Category Archives: Food

The Zitner’s are Here, The Zitner’s are Here!

for those of you who do not speak regional philadelphi-eze, that means some of the best candy in the world is now available. Zitner’s

i know, i know, everyone has their regional favorites, but i’m telling you that zitner’s is among the best, and c and i have tasted some mighty fine chocolates from around the world. zitner’s makes chocolate covered eggs that have fillings of cocoanut crème, double cocoanut, peanut butter, butter crème (called butter krak), marshmallow and butter crème and chocolate chip. most of the eggs are covered in a thick coating of rich, dark chocolate, except for the peanut butter egg which is covered with milk chocolate.

google zitner’s and you’ll find a wealth of blog posts, articles, reviews, etc. that name these regional specialties among the very best in the world.

but, there’s a downside. nope, not referring to the calories associated with these treats ‘cuz enjoying them for a few scant months of the year isn’t going to kill you. it’s that they sell out quickly and they’re hard to find. it seems that this year they’ve gotten even harder to find.

i can’t find any truth to this, but it seems as though candy giant russell stover has played some hardball with grocery stores and convenience stores and taken over shelf space, which has pushed zitner’s off the shelves. c and i are pretty skilled at the zitner’s game if only because these eggs have traditionally sold out so quickly that you have to be on your game to find them. but this year even the unusually unusual places to find zitner’s, like the local hardware store, have come up empty.

ah, but the famed local favorite convenience store, wawa, was stocked full of zitner’s and peeps (another local favorite). i snatched up a bunch of cocoanut crème eggs and then came home to find an amazon box with two boxes of zitner’s cocoanut crème eggs inside. honestly, i would rather buy these treats locally, but if the local stores won’t or can’t get them, then amazon it is.

the thing about the philadelphia market is that people here stubbornly cling to their hometown favorites – so much so that some large national/international conglomerates have had a tough time wrangle market share away from the locals. one example of that loyalty is yuengling beer. many are the major beer makers who have tried to oust yuengling from restaurants, bars and stadiums with little success.

like i said, i don’t know if it’s true that russell stover is using a hard-line strategy to drive zitner’s off the shelves, or the fact that they are now being sold on amazon has increased demand. one thing i do know is that philadelphians will not do without zitner’s. and neither should you.

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Filed under addiction, candy, Food, holiday, seasons, spring

Whiners, Bullies and First World Problems

louis ck has some brilliant standup making fun the culture of whining, which seems to be a mainstay of our modern world. at one point he talks about how people constantly whine and complain about their phones and he points out that just a scant few years ago we didn’t have the privilege of walking around with the very same “phones” or mini computers about which we all now complain. scathingly to the point.

i thought about louis ck’s routine as i read marc vetri’s tirade about food journalism.

marc vetri really has a problem with perspective here.

for those of you not familiar with vetri, he’s a 2005 james beard award winner for “best chef mid-atlantic”, named one of food and wine magazine’s “ten best new chefs”, owner of multiple restaurants in the philadelphia area, food blogger and prolific foodie on twitter, instagram and every other social media platform. he’s also very involved in the philadelphia schools and community.
i’ve only been to one of his restaurants and the food was delicious, the service excellent (except for the requisite snooty sommelier) and the bill substantial. c and i have long wanted to go to his flagship restaurant, vetri, but that would involve almost a mortgage payment. i’m not kidding (speaking as someone whose mortgage payment reflects a house purchased in 1989). vetri has a prix fixe tasting menu that costs $155 per person. yep, $155 per person. you can add wine pairings for $90 which will buy you 1.5 glasses of wine or you can purchase a bottle, which could run you about the same or substantially more. so you spend $310 for the food, say another $100 for the wine, $90 or so for tip and another $30 for parking or $60 for uber ride.

clearly, if you’re charging that kind of dough for a meal, the meal had better be every superlative anyone can think of (and maybe even then some). understandably, vetri he wants fine dining to have a different rating scale than other dining and he wants the food writer and reader to be as invested in all of his magnificence as he is.

not surprisingly, food writers piled on in retaliation against vetri and yet another food fight began.

at the end of the day, though, this is whole lot of whining and fighting over a simple necessity (food and nourishment) that has been turned into not just a first world problem, but a first world problem for the fraction of a percent who would be able to luxuriate in vetri’s bastion of fine dining.

while vetri spends his time whining about how food journalism is as stale as day old bread, i wonder how much of the world’s hungry belly would gladly accept that day old bread.

