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What is your most amazing chicken breast recipe?

urcanahdooit - while I can't recall ever seeing Japanese yams at a Japanese grocer, I've seen them at many other asian grocery stores (Chinese, Vietnamese, etc - this time, I got them from a Korean store). It's the red-purple skinned ones with white-yellow interiors.

This choice was just because I like the very slight sweetness but high starch level of the Japanese yams (and they don't fall apart super easily). If you wanted, I suppose a Yukon gold potato would do, too.

Nov 10, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

What is your most amazing chicken breast recipe?

I did think about adding in a spicy element (of course, my thought was more along the lines of a serano than a jalapeno) but opted to keep it simple to let the ingredients come through, especially since I had been waiting a few weeks to be able to gather these ingredients together - the farmers' market and I were not on the same ingredient schedule. I didn't even used pepper in this dish, and while the lightly floral tang of a white pepper would have been a good addition, I reined myself in (it was hard - pepper is one of my fav. ingredients).

As for the protein, well, as soon as I found the potatoes and ran across fresh lo mein noodles, I knew chicken was going to be on the menu (not a fan of chicken, by the way), but fish was in the original plan since it's a classic vanilla poached protein (if such a dish could be termed classic).

Nov 05, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

What is your most amazing chicken breast recipe?

Fresh local cream so fatty it's practically yellow (that is, cream-coloured)
1 vanilla bean
2 large chicken breasts (or 4 teeny ones) cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium japanese yams, peeled and cut into pieces of the same size as chicken
salt

Simmer the cream and vanilla until your kitchen reminds you of why people used to consider vanilla exotic and exciting. Add salt to taste and simmer for a minute. Add yams and cook until mostly cooked (but not totally). Add chicken. When chicken is done, eat. I chose to serve this with fresh lomein noodles, cooked in the sauce (thus, I used more cream than I would have had I not chosen to add a 2nd starch), since the springy texture provided a good contrast, but I don't see why spaghetti wouldn't work.

Healthy? Nah. You might as well just pack fat onto your body directly. But good? Oh yeah. And the smell? It's like heaven, if heaven smelled like fresh vanilla beans all the time. It's not the most amazing sounding dish, I grant, and it certainly doesn't sound terribly flavourful what with salt being the only seasoning, but hey, it's good and is certainly a different option than the norm. And then you can stick that vanilla bean carcass into some vodka and have some real fun! :)

Nov 04, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Banh Mi Pronunciation

Banh isn't common but is a surnam. Totally different pronounciation, though. :) (Don't know "Hua," though ... Hao, Hoai, etc.)

OP: Try this website. The guy's northern accent isn't phenomenal, but the southern accent is right on.
http://www.lovingpho.com/pho-pronunci...

Oct 28, 2010
Ali in Not About Food

wontons

Hm. Could also be wood ear mushroom/fungus. In fact, I'd say it's more likely since this is also more commonly called black fungus.

Oct 27, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Best Sushi Bar

Nothing against Matt (because Fuji is a fav for many for a good reason), but Umai (really, Umai Umai) and Zento are both spots in the city that could rival. I find that Umai is a little more bold in flavour, and Zento favours a more subtle approach. Umai is a lot less "traditional" and will do some crazy sushi, some of which are really good but I know this can be a turn-off for those who insist on just fish and rice. Zento tends to be more along the lines of what people are thinking when they think sushi. Both do custom rolls (that is, maki or nigiri ... neither serve chirashi if I'm remembering correctly and certainly neither serve oshizushi) if you choose to talk to the chef.

Zento is a little easier to get to since it's Old City, around 2nd and Chestnut (I often pass the teeny little place by but maybe that's just me). Umai is in the Fairmount area, just a bit north of 22nd and Spring Garden. Both have good spicy tuna rolls. :)

Oh and there's Zama. My single experience here has completely soured me to the restaurant, but others rave about the food so one would be remiss to not mention the place. With one exception, I found the food good but not great. And if you care about that sort of thing, the chef is a Japanese expat and have put in stints at both Genji and Pod.

Oct 27, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Falafel Nazi / Christos Falafel

Actually ... you can. But it's not official, and if he's not in the mood to do it ... may the gods have mercy on your soul. Of course, you can't just walk up and order only the falefel. That much is indeed true - he will go into a nonsensical tirade. However, it can be done. Unfortunately, there's no true formula for getting it done (nor is there a formula for what he feels like charging you). Oh the joys of the falafel nazi ...

