Recipe: Zoku Lemonade Pops

Summer. Do you remember how much fun it used to be?

There was nothing like the feeling of coming home on that last day of school, knowing that you wouldn’t have to wear a uniform for three months or spend the afternoons thinking up sentences for those silly vocabulary words. Depending on your age, blowing bubbles in the yard, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk and/or riding your bike to the park were pretty much the only things on the agenda.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that deciding what kind of frozen treat to buy at the corner store for an afternoon snack was pretty much the toughest decision you had to make. Am I?

I mean, there were so many to choose from. You could get one of those sickly sweet (but strangely addictive) Otter Pops in the plastic tube that always cut the sides of your mouth. Feel like something a little richer? The sherbet-based Flintstones Push-Up Pop was a good choice. Want to make your mom worry that you would choke to death? The Screwball with the two gumballs at the bottom of the cone was the only way to go, in that case.

Yes, popsicles remind me of simpler times.

So, that’s why I was pretty excited to add the Zoku Quick Pop Maker to my kitchen gadget collection this year. All you need to do is stick the base in your freezer for at least 24 hours and then you will be able to whip up any variety of ice pop that you want in about seven minutes. The possibilities are endless—from single flavor juice pops, to pops with fresh fruit slices, to pops with a cream-based core.

Source

The first time I used the Zoku, I decided to make fudge pops and assumed that you could pretty much use any kind of recipe. So, I found one via Pinterest (of course) that sounded rich and delicious. And, it was. Unfortunately, the mixture was also way too dense and the pops did not freeze all that well. They were nearly impossible to remove from the molds with the handy “Super Tool” that comes with the maker. I probably just should have stuck to either the recipes on the company’s blog or in the recipe book. Oh well. But, you can bet that I’ll be making a trip to the dollar store for regular old ice pop molds so I can make these fudge pops again.

In spite of this mishap, I was not deterred. I made a second attempt using the Zoku recipe for Lemonade Pops and had much better results. The pops came out of the molds very easily this time around. It pays to follow directions, right? The end product is tart and refreshing and vanilla extract balances the acidity of the citrus. The flavors developed even more after the pops spent a few hours in the freezer.

Overall, I am a fan of the Quick Pop Maker. I like the fact that the pops can be made with natural ingredients, fresh fruit, and minimal amounts of sugar (It should be noted, however, that you should not use sugar-free ingredients. A small amount of sugar is needed to help the pops release from the mold). And, the basic pops use many staples you probably already have in your pantry so they are inexpensive to make (the lemonade pops probably came out to around 25 cents each). The maker will produce up to nine pops before it needs to be put back into the freezer and you can buy a nice plastic case separately to store your pops.

Like the bowl of my ice cream maker, the Quick Pop base now has a permanent home in my freezer. You never know when a craving might strike.

Lemonade Pops

“Zoku Quick Pops,” by Jackie Zorovich & Kristina Sacci

Yields 6 pops

What you will need:

1 cup water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup (2 ounces pure orange juice
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Lemon  slices, cut 1/8-inch thick (optional)

What to do:

  1. Stir together the water and sugar until sugar has dissolved.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice, orange juice and vanilla.
  3. To assemble to pops, use the Zoku fruit wand (sold separately from the maker), or tweezers*, apply the lemon slices to the walls of the pop maker molds.
  4. Insert sticks and pour the lemon base until you reach the fill line.
  5. Let freeze completely and remove. 

*Or, just your fingers, like I did. Stuff sticks to the side of that mold on contact, trust me. So, I guess you should be careful if you go this route, or you’ll end up like the kid in A Christmas Story who gets his tongue stuck to the pole.

This Week for Dinner

Happy Saturday, all! It’s pretty dreary here in Philly today, and it’s making me kind of sleepy.

Or, perhaps the sleepiness could be attributed to the fact that it I ate my weight in Crème Brulee French Toast at Green Eggs Café this morning.

Yes, I ate the entire thing. I am not ashamed.

Anyway, if you are planning your menu for the upcoming week, here are a few ideas:

Beef Stroganoff Hamburger Dinner

From: Emeril Lagasse

Since we completely forgot about the ground beef we purchased for last week’s Mexican Frittata, we ended up using it in this recipe. It’s a good one to keep in mind if you are looking for comfort food and/or something kid-friendly. It’s pretty economical too, because it uses affordable ingredients and makes enough that you will have leftovers for other meals.