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Filed under Business, Food

Find a Way to Get Your Nom On

it’s not news to say that the british are not known for their cuisine. okay, so that’s changed as london has become more of an international city, but there’s still plenty about british food that begs for help – particularly in the vegetable department.

that said, we had opportunity to sample some pretty delicious meals during our stay in england and scotland and not all of them involved curry.

so you know when you’re going to england that you’re probably going to eat in a pub and the pubs in england center their offerings around five items: fish and chips, sausages and mashed potatoes, a hamburger, a curry offering (usually vegetarian) and a pork or chicken offering. along with your choice you’re going to get chips (french fries) and/or peas and maybe some sautéed mushrooms. you may also get some gravy and if it’s one thing the brits know how to make, it’s gravy.

the other thing the brits are famous for is making just about any or everything into a savory pie. the blackbird pub next door to where we stayed in kensington is very much into making pies, so of course we had to sample one. the pie is a hybrid of an american type pie crust on the bottom and sides, topped with a puff pastry. the dense pie crust is necessary to corral all that gravy, but you’re not likely going to be able to eat it unless you let the grave soak in and soften it. c had a beef pie and i had a chicken pie and they were both freshly made with chunks of meat, vegetables and potatoes in thick, rich gravy. frankly, i was afraid of the beef pie since the brits are so very fond of kidneys and i wasn’t giving them an opportunity to sneak any of that into my food.

besides fish and chips, which are almost always spectacular, one pub we visited served up a mouth-watering sandwich of grilled vegetables and stilton with honey balsamic that i will try to recreate if i can ever get my hands on some good english stilton.

most pubs pride themselves on their homemade sausages and local beers both of which are usually pretty good or very good. we mostly drank fuller’s london pride beer, which would remind most philadelphians of yuengling.

pubs also make wonderful breakfasts and english breakfasts are the kind that will keep you full until dinner. we only had a few of these because… well, just look at the plate and there was far too much walking planned for a day to start it with a breakfast like that.

i mentioned that the english love their peas but a new breed of british chefs is making a version of fresh pea soup with mint that is fragrant, bright and just delightful. the best bowl we had was at harrod’s terrace restaurant.

hamburgers are a big deal in london now and there are a few small chains making “proper burgers”. unfortunately, byron’s, the one place that people were raving about, was experiencing a power outage the night we tried to eat there so we wondered up the street to gourmet burger kitchen. assessment: good old fashioned hamburger. wonderful tasting and properly seasoned/cooked beef, crispy fries, all served up with a cool london pride. There are lots of toppings available, but as i’ve gotten older, less is better when it comes to hamburgers.

the british have always had a love affair with curry, in fact the first time i ever ate curry was in london in 1977, but now you can find all manner of international influences on food in england and scotland. we tried a version of an american steakhouse that was very good, not great, but very good, made better by the fact of sitting on the outside terrace in london’s west end theatre district. we enjoyed afternoon charcuterie in an outdoor café in covent gardens, pretty good brick oven pasta at a hotel restaurant, wild spatchcock chicken with green sauce and a stilton tart with hazelnut and apple salad at harrod’s, and even a lovely roasted chicken from the local grocery store.

much of this was washed down with french or south african wines that were inexpensive but tasted like some of the better california wines we enjoy at home.

some of the most memorable meals we had were in scotland. this is where we enjoyed a small, family owned indian restaurant where we sampled a variety of dishes, each one complex and delicious accompanied by some very good indian beers that are not available in the states.