Oct 26, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner Near Penn (Solo)

Hey now. I happen to like my neighbourhood spots of Rx (45th & Spruce) and Marigold (44th and Larchwood). Not to mention Kaffa Crossing (44th & Chestnut) and Saad's (45th & Walnut), as well as Abyssinia (45th & Locust) and Ethio Cafe (45th, between Locust & Walnut). If you're going west, I'd extend at least to 45th instead of dropping off at 43rd (and really, if the OP is particularly adventurous, there are some really interesting options west of 45th in only somewhat sketchy locales - as in, not really sketchy but sketchy-ish feeling because there's a distinct sense of something different in the air).

On the other hand, for someone entirely new to the city, I'd encourage exploring Center City and those offerings before venturing out to the neighbourhoods.

Oct 26, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Falafel Nazi / Christos Falafel

I find his food exceptionally garlicky, but my tastebuds seem to focus in on that flavour. Now, it's not overwhelming quite yet, but it certainly straddles the line. Maybe just try the falafels. It's the condiments, all of which are super fresh and very exceptional, that really add the garlic.

Honestly, though, chat him up. He's more than little passionate about his food, but he's a nice enough guy who'll probably be willing to help you out if you explain (and especially emphasize that you've been wanting to try his stuff for ages). A little flattery goes a very long way sometimes. (But then, I've also been known to say that Sonny D'Angelo is a really nice guy, too, and people think he's downright surly, so take my word as you will.)

Oct 26, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Falafel Nazi / Christos Falafel

He seems to come and go as he pleases. He disappeared for all of March, so I wouldn't think that this is a permanent disappearance (at least, not quite yet). Maybe he had to go get garlic? He does seem rather insistent on the garlic he uses, and he does use more than his fair share of it. :)

Oct 25, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Sinh to

Well, none of those are Vietnamese, at least. If you're looking for it in a Vietnamese restaurant, look for "mãng cầu xiêm" or just "mãng cầu." You're more likely get the variety with the bumpy skin instead of the prickly but smoother skinned kind.

Sep 22, 2010
Ali in General Topics

Sinh to

Think of "sinh to" more like you think of the word smoothie. The word itself doesn't imply fruit at all ("trai cay" is fruit) and the drink could be made from fruit or pretty much anything you can blend together, though fruit is clearly the running favourite.

I'm extraordinarily fond of durian, personally.

Sep 21, 2010
Ali in General Topics

authentic web sites for asian cooking

That link didn't work for me, but I googled it, and this one did:
http://ravenouscouple.blogspot.com/

I find that many "authentic" websites are in their home language, especially the Asian countries. For example, I use almost exclusively Vietnamese-language websites for Vietnamese food, especially regional cuisine. But hey, that corn pudding recipe from Ravenous Couple blog looks delicious!

Sep 08, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Bastardized Bolognese

First note: it's a total myth that alcohol burns off completely. I know nothing about your guests, but if they're abstaining from liquor, especially for religious reasons, it might be disrespectful to go ahead and use alcohol. Anyway ...

I've made mock Bolognese (and call it meat sauce for fear of incurring the wrath of the food gods) by doing similar to what you describe. Saute onions and carrots until soft, tossing in a crushed clove of garlic or two. Turn down the heat and take out the garlic (okay, that's usually because I like to eat the garlic). Add the beef/pork. A low heat will cook the meat while giving a very smooth texture (and you won't have to do much of the manual breaking apart of the meat!!). Add a bay leaf and tomatoes half way through if using fresh or 3/4 of the way through if using canned tomatoes - the bay leaf goes in in half way regardless. Add a splash of sherry vinegar at the end to brighten flavours if you want, but I would omit the cream.

The real answer to your question, though? Garlic would not overwhelm depending on when it's added and how much.

Sep 07, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Shrimp and Grits

I agree with John E. White wine would be too acidic. You would want something a little more savoury/umami-ish like a stock. (I've been know to boil water with some spices before tossing in grits.)

Ideas for "stepping up" grits (though milk + grits is mighty, mighty yummy) would be to use stock (shrimp stock per John E. is a fantastic solution) or just infuse the milk with something like garlic, rosemary, thyme, etc. and use milk exclusively. Add corn at the end of the recipe to step up the corn taste. Or boil some sausage in a flavoured solution (say, lightly flavoured with cajun seasoning or crab boil) - use the liquid for the grits and then toss the sausage in at the end. I've even done miso grits (really yummy)! A million permutations exists so long as you keep in mind that you don't want anything that will throw off the grits flavour (like the acid in the wine).

