester makes the best mac-and-cheese ever. And, I was even able to leverage my limited cooking skills to assist. I’m pretty awesome with a Microplane and grated four kinds of cheese (and only part of one knuckle) in no time at all.

My main contribution was of course, dessert. There’s a restaurant in the Midwest called Baker’s Square (it’s kind of like a Friendly’s) that’s known for their pies. Chester really loves their French Silk, so I tried to duplicate it. Mine was even better.

The nice thing about this pie I was able to assemble the crust and filling and make the chocolate curls ahead of time (which is a good thing, because it took me all afternoon on Sunday). Then, when we were ready to eat it, I just had to make some whipped cream for the topping and arrange the curls in a pretty pattern. All of the recipes I consulted said that the flavors really come together the longer the pie sits, so I definitely recommend giving it a full day before you cut yourself a slice. You should have plenty of leftover filling after you fill your crust to lick the bowl clean.

For the first time ever, I made my own pie crust. I was nervous that I would either burn it or undercook it because my oven and I don’t get along so well. But, to my surprise, it actually turned out perfectly golden brown. I may have overworked it just a bit when rolling it out, so it wasn’t as flaky as I would have liked. But, it stood up to the rich, truffle-like filling and wasn’t overly sweet so it didn’t get in the way of all of that chocolaty goodness.

Be aware that the filling isn’t baked and contains raw eggs. From what I understand, it’s pretty rare to get sick from fresh eggs that are properly refrigerated and not cracked when you take them out of the carton (I believe this to be true, as I haven’t become deathly ill from all the cake batter and raw cookie dough that I’ve consumed over the years). But, you are pregnant, elderly or have an otherwise comprised immune system, you will have to avoid this pie. I am sad for you. Oh well, more for me.

French Silk Pie

Single Crust Recipe: America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book

(Good step-by-step guide here)

Filling and Chocolate Curls: The Pioneer Woman

What you will need


  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½ inch pieces and chilled
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch pieces and chilled
  • 4-6 tablespoons ice water


  • 4 ounces, weight Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
  • 1 cup Salted Butter, Softened
  • 1-1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 4 whole Eggs


  • 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon Crisco vegetable shortening

What to do


  1. Process flour, sugar, salt in food processor until combined
  2. Scatter shortening over the top and process until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, about 10 seconds. Scatter butter over the top and pulse about 10 more seconds, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  3. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water over it. Stir and press dough with rubber spatula until it comes together. If it does not, add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until it does.
  4. Turn the dough out on to a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into a four-inch disc. Wrap and refrigerate one hour. Before rolling out, let sit out for 10 minutes to soften.
  5. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle to fit into a nine-inch pie plate. Trim to pie dough so that it hangs over plate by ½ inch, then tuck dough underneath itself to form a neat edge.
  6. Wrap lined pie plate loosely in plastic and place in freezer 30 minutes before using.
  7. To bake, line the chilled crust with a double layer of aluminum foil, covering the edges to keep it from burning.
  8. Fill crust with pie weights (or, in my case, dried black beans) and bake in a  375-degree oven for 40 minutes.


  1. In small microwave safe bowl melt 4 ounces of unsweetened baking chocolate (about 45 seconds on high). Stir. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat 1 cup of unsalted butter, sugar and salt until fluffy (about 1 to 2 minutes).
  3. When melted chocolate is cooled, drizzle it over the butter/sugar mixture. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
  4. Beat the mixture thoroughly until combined (on a Kitchen Aid mixer, you will be using the whisk attachment).
  5. Turn your mixer to a medium speed and over a period of 15 to 20 minutes add in the four eggs, one at a time, leaving about 5 minutes between each egg addition. This might seem time consuming, but taking this extra time will help you achieve the right consistency.
  6. Once the pie filling is well mixed, pour it into pie shell. Smooth out the pie filling and place pie in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours (preferably longer)