Fish Filet Veracruz

From: Goya

We make this recipe quite frequently. We usually use cod, which is pretty mild so it really takes on the flavor of the tomato, garlic and white wine broth. The briny flavors of the capers are also a nice touch.

Spaghetti Carbonara

From: Martha Stewart

We continued to get in the mood for our Italy trip with this dish. We used turkey bacon in ours though, so it’s not entirely authentic. I’ll be on my way to having the real thing in just about 11 days!

Beef and Mushroom Sloppy Joes

From: Cooking Light

I was a huge fan of these. They definitely had a richer flavor than the Manwich variety, which we sometimes use as a shortcut for dinner. We also used turkey sausage, which has a lower fat content than beef. This, plus the mushrooms and molasses, absorbed a lot of liquid, so that they weren’t too sloppy.  Fine by me–I don’t like getting my hands dirty.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, friends! Chester and I are headed to the Phillies/Cubs game in a bit. Keep your fingers crossed that my dear husband, who will be all decked out in his Chicago gear, doesn’t get into any fights. I’ll be rooting for the right team, though, so no need to worry about me.

Restaurant Review: Hot Diggity

In my younger days, I spent quite a bit of time on South Street. On Saturdays someone’s parents would drop us off there, and we would go to Tower Records and Imagine. For a few years, Bridget, her mom and I volunteered on Friday nights at a store called Thrift for AIDS. It used to be a pretty cool place. Not so much anymore, as many of the quirky, independent stores have moved out and been replaced by places that buy old gold and sell cheaply made clothing.

I’ve hardly spent anytime on South Street over the last several years, but ended up there twice this past weekend, once on Saturday to go to Supper and then the following day to check out Hot Diggity. After trying Underdogs a couple of weeks ago and the Dapper Dog at the Night Market last year, we wanted to try out one of the other much buzzed about places that has embraced the food trend of the moment—the gourmet hot dog.

Hot Diggity’s menu is smaller than Underdogs—about ten hot dog combinations and fries (with a variety of dipping sauces) and craft sodas. Whereas Underdogs also offers a variety of sausages, Hot Diggity sticks to all-beef hot dogs, although the menu did state that any offerings could be prepared for vegetarian preferences as well.

As usual, Chester tried out the Chicago Dog (called the Windy City here) as well as the Cincinnati Skyline, topped with cheddar cheese and chili. I opted for the Fiesta Dog, with guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. All of the dogs were grilled and piled high with toppings on a hoagie roll. Additionally, we enjoyed a side of thick, Belgian-style fries, which were  served in a paper cone that slid through a hole in the table. Clever.

Clockwise from the top, Fiesta Dog, Windy City and Cincinnati Skyline

The Chicago Dog fell short; it was missing the trademark celery salt and hot peppers, and was topped with red onions instead of white. The chili on the Cincinnati dog was really good—I would have liked just a plain old bowl of it, sans hot dog. The Fiesta Dog was tasty—proving my theory that anything goes with guacamole—but the combination of toppings was really not that unique.

Overall, we didn’t feel that Hot Diggity’s hot dogs were as good as those used at Underdogs—they were thinner, less meaty. Also, instead of being boiled, they were grilled, which resulted in a flavor that overpowered some of the toppings. As was the case with the Underdogs variety, the bread was just a bit too thick and chewy. And, although it doesn’t break the bank, Hot Diggity was also a bit more expensive, with hot dogs running between$5 and $6.

Even though this was a case of the Underdog having its day, I have to say that Hot Diggity is probably one of the nicer additions to South Street in recent years. Perhaps other small, fund businesses like this will make their way back to the area soon!

Welcome Spring.

You know spring has sprung in South Philly when Pop’s is open for business.

Pop’s has been making water ice—or as we say in my neighborhood “wooder ice”—for the past 80 years. This stuff is the real deal. Just sugar, ice and real fruit (if applicable), with none of the artificial flavor and oddly creamy consistency that you find at Rita’s.