If you want to use wine, I suggest using it in lieu of the brandy/bourbon on the shrimp side. That should produce a nice and light sauce for the grits to soak up.

Aug 27, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Shrimp and Grits

I'm not a Southerner. I prefer my grits yellow. :)

Aug 27, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Shrimp and Grits

For whom? I ask only because, well, there are Southerners who might quietly wonder why you're serving them yellow corn grits (otherwise known as polenta) and calling it grits. Otherwise ...

1 part grits of your choosing (white hominy or otherwise) + 2 parts flavourful liquid (chicken stock, veggie broth, etc.) + 1 part dairy (butter, milk, cream, half & half, etc.) + salt & pepper to taste

If you choose, add cheese (I like a sharp cheddar) or whatever. This is a good place to start for making grits.

For the shrimp, toss some shrimp (I prefer them completely peeled) in cajun seasoning and saute over high heat in butter until the shrimp just barely tighten. Take shrimp out. Add bourbon/brandy. Cook until the liquid can no longer hold a flame, being sure there are no brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Toss shrimp back into the "sauce." Place over grits. Eat. Repeat.

I like cheese with the shrimp. Don't tell the Italians! :)

Aug 26, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Bi Chay/Bi Hop: What do you do with it?

"Hop" could be anything, but in your particular case, I'd guess the meaning as boxed, as in prepared and packaged.

I eat mine with rice noodles, pickled veggies, lettuce and ... fish sauce. I'll also do rice + bi chay + fish sauce. Obviously, I'm not vegetarian.

A varation for anything willing to take up the task of making bi chay (I won't. I get it at the temple when they make it.): bean thread noodles should be deep fried and omit the jicama and taro.

Aug 26, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Where Can I Get Crappy Fake Mexican Food?

I'm not entirely certain where the OP is from in the South (and my experiences are Midwest-based anyway), but from my understanding of the OP's request, there's some very specific he (she?) is looking for.

"Crappy fake Mexican" is a little sloppy and gloppy and not "real" Mexican food, closer to Tex Mex but not really that. It's not even necessarily made by non-Mexicans. (Where I'm from, in fact, these places are usually run by Mexicans who speak heavily accented English, and they're total mom-and-pop joints.) What you're getting is what I'd probably term "a Mexican's interpretation of what Americans perceive as Mexican food."

This is further accented by the decor of a restaurant, again a case of being authentic to nowhere. Decorations are Southwest US meets Dia de los Muertos without the death or cactus references. Sprinkle in some raucous mariachi music and weird lighting. (And pink walls - I run into pink walls 1/2 or 1/3 of the time and the same shade of pepto bismol pink.)

It's a taste of home as some of us knows it, even if it's home to no one at all. And sometimes, it's all you want. Forget the taco al pastor. There are times when nothing but refried pinto beans next to gloppy enchiladas will do!

OP - try the Mexican Food Factory across the border in NJ. They also serve crappy Mexican food.

-----
Mexican Food Factory
State Highway 70 Cropwell Rd, Marlton, NJ 08053

Aug 25, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

I've Got It...Now What Do I Do With It?

tarteaucitron - try to find roasted sea salt (usually coming out of China but the Vietnamese markets have ones coming out of Vietnam, where you'll have to watch for additions of MSG [assuming you care about that kind of thing] if you get versions that have black pepper, chilli pepper, or whatnot mixed in). My late grandmother used to make pounds and pounds of this stuff for us, and the texture is how you describe it, extremely fine to the point of being powdery. The flavour is slightly different from the roasting, but if you're after texture, roasted salt is your best bet if you can't find the Japanese air-dried salt.

Aug 24, 2010
Ali in General Topics

Dark Drinking Dens

There's a few places in West Philly that'll fit one or two of the criteria you mentioned, and Local 44 is probably my best rec (and as you already saw, meh food but good beer, though I do recall liking that they had corn dogs ... don't know, haven't looked at the food side of things there since Tampopo opened).

The new Tap ... something. It's over the Capogiro at 40th, in the Radian building. Haven't tried the food, but the beer list is pretty good. Give it a try. Once Penn starts up again, it might be a Tuesday-only type of haunt, but until then, you might have better luck on other days of the week.

Aug 10, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Dark Drinking Dens

While I would never categorize APO as a "dark drinking den" (and thus, not what you're looking for), I would discourage you from categorizing the scene as "very fratboy." This is certainly dependent on the night, but there have definitely been nights where I wanted a really good drink with friends in a not-too-loud scene and APO was the destination of choice. Depends on the night you go, I guess, but my experiences have always been positive, though I'm still miffed that I can't get a tomolive in my martini.