  1. Melt semisweet chocolate and Crisco in microwave for about 45 seconds. Stir to combine.
  2. Pour melted chocolate over the back of a cookie sheet and spread into a thin layer with a knife.
  3. Place baking sheet in the freezer for one to two minutes. When the chocolate is set, it should leave the slightest mark, but not an actual depression. Also, place a separate plastic container in the freezer to chill, so when you start making your curls you can toss them in there before they melt.
  4. Remove baking sheet from freezer. With a sharp-edged spatula and begin to scrape the chocolate from the bottom of the pan. When the chocolate is just the right temperature, it will curl instead of break. The chocolate may start to melt again, so just place the sheet back in the freezer until it resets.
  5. When you are ready to serve pie, top with whipped cream (You could use Cool Whip and top in advance, but fresh whipped cream is best left to that last minute because it’s not as stable) and chocolate curls.

Restaurant Review: Bibou

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! We typically skip the crowds at restaurants on Valentine’s Day itself in favor of cooking dinner at home, and just finished stuffing ourselves with homemade macaroni and cheese and French Silk Pie. We did, however, go out to a celebratory dinner at Bibou, a French BYOB in the Bella Vista area over the weekend. It has been the subject of quite a bit of buzz since its opening a little over two years ago but we were able to snag a reservation thanks to Chester’s dedicated stalking of Open Table). Good thing we did, since Craig LaBan recently gave it a glowing review and upgraded it from three to four bells in his Inquirer column. So, it’s bound to get more difficult to book a one of the 30 seats in the place.

Bibou is run by a husband and wife team. The chef, Pierre Calmels, came out of the kitchen at various times throughout the evening to chat with customers at every table. His wife, Charlotte, acts as the hostess and frequently was toting a laptop around the dining room to help diners make their next reservations. We had to wait a bit for a table to become available when we arrived for our 9 p.m. reservation; it seemed like people were so comfortable that they didn’t want to leave and the staff wasn’t rushing them out. It’s no wonder that Bibou has built up quite a contingent of regulars.

The décor is pretty simple—white linen curtains, cheerful yellow walls and rustic wooden furniture. There is a small bar at the back of the restaurant from which you can peek into the kitchen to see the chefs hard at work. The menu is small, but it provides a nice mix between traditional dishes, such as grilled fish and steak and more exotic specialties like pig’s feet and bone marrow.

For a first course, I had the tender escargot which were served out of their shells, in a hearty tarragon and mushroom sauce. This was a bit of a departure from the typical butter/garlic sauce that I remember eating in France. Chester’s steak tartare appetizer was also tasty, and prepared with a high quality cut of beef. However, we both agreed that these dishes were pretty average.

Both of the entrees we selected were outstanding, however. I didn’t get to sample coq au vin while we were in France last summer, so I immediately decided to order that. The extremely generous portion of rooster, served in a hearty red wine, bacon and mushroom sauce over light pappardelle pasta, was so tender that it came apart easily with a fork. Chester chose the venison, which was on of the specials for the evening. It was prepared two ways—leg, ground with foie gras and wrapped in a puff pastry and a simple tenderloin. In the first presentation, the fatty foie gras kept the meat a moist, but the flavor was a bit overpowering. Chester much preferred the latter, which he described as “like butter.” The only real drawback of the dish was that the portions were on the small side. We felt like they could have done away with the puff pastry version and just served a larger portion of the tenderloin for a few dollars more.

Desserts were a nice, light finish after the substantial main courses. Chester had the thyme and lavender crème brulee. It was a little heavy on the herbs for me, but a nice change of pace from the plain version. I really liked my floating island—a meringue pyramid, set on top of goat’s milk/vanilla custard and topped with crunchy pralines. All of the elements had a bit of sweetness to them, but they came together well without making the dish too sugary.