I’ve been coming here since I was little. We used to ride our bikes over to Pop’s and eat our water ices in the park across the street. Oh, and we used to dip pretzel rods in them, too. That was pretty tasty. Memories.

Chester and I enjoyed our first water ices of the season today. I always get lemon, which was the original water ice flavor, from what I’m told. Chester couldn’t decide, so he had chocolate AND watermelon.

Happy Spring!

Restaurant Review: Underdogs

One of the nice things about working in higher ed is that you sometimes get random days off. For example, this week was Spring Break at the university I work for, so our office was closed yesterday. So, I decided to wander around the city and practice using the new camera and lens that Chester gave me for Valentine’s Day.

The camera is a Rebel T1-I and it makes me feel like a pretty legit photographer. Other people must think so too, because when I stopped in Barnes and Noble to pick something up in between shots, the sales associate struck up a conversation with me about how great my camera was and then about how sad he was that no one uses film anymore. I only understood every other word of what he was saying, but I smiled and nodded anyway.

Having camera in my hands made me notice things about the places that I pass several times a week that I never stop and appreciate as I zip by them in my car or walk back to and from my office quickly on my lunch break. A few shots are below, and you can see more here.

Rittenhouse Square Park

Outside a shop in Rittenhouse Square. I may get one of these for my house.

Stumbled upon Van Pelt Street, the only place that seems to be in bloom right now.

City Hall actually has some really beautiful architecture. Of course, you have to be able to tolerate the smell of pee to capture it.

The Masonic Temple. One of my favorite buildings in Philly.

Masonic Temple Arches

Of course, I made sure to build in time to stop for lunch. I met up with Chester, who unfortunately had to work, and we headed over to Underdogs, a fairly recent addition to the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, which serves up hot dogs and sausages with a variety of toppings.

We had a pretty hard time deciding what to order, since the menu offers more than a dozen different options. Combinations range from the traditional, such as the Coney Classic with sauerkraut and spicy mustard to the more unique, such as the Marrakesh, which features spicy merguez sausage with harissa mayo and Mediterranean salad.

After much back and forth, I decided on the My Thai. The concept of a Thai style hot dog is bizarre, but somehow the salty hot dog, the spicy peanut sauce and the sweet green papaya slaw all worked well together. Chester always likes to sample a Chicago Dog when he finds it on the menu, so he opted for one of those, plus a Texas Tommy (because you can’t go wrong with a hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with cheese) and the Adonis, which was almost like a gyro. He deemed the Chicago dog to be pretty authentic, right down to the celery salt, the hot peppers and the neon green relish. The Adonis, with lamb sausage with lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki, actually ended up being our favorite. The sausage was juicy and still had a bit of pink in the center.

From left to right, Adonis, Texas Tommy, Chicago Dog and My Thai

Overall, we found all of the ingredients to be of a pretty high quality. The hot dogs are of the all-beef variety and all of the toppings were very fresh. We did think that the rolls weren’t the best choice, as they chewy and a thick. They soaked up a lot of the juiciness of the hotdogs and kind of interfered with the flavors a bit.

The fries at Underdogs were a pretty pleasant surprise. You would think that they put so much emphasis on the hot dogs that the fries would be an afterthought. But, they are fresh cut and crispy. There are a variety of dipping sauces to choose from, including curry mayo, garlic aioli, and horseradish mustard. The first sauce is free, and additional options are just 25 cents each.

Underdogs is a relatively inexpensive lunch option for Center City, with sandwiches ranging from $3.25 to $5 and fries from $2.25 to $2.75 depending on the size. We would definitely go back to try out some more of the menu, but this isn’t the only place specializing in fancy-pants hot dogs right now. We’ve also heard some buzz about Hot Diggity on South Street, so we’ll have to put that on our list next so that we can compare.

Restaurant (Delivery) Review: Circles

After the first week back to work after the holiday (which seemed to go on forever even though it was only four days long), all I wanted to do to kick off the weekend was throw on my comfy clothes, park myself on the couch and watch the first season of Downton Abbey (my new obsession) on Netflix. But, the prospect of ordering yet another pizza or sub-par Chinese food was less than appealing. So, I was thrilled when Chester learned that Circles, a Thai restaurant in the Newbold (i.e. Point Breeze. When we were house hunting a couple of years ago, our real estate agent said she had a few clients “pioneering” in this area. In other words, it’s improving, but still a bit sketch) area, delivers to our neck of the woods.