I'll second barryg's Royal Taven & Cantina recs for weeknights. Both great places, though I have found that the bartenders are slightly better at certain drinks than others. Weekends seem to make them miserable and intolerable, though.

I'll also toss in Oyster House as a sort-of fit. The drinks are phenomenal, and the bartending staff is headed by one of the best bartenders in the city. Weekdays (though I've been lucky on Saturdays at times) tend to be more quiet. No booths but it is on the darker side.

Aug 09, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Mom's 70th Birthday Dinner at restaurant w/ friends. Who pays the check?

Ah. Now there's a consideration none of us thought of. For me, being on the younger side of the equation, an informal celebration is definitely something where I expect to pay, but I have often had lectures from my parents (in their 60s) about why I didn't pay when going out with friends. In fact, now that I think about it, I can't recall a single ocassion where I've been out with my parents/their friends where the check was split, and I've picked up the check once or twice myself. I always wrote this up to being Asian ...

OP - this definitely an important consideration. What will your mother think if her friends were to chip in? Would she be embarassed (my mother would be)? Or would she think it was normal (as I'm inclined to)?

Without the consideration of age, I stand by my answer, but since you did mention 70th birthday, smartie was a smartie in mentioning that it might be an important consideration.

Aug 09, 2010
Ali in Not About Food

Mom's 70th Birthday Dinner at restaurant w/ friends. Who pays the check?

I can't imagine age is an issue. I'm in my 20s and would expect to not pay if I were getting an invitation to a birthday dinner. As mentioned, if it's an informal thing (even at a formal restaurant), then I'd expect to say, but getting an invitation? That's a clue to me that I'm not paying (not that I might not contribute money at the end of the evening).

In short, if there's an obvious host, I'd expect to not pay. If there's no obvious host, then anything's fair game, though the norm in my case would be to pay for my meal and kick in a portion for the birthday/anniversary/whatever person(s).

Aug 09, 2010
Ali in Not About Food

30th Anniversary

On the one hand, I really don't think you could go wrong with any of those options. On the other, you have to consider that Le Bec Fin is closing its doors forever within the next year. If that's a consideration for you, LBF is definitely the right choice. If that's not a consideration, I'd put the Fountain a smidge ahead in terms of service & food.

Aug 09, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Philly's Best Dessert?

Agreed. Le Bec Fin's dessert cart is my absolute favourite. I love the selections and the fact that they're familiar desserts (creme brulee, panna cotta, etc) but each with a slight twist and impecable execution.

I'd place Matyson high on the list, too. Very yummy. Slightly more affordable, too.

Aug 09, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Where Can I Get Crappy Fake Mexican Food?

Still around. I was just there this past Saturday! They make good waffle fries, and my margaritas have rarely been premixed (I tend to order mine straight up). Also, the beer list, as mentioned, is respectable, and the tequila selection is surprisingly not crappy.

mzhao - I know exactly the kind of mexican place you're talking about! They're all over the midwest where I'm from, too. Totally crappy mom-and-pop type shops but awesome nonetheless. Unfortunately, I've never seen anything like that around here (but I'm mostly stuck within the regions of wherever SEPTA takes me). El Azteca is probably as close as you're going to get.

Aug 04, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

Distrito or El Vez?

Distrito. In my experience, El Vez only has a few items that are really good (and certainly nothing has ever struck me as memorable), and it may be me but my food is normally over salted there. On the other hand, El Vez's blood orange margaritas are delicious, so I go back despite the salty food.

Aug 04, 2010
Ali in Philadelphia

what about brining duck?

I always brine duck. This is, however, because I tend to like my duck breast a little more cooked than standard, and the brine helps keep the meat moist while I'm trying to render fat. And besides, what can't use an extra boost in flavour?

Aug 03, 2010
Ali in Home Cooking

Darn! I did it again! (Forgot about the chicken in the fridge)

I do this, too. Portion when the meat arrives home and stick everything in the freezer. This is especially handy for a light brine/marinade for bone-in chicken - I usually go very light on the salt if I brine on a Sunday night since I know that the meat could go as long Friday night before roasting. I've only ever had chicken go bad once, but having left the meat in the fridge only overnight (and really, for less than 24 hrs), I tend to blame that one on the organic, local, whatever chicken - never bought chicken from there again!

Aug 02, 2010
Ali in Not About Food