If you decide to go, keep in mind that reservations are a must (and you may have difficulty getting prime times) and that the restaurant is cash only. Overall, the food was delicious, but I think that Bibou’s attention to detail and superior customer service give it an edge over some other places out there right now. The personable owners coupled with the warm, inviting atmosphere contributed to the feeling that we were eating in a friend’s home. This definitely sets Bibou apart from other restaurants I’ve visited recently, but I still don’t know if its four bell worthy in terms of the food (Craig LaBan and I didn’t see eye to eye on, either. But, he’s been doing this for much longer than I have so I’m sure he knows his stuff!). Still, we were among the diners who made their next reservations before paying the bill, since we really think my mom and aunt will enjoy celebrating their birthdays there in March. Calmels told us that they rotate the menu on a weekly basis, so I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next month.


Recipe: Toblerone Muffins

I always associate Toblerone with traveling, since they sell the big bars of it at the Duty Free shops in many airports. I recall one occasion where I bought one, promising myself that I would just have one piece on the plane and save the rest for later. But, inevitably, one piece turned into two or three, and before I knew it, I was trapped in a middle seat, nowhere near the city of my final destination, with a massive sugar high.

I hadn’t had a Toblerone in quite awhile, however, until Chester got a big bar of it for Christmas. My love for it was instantly reawakened. When I decided to make ice cream last week, I thought about doing something with Toblerone, but went in a different direction when I found the (awesome) Double Cookie Dough recipe. Then, Chester came across a recipe for Toblerone muffins. Toblerone for breakfast? Yes, please!

The concept of this muffin is amazing—a chocolate base, with chunks of Toblerone in the batter, plus more bits sprinkled on top. The finished product was good, but not as amazing as I had hoped. With a few small tweaks, it would be even better.

First, the original recipe didn’t call for salt, but I added some since it really brings out the flavor—especially of chocolate—in pastries. In the future, I would also add a bit of vanilla extract and adjust the ratios of some of the dry ingredients. There was definitely a bit of a floury taste to the muffins (I only mixed about ten strokes, so I don’t think the taste was the result of overworking the batter) and maybe a little less flour and a bit more cocoa powder could do the trick. I’ll have to play around with this recipe a bit and let you know how it turns out!

As a side note, on the advice of America’s Test Kitchen, I didn’t use paper liners when baking the muffins. The muffins baked up much higher than usual, and they had a nice crust on top. I’ll be saving trees from now on, and just greasing my pans when I make muffins and cupcakes.

Although this was a good first attempt at a Toblerone focused creation, but I’m still on the hunt for something really amazing. Have you used Toblerone in your baking projects? Please share your recipes, if so!

Toblerone Muffins

Adapted slightly from: Blue-Eyed Bakers

Makes about 18 muffins

What you will need:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, preferably Dutch processed
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted & cooled slightly
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 1/2 bars of Toblerone, roughly chopped

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Sift together flour, cocoa powder and baking powder in a large bowl and combine well. Mix in sugar and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, butter and milk. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated. Fold in 1 cup of Toblerone chunks.
  4. Fill each muffin cup 3/4 full and bake muffins for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Halfway through baking time, remove muffins and scatter remaining chocolate over muffins.
  5. Allow muffins to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Restaurant Review: Mercato

For our second Restaurant Week outing, we headed to Mercato in the Washington Square neighborhood. Located in what used to be a “corner store” (as we say in South Philly), the restaurant is a cash-only, BYOB, featuring a regularly changing menu of contemporary takes on traditional Italian dishes.

The entire menu was available at the $35 Restaurant Week pricing, so there were plenty of options to choose from. Additionally, there was a separate menu featuring Italian meats, cheeses and a selection of olive oils, which was available to choose from as a substitute for a first course.

For an appetizer, I ordered the roasted portabella, which was topped with pecorino cheese and wrapped in a puff pastry. It was tasty, but there was way more pastry than filling, which was somewhat disappointing. It was accompanied by an arugula salad,  topped with a simple, citrus/thyme dressing and pine nuts. Chester had the whole grilled artichoke, which was also just so-so. It was on the small side and kind of fibrous, instead of meaty and tender. I also didn’t enjoy the smoky flavor, although it was better when dipped in the side of citrus aioli.