Although Circles charges a $3 delivery fee, the total bill for both of our meals was just under $40. This is on-par with what we would pay at Lemon Grass, our regular destination for Thai, but the food was far superior. Plus, the 45-minute delivery time that we were quoted on the phone was pretty accurate, so everything arrived as piping hot as if we were sitting at the restaurant.

I got one of my favorite dishes, coconut milk soup, which was full of fresh mushrooms as well as crisp carrots and green beans. There was a substantial amount of lime in the soup, which I didn’t mind since I like the acidity of citrus (random trivia about me: I can eat an entire lemon by itself). Seafood, shrimp, or chicken can be added to the soup, but I stuck with just the veggies since I had chicken in my main course—the pumpkin curry, which also included ample amounts of bell peppers, basil, and Kabocha pumpkin. The latter is a Japanese vegetable that is moister than a standard orange pumpkin and has an interesting flavor that’s a cross between a sweet potato and a butternut squash. It packed a lot of heat—I could feel my lips swelling up as I ate—but I really liked it.

Chester chose the crab rangoon for his appetizer. Instead of being just plain, the cream cheese filling was seasoned with a pretty substantial amount of curry. This did make it a bit difficult to pick out any hints of crab, but it was pretty tasty. A side of sweet plum sauce helped to tone down the heat a little bit. Chester declared that his beef pad thai was one of the best versions he has ever had. I’m not the biggest pad thai fan, but I have to agree that it was pretty outstanding. The beef was very tender and well seasoned. Each bite had just the right amount of peanut flavor, but the dish swimming in sauce like some versions I have sampled.

If you don’t live in South Philly, Circles is opening a second location in Northern Liberties this year, which will hopefully deliver to your neighborhood as well. Now, if more places like Circles would deliver, we might never leave our house on weekend nights again

Restaurant Review: Nam Phuong and a bit of Capogiro

On Saturday, I had to work all day (I’ve become a bit spoiled, actually, as I haven’t had to work on a weekend since before leaving DU.) and when I left, it was dark and chilly, my feet were killing me, and I was tired and hungry. Chester suggested going out for Pho, and I thought it was the best idea ever.

We headed to Nam Phoung (1100 Washington Avenue), which we discovered shortly after moving to South Philly. The restaurant has been around for more than 20 years, and bills itself as “the best Vietnamese restaurant in Philadelphia.” Evidently, more than a few people agree, since it’s always packed when we go.

Some people swear by chicken soup, but I’m convinced that a heaping bowl of Pho from Nam Phoung is the cure for whatever ails you. The broth is rich with beef and ginger flavor, but is not salty at all. I usually order mine with chicken, and Chester prefers the Deluxe version, with steak, flank, brisket, tendon, beef tripe, and beef meatballs. A side dish of Vietnamese basil, lime wedges, bean sprouts, and mint and assorted condiments are placed on each table so that you can season it to your taste and preferred level of spiciness.

In addition to the soup, we really enjoy the spring rolls, with shredded pork, and the summer rolls with shrimp and chicken. The former is served with a rich peanut based dipping sauce that I’m pretty sure would be amazing on just about anything.

Nam Phoung has yet to disappoint, and best of all, it’s pretty inexpensive. Dinner for the two of us (two appetizers and two soups) adds up to less than $20. Service is friendly and efficient and there is also free parking in the adjacent lot.

After this most recent visit, we took the money that we didn’t spend on dinner and headed over to Capogiro (1625 E. Passyunk) for dessert. I suggest you do the same. At some point, I’ll need to devote a whole post to the love I have for Capogiro. Their gelatos are made with fresh ingredients that make them well worth the price tag.

Nutella and Peanut Gelato

I was all better after that.

Restaurant Review: Fuel

After a few days of eating like New Englanders, we were craving something on the lighter side when we got home. We decided to check out Fuel (1917 E. Passyunk Avenue), which serves salads, snacks, soups, sandwiches that contain fewer than 500 calories.

