Monday, January 30, 2012

"There is no hospitality like understanding" -Vanna Bonta

We had yet another amazing dinner last night at Monsú.

I am telling you, these people know what's up.

The tiny Sicilian restaurant on the corner of 9th and Christian is the third instillation in Peter McAndrews' (yes, I've spoken highly of him before, and I will continue to for ever and ever and ever) Philadelphia restaurant series.

As with all of his restaurants, the people at Monsú cater amazingly to gluten allergies. Several of the Chef's children have Celiac, and so he, and all of his employees, understand the importance of creating delicious gf dishes. And they know that it all starts with the bread.

Tote, the new gluten free bakery, provides the baguette (which is quite tasty as is- see post below for details) and the phenomenal kitchen staff does the rest. A house-made whipped ricotta with honey and orange, drizzled with olive oil and cracked with tasty grains of sea salt and black pepper arrives at the table in the most unassuming little white dish. It looks so innocent, just sitting there in the middle of the table like "Oh hey guys, what's up? Welcome to Monsú. You should probably dunk a little warm piece of bread in me and see how that tastes." Brilliant. That's how.

The Panelle arrived at the table first, and let me tell you, it is the dish that made me fall in love with eggplant. I never really thought eggplant could be all that sexy, but paired with a crispy chickpea fritter, dolloped with a creamy mozzarella burrata, and drizzled with pesto and it becomes the Kim Kardashian's ass of garden vegetables.

Up next was a giant pan-seared scallop served over sauteed artichokes hit with a splash of a creamy, spicy harissa mayo that cut like butter and melted in your mouth, heat hitting every taste bud. Aaron got a half-order of crab pasta as an appetizer with a rich, smooth, creamy tomato-lemon sauce (and yes, they do have gluten-free pasta) and giant chunks of shave pecorino romano. A green salad- simple, but perfectly seasoned and balanced consists of mixed greens, shaved almonds, golden raisins, and a light and crisp lemon and olive oil dressing.

My entree was a gluten-free pasta tossed with sweet onions, pancetta, and juicy, plump Roma tomatoes, and black pepper, with shaved Parmesan cooked so perfectly that I would have sworn someones Italian grandmother was back in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove.

For dessert, a strawberry and goat cheese panna cotta drizzled with a balsamic sauce so perfectly aged that it had become a syrup, delicately balancing the fluffy pink custard.

But the best part about Monsú is the incredible staff. Like all of McAndrews' restaurants, they are extremely nice and helpful and go above and beyond to make you feel at home. I know this is odd for someone who writes a blog about being gluten-free and proud, but I still get uncomfortable when I have to make a big deal about it at a restaurant. I feel bad because I know I'm that annoying person at the table with the food handicap (thanks, Ben Fileccia). I hate having the spotlight on me- having to explain what it is and ask "Can I have this? How about that?" At both Modo Mio and Monsú, they take care of everything, from the bread service to dessert- you only have to tell them once. I continue to go there because they make me feel, well, normal. And normal is amazing. It is possibly the most wonderful bit of hospitality I have ever experienced.

901 Christian Street
Philadelphia PA 19147


Friday, January 27, 2012

"Acorns were good until bread was found" -Francis Bacon

The simple joy of pulling apart a warm, doughy piece of bread and slathering it with cool, delicious, butter and watching it melt into a warm pool, pouring into the spongy crevasses and settling itself in, ready, waiting to be savored.

I've missed you, old friend.

Tote Bakery
1024 S. 9th Street
Philadelphia PA 19107

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“When we eat together, when we set out to do so deliberately, life is better, no matter what your circumstances.” -Thomas Keller

Dear Thomas Keller, Lena Kwak, and the Entire Developmental Team at Cup4Cup,

I love you.


Seriously, guys. This is big. This is bigger than big. This is huge. This is the Andre the Giant of gluten-free cooking.