All in all, we were a bit underwhelmed by our first courses, and I became a bit nervous that the rest of the meal would be a disappointment as well. Luckily, things did improve from there.

For an entrée, I had the short rib ragu, with gnocchi, broccoli rabe and locatelli. Although the pasta was billed as ricotta gnocchi, they didn’t really have that much of a flavor and were a bit more dense than some other versions that I have had. But, I was able to overlook that since the ragu was exceptional. The locatelli melted slightly over the dish and its sharp flavor  complemented the earthy, red-wine infused sauce well. The short ribs were perfectly prepared and came apart easily with a fork. Chester’s veal cutlets were prepared in a simple white wine sauce, but were tender and flavorful. There were plenty of veggies on the dish as well–a topping of roasted red peppers, olives and spinach, and sides of asparagus and roasted potatoes–which I liked.

For dessert, I had the chocolate cake, with a warm, liquid center that reminded me of melted Nutella. A scoop of vanilla ice cream minimized some of the richness. Even Chester enjoyed dessert—a very light, marscapone cheesecake with walnut shortbread crumbs sprinkled on top.

With the exception of pre-theater, holiday, and Restaurant Week dinners, Mercato normally does not take reservations. And, from what I have read, the tiny space tends to fill up very quickly on regular business days. Just be aware that if you do make a reservation during one of these times, you will need to provide a credit card to hold the spot, and will be charged $25 per person in your party if you fail to cancel.

Mercato was definitely one of the most cramped and noisiest places I’ve been to in awhile. And, since we were seated in a corner table right near the kitchen, it was quite warm. I was definitely ready to leave by the end of the meal. Although I enjoyed the food and the portions were generous, it wasn’t so spectacular that I would feel compelled to go back again and brave a two hour wait for a table.

Chinese New Year and Restaurant Review: Sammy Chon’s K-Town BBQ

In case you haven’t heard, the Chinese Year of the Dragon began last week. Everyone seems to be all about it, probably because it’s the luckiest year of the Chinese Zodiac, and I’m pretty sure that most of us can use a little good luck these days, right? Chester was born (many years ago) during the Year of the Dragon and claims to have always have good luck in dragon years. So, I’m hoping this will be the year that he hits the Mega Millions or something—we’ll just have to start playing first.

This past weekend, the Lunar New Year Parade was held in Chinatown, and my mom, aunt, Chester and I went to check out the festivities. I really love a Chinese New Year Parade—much more than Mummers. I know, that’s the kind of thing that can get you kicked out of South Philly. You still get festivity, fireworks, music and dancing, but there’s no public drunkenness and/or physical violence. I seriously thought my mom was going to freak out over the loud noise and smoke and want to leave in fifteen minutes, but I think she probably had the most fun out of all of us. She danced around pretty much the entire time, and probably would have gotten into a lion costume if they let her.

I’m slightly afraid of firecrackers, but Chester is not. So, he got close enough to the action to get a bunch of fabulous photos:

As the parade started to wind down, we got pretty hungry. So, we decided to check out Sammy Chon’s K-Town BBQ, which recently opened in the neighborhood (I just learned that there is also a location in Cherry Hill that’s been around for about four years). The menu is pretty extensive. There is of course, beef bulgogi, the staple dish of Korean BBQ, but there are also grilled meat, seafood and noodle dishes to choose from, too. For most dishes, you can choose your level of spiciness.

While we waited for our food, we watched what seemed to be a Korean MTV (complete with Justin Beiber and Katy Perry look-a-likes) and munched on banchan, including kimchi, spicy cucumbers, black beans and vegetables, and chicken wings. The wings had a nice crunch and a sweet honey-sesame flavor, but I just thought they were okay. If I hadn’t tried the Federal Donuts variety just a couple of weeks ago to compare to, I probably would have been more impressed.