The lounge style furniture, brightly colored walls, and TVs tuned to dance music videos at top volume combine to create an atmosphere that’s a cross between a club and a gym. It seemed a little strange, especially on a slow Monday night (I’ve since learned that Fuel is owned by Rocco Cima, a DJ at Q102, so I guess these things make sense).

With this first impression, I became a little bit skeptical about the place. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. Service was attentive, and everything was made to order, with fresh ingredients.

We debated between guacamole and hummus to start, and finally chose the latter, which was served with soft, grilled pita. It was decent, but had a bit more lemon than I typically like. A bit more garlic could have evened it out.

The sandwich and salad combinations were creative. I considered the skewered Greek salad and spinach and strawberry salad before I noticed the South Philly wrap (note that the bread will up the calorie counts on the sandwiches past 500!), with grilled chicken, provolone, spinach, roasted red peppers, and garlic spread. The wrap had a generous helping of tender chicken and was served with a side of mixed green salad with tangy balsamic dressing.

Chester opted to order the  Roasted Portabello and Eggplant Sandwich as a salad. It was served with roasted peppers, strips of provolone cheese, olive tapenade and chicken. The portion was also generous, but there was a little bit too much dressing. This probably pushes the calorie count up too, so order on the side, and you should be fine.

In between courses, we perused the juice/smoothie menu. Of course, the Protein Buster, with peanut butter, honey, and banana was the first thing I noticed, but many of the fruit based options, including the Fruit Fuzzion (with strawberries, raspberries and banana) sounded appealing, too.

If you are one of those people who don’t believe that healthy food can be delicious too, a trip to Fuel is sure to change your mind. Fuel also has a location in Center City (around 12th and Walnut), and delivers pretty much anywhere. Prices are reasonable too—our meal came out to roughly what we would have spent at a fast food restaurant and the quality was far superior.

We’ll definitely visit again, even when we aren’t in detox mode.

Chinatown Night Market

October is one of my favorite months of the year, but it always seems to be the busiest. I guess that the first hint of fall in the air snaps everyone back to reality after three months of summer mode and we pack as much as we can into its 31 days. Work and the rest of my life are always seem extra busy in October, which is why I started to write this post more than a week ago and am now just getting around to putting it up.

Anyway.

The Food Trust launched its Night Market events last year and they’ve quickly become a Philadelphia tradition. The concept is based on the night markets traditionally held in Asia and brings together entertainment, artisans, and food in a residential area. Many of the well-known, as well as the new players, in Philadelphia’s food truck fleet participate. Despite the fact that there has been one held in South Philly (where I live) and University City (where I used to work), Chester and I didn’t get around to experiencing the festivities until a couple of weeks ago, when the fourth Night Market was held in Chinatown.

When we arrived at around 8 p.m., the market was in full swing, with live music, dancing and throngs of people making their way down 10th Street, which was closed to traffic.

We picked our way through the crowds to make it to our first stop The Dapper Dog. This truck serves all-beef hot dogs with a variety of toppings, from fried egg to mac and cheese to asparagus. At the Night Market, the truck was offering a traditional Chicago Dog and a Cheesesteak Hot Dog. You’ve probably been reading long enough to guess which one of us ordered what.

The truck uses Sarcone’s hoagie rolls as the vehicle for their creations. While Sarcone’s is awesome on its own, I’m just not a fan of overly chewy, thick bread with a hot dog. Give me a traditional potato roll any day. But, The Dapper Dog’s version of the Chicago Dog was spot on—even Chester, who hails from Chicago and has had many a hot dog in his day, was impressed.

Our next stop was Chewy’s a new food truck that specializes in burgers, fries, sandwiches, and salads. The blue cheese slider was well seasoned, but pretty basic. The kimchi slider was unique and much more memorable. The fries were a bit disappointing, as they were limp and soggy (but did bring back memories of food truck dinners in college). I’ve read a few more reviews about  Chewy’s since the Night Market, and the tater tots are getting a lot of buzz, so those might be a better side dish option.

You all know by now that I spend most of the time planning what I’m going to have for dessert. There were quite a few dessert options to choose from at the Night Market, but I had my sights set on sampling the gourmet cupcakes from Sweetbox Truck.