Mountain Backdrop &
Wind Fan Not Included

Aaron bought me a bag of Cup4Cup this year for Christmas. As we began exchanging gifts, the curiously bulging, interestingly wrapped shirt box under the tree grabbed my attention almost immediately. I had asked for a sweater, so naturally, I assumed, this must be it. As I picked it up, however, my inner monologue was reeling, Wow, this sweater weighs a lot. This might really be a problem. How am I going to move in this thing? Is this like the sweater version of those sneakers with weights in them? That might not be so bad. I did have all those cookies earlier. But it's really heavy. The Victoria's Secret model in the picture on the website didn't look like she was having any trouble...."OHMYGOD! YOU ACTUALLY BOUGHT ME THIS?"

(Don't worry, I got the sweater too. Unfortunately, 36" legs and D cups are sold separately, so I do not look like the Victoria's Secret model in it. Disappointing for all involved)

Tangential musings aside, I was really excited to get a 3lb bag of flour for Christmas. More excited than most normal people would be at this prospect, I imagine. But I had been wanting to try the flour mix created by the Research & Development Chef at the French Laundry ever since I heard rumors of Thomas Keller branding a gf flour online. The stuff retails at Williams & Sonoma (WAIT WAIT BEFORE YOU STOP READING) and is actually incredibly reasonably priced, considering. $20.00 for a 3lb bag in only about $2 per pound more than the other gluten-free flours I have used in the past.

Apparently, as I learned on the back of the shiny blue bag, Lena Kwak, the chef and founder of C4C, is not gluten-free, and just a naturally awesome and amazing person. So kudos to her on being my new hero.

I was really excited to try my new gift. I am the type of person that wears all of their Christmas gifts by New Year's. I wore the sweater to work on December 26th. Patience is not my strong point. Anyway, I was so excited to try my new flour, that I couldn't even wait for Aaron to make me something delicious. I had to try it immediately.

I had to bake.

I know I've said on multiple occasions that I am not an at-home cook. I do like to bake, although the difference between liking something and excelling at it is one that it not easy to hide. But what the hell, I got 3 lbs of flour, a Betty Crocker cookbook, and lots of kitchen gadgets that Aaron would probably prefer that I not touch. What could possibly go wrong?

I decided to make carrot cupcakes, since they are Aaron's favorites, and I try to pay it forward with the cooking thing sometimes. I got started, and as I poured my dry ingredients into the vortex of sugar and eggs spinning under the electric mixer, I was startled.

"Aaron." I said. "Look at the texture. Doesn't it look weird?"
He peered over his newspaper, skeptical at these last words. I knew he was expecting something disastrously epic, and I could see the disappointment on his face. "No," he said, "It looks normal."

Huh. I thought. Normal is weird. After 9 years of baking with thin, runny batter, the doughy elasticity that pulled away from the edges of the bowl was odd to me. But, I thought hard to remember back, yes....this is what it's supposed to look like.

I've never seen a gluten-free flour behave as normally as this stuff does. It stretches between your fingers with a pliable stretch. It rises in the oven. Hell, it even smells like flour.

And the cupcakes turned out amazingly. I would have never known that they were gluten-free. They were dense and moist and spicy the way carrot cake should be, while still being flaky and delicious.

I've included the recipe that I used below. Just substitute the gluten-free flour cup for cup (OH... I get it now!)

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups shredded carrots (5 medium)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease bottom and sides of one 13x9-inch pan or two 8-inch or 9-inch round pans with shortening; lightly flour. In large bowl, beat granulated sugar, oil and eggs with electric mixer on low speed about 30 seconds or until blended. Add flour, cinnamon, baking soda, 1 teaspoon vanilla and the salt; beat on low speed 1 minute. Stir in carrots and nuts. Pour into pan(s). 

 Bake 13x9-inch pan 40 to 45 minutes, round pans 30 to 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool rectangle in pan on cooling rack. Cool rounds 10 minutes; remove from pans to cooling rack. Cool completely, frost with Betty Crocker Cream Cheese Frosting, smile smugly at Aaron, and enjoy.

Oh, and do the dishes.

Cooking sucks.