We all ordered a dolsot—chicken for me and my aunt, mushroom for my mom and octopus for Chester. This dish consists of rice, vegetables and meat, cooked in a hot, clay pot and topped with egg. The dishes came out of the kitchen hot and sizzling and took quite awhile to cool down. It is a flavorful, hearty dish that is enhanced by the fact that the heat of the pot makes the rice at the bottom slightly burnt and crunchy (I recommend ordering brown rice for its nice, nutty flavor) and cooks the egg on top to a creamy consistency. This was the first time I had this dish, and I think it might be one of my new favorite things.

They gave us these little yogurt drinks for dessert. They had a slight citrus flavor, which. I didn’t mind at first, but decided I didn’t really care for a couple of sips in.

I would definitely go back again. On my next visit, I would like to try the Koagie: Beef Bulgogi or Spicy or BBQ Chicken served on a Sarcone’s sesame roll. It might not be a traditional dish, but it sounds like a winner to me.

Recipe: Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream

Pinterest has kind of changed my life. I used to cut and paste the links to recipes I wanted to try into Word documents or e-mail messages to myself, which I would then lose or forget about. But, now, I just click “Pin it” when I’m surfing the Internets and Pinterest keeps everything organized for me.

Over the weekend, I pinned a recipe for Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream to my ever-growing “Things I Want to Eat” board and, apparently, the folks on Pinterest are fans too, as more than a dozen other people re-pinned it in less than five minutes. Although I had intended to save this recipe for the warmer months, I took this as a sign that it needed to be made right away.

Every time I make ice cream, I declare the finished product “the best ever.” But seriously, this ice cream is the best ever.

Instead of the standard vanilla that is usually the base for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, the brown sugar and butter in the recipe creates a rich, cookie dough flavored base. In addition, the cookie dough recipe below (from David Leibovitz’s book The Perfect Scoop) will get you about two cups of cookie dough chunks. Combine that with the cup of chocolate chips that are added to the ice cream base once it freezes, and you’ll get a mix-in or two in every bite. And, really, everyone knows that the mix-ins are the best part of any ice cream.

So, pin this one. And, while you are at, follow me.

What are some of your favorite recipes that you have found via Pinterest?

Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream

From: Annie’s Eats

What You Will Need:

For the cookie dough:
5 tbsp. salted butter, melted (or unsalted butter plus ¼ tsp. salt)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup flour
½ tsp. vanilla extract
¾ cup chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate because that’s what I had on hand, but semi-sweet would work too)

For the ice cream:
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup dark brown sugar (I used light brown sugar because that’s what I had on hand)
4 large egg yolks
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ cups whole milk
1 cup chocolate chips

What to do:

  1. To make the cookie dough, stir together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until smooth.
  2. Mix in the flour, then the vanilla and chocolate chips. Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. The mixture might seem very wet, but it will firm up.
  3. To make the ice cream, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Continue heating, stirring often, until the butter is a deep golden brown color, being careful not to burn it.
  4. Whisk in the heavy cream and heat until simmering.
  5. Meanwhile in a medium bowl, whisk together the brown sugar and the egg yolks until pale and fluffy.
  6. Once the cream mixture is warm, add a small amount to the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly.  Slowly whisk in the rest of the cream.  Mix in the salt.
  7. Return the egg-cream mixture to the saucepan and heat until just slightly thickened, and the temperature reads 170-175˚ F on an instant-read thermometer.
  8. Immediately remove the mixture from the heat and pour through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl.
  9. Stir in the vanilla extract and the whole milk.  Cover and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.
  10. Once the mixture is chilled, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  11. When there are ten minutes left in the churning time, add chocolate chips.
  12. Chop the disk of cookie dough into small chunks.  As soon as the mixture is done churning, stir in chunks of cookie dough. I wouldn’t recommend adding them when the mixture is still churning as the force of the machine may break up the pieces. That would be sad
  13. Store in the freezer until firm.