 

Sweetbox was offering several flavors that night (including a Pumpkin Spice, which was really tempting!), but we kept it simple and went with a Vanilla Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache.

Oh my goodness. With the first bite, you can tell that the ingredients that the bakers use are extremely high quality. The cake was moist and delicious, and the icing was not overly sweet. They were on the softer side, which made them a bit tricky to eat, but perhaps that was because it was a bit warm that night. Overall, these cupcakes were heavenly, and I see a quite a few trips to Love Park, where Sweetbox is frequently stationed, in my future.

The crowds had started to thin out a bit, so we went off in search of Guapos Tacos, Jose Garces’ mobile outpost. I love that the truck is covered in bottle caps, by the way.

We shared a chipotle short rib taco, with onions, radish, cilantro, crema and queso fresco. The short ribs were juicy and well seasoned, as though they had been marinating all day. This was one of the highlights for me, and I wish I had saved enough room to try one of the other flavors as well.

Our last stop was Yummy Yummy, for Hong Kong egg waffles. Yummy Yummy had a stand at the Market, but the waffles were only available from the shop on (52 North 10th Street).

These doughy sweet treats are made from eggs, sugar, flour and evaporated milk and produced on a special griddle that gives them their fluffy, egg shape. The outside of the waffle was crispy and golden brown, but yielded to a tender, creamy center. These could be habit forming.

And, with that, we called it a night.

Overall, the Night Market was a fun experience. A few tips, if you plan to go: Pack your patience as the lines are long. We waited about 20 minutes or so at the beginning of the evening although the crowds did thin out as the night went on. The price point at most trucks is about $5 and portions were quite generous. So, pace yourself and don’t expect that you will be able to sample every single thing on offer.

I’ll be keeping an eye out to see where the next installment of the Night Market will turn up. In the meantime, I’ll be stalking some of the other trucks that I missed out on at the event, as were so many things that we just couldn’t get around to sampling.

Restaurant Review: Taqueria Veracruzana

They say that you shouldn’t go food shopping when you are hungry, or you’ll just buy all kinds of junk food. I would also add that you shouldn’t watch the Cooking Channel while you are hungry, or there’s a possibility that you might not be able to stop yourself from eating the entire contents of your refrigerator. Luckily, on Friday, pizza was on its way while we were watching United Tastes of America, or that might have become a very real scenario in our house. Burritos were the topic of the show that night, and they all looked so amazing that we decided that we would have to have them at some point over the weekend (obviously, we’re a marketer’s dream. It’s amazing we don’t have a house full of “As Seen on TV” products).

Taqueria Veracruzana (908 Washington Avenue) in South Philly had been on our list of places to try for awhile, and it seemed like the perfect place to satisfy our television induced burrito cravings. It’s located in the Italian Market, which has undergone something of a transition in recent years, and now includes a variety of Mexican and Asian grocery stores and restaurants in addition to the Italian butchers and kitchenware stores that have been in the Market for decades.

We went with the sole intent of having burritos, but the menu does feature a variety of other Mexican specialties, including breakfast, tacos, moles, and enchiladas. While we waited for our order, we snacked still warm tortilla chips, red chipotle salsa, and salsa verde. Both of the salsas were a bit too spicy for me. Next time I go back, I’ll have to order some guacamole or pico de gallo so I have at least one mild option.

I got a chicken burrito and Chester got steak. Both were stuffed to the point of bursting (and mine actually did. I had to eat most of it with a fork!) with refried beans, rice and avocado. The only thing I found odd was that they used American cheese. I guess it’s got the same sort of mild flavor that queso fresco has, but I didn’t expect it, since everything else seemed pretty authentic.

If you go, don’t get scared by the way it looks outside (a bit sketchy and grimy, especially at night); the interior is brightly decorated, well maintained, and clean. As a note, you can stop by the creepy looking store down the street for alcoholic beverages, since the restaurant is a BYOB—but that place is actually sketchy and grimy, so do so at your own risk. I’ve pretty much decided that this is going to be my go to place for burritos from now on. The quality and freshness of the ingredients, and the reasonable prices, make it a much better option than Qdoba and Chipotle. I hope to go back soon to try some more items on the menu.