one huge difference in much of the restaurant eating in england and scotland is that most (if not all) of the food is made fresh. we’re not talking reheated sysco prepackaged here. even a small pub turned out a perfectly executed platter of freshly made scotch egg.

the hotel where we stayed advertised their award winning haggis, and after tasting it, i know why. The ingredients for haggis may sound disgusting, but the final product is a hearty hash with deep, rich flavor that is made even better with the addition of runny eggs.

one of the best meals we had in scotland was at a tiny restaurant called wildest drams on the royal mile in edinburgh. the restaurant is actually down a couple of flights of stairs, through a bar/cellar, then up a couple of flights of stairs to the back of the building. they pride themselves on their fresh, locally sourced game food and they’re excited to share that the chef butchers everything himself. i had fresh caught salmon – scottish salmon is my favorite and c had the fresh killed grouse. the food tasted even better than the pretty picture it looked like.

We had some dud meals, most notably at a restaurant that advertised itself as an “American” restaurant. Think the worst of Applebees and make it even worse. One example: coleslaw with limp cabbage laden with mayonnaise and yellow mustard. Cringe.

What was most delightful about dining in both England and Scotland was that the pace was more leisurely. Maybe that would drive most Americans crazy, but I thoroughly enjoyed taking the time to enjoy a meal.

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Filed under Food, travel

Pesto, pesto, pesto

From an episode of Seinfeld
[Setting: A restaurant]
(Jerry, George, and Elaine are all eating at an Italian restaurant. George hasn’t eaten anything)
ELAINE: Do you want some of mine?
JERRY: Take some of mine.
GEORGE: Why do I get pesto? Why do I think I’ll like it? I keep trying to like it, like I have to like it.
JERRY: Who said you have to like it?
GEORGE: Everybody likes pesto. You walk into a restaurant, that’s all you hear – pesto, pesto, pesto.
JERRY: I don’t like pesto.
GEORGE: Where was pesto 10 years ago?
JERRY: Elaine is having a “houseguest.” She’s picking him up at the airport tonight.
GEORGE: A guy?
ELAINE: (Slightly embarrassed) Yes, a guy.
JERRY: He’s from a.. Yakima, right?
ELAINE: Seattle.
JERRY: Everybody’s moving to Seattle.
GEORGE: It’s the pesto of cities.

i don’t care what anyone says, i love pesto. this year i’ve been experimenting with making lots of different pestos, mainly because i have had bumper crops of herbs in the garden. i made the classic basil pesto but with walnuts because, although they add a wonderful creaminess, the price of pine nuts is ridiculous.

a few years ago i planted one little tarragon plant that has now become the monster that took over my garden. i’ve been cutting, digging and giving it away as well as using it to flavor roasted chicken and in pickling vegetables but the damn thing never seems to get any smaller. finally, i cut about two feet off the top of the plant, which is now about five feet high, and that resulted in about 5 packed cups of tarragon. so, into a pesto it went along with some parsley, basil, parmesan cheese, garlic, walnuts, olive oil and juice from a half of a lemon. when i tasted my creation soon after making it, i was a little worried because the walnut taste was quite pronounced and there seemed to be a distinct flavor of grass. but after letting it sit for about an hour the flavors came together and it was simply delicious.

c and i do not eat a lot of pasta so we are enjoying pesto on grilled chicken or fish, as a spread on bread or as a dip for various vegetables, and as a substitute for mayo on a sandwich. because of that, i use less olive oil than would normally be called for which allows the pesto to emulsify better. if i want to use this same pesto on pasta, i just add more olive oil. i also discovered that mixing one part pesto with one part softened cream cheese makes a wonderfully delicious spread. you can also mix pesto into hummus or soups or any other spread you can imagine.

since we are up on the tail end of the gardening season, i used up all the basil in the garden to make one last basil pesto. this time i used pistachios, which made for a softer flavor and a texture close to a pesto made with pine nuts. and once again, the flavor was much better after sitting for some time.

the classic way of making pesto is with a mortar and pestle, of which i have many being married to a pharmacist and all… but not the right kind for making pesto. like most people, i use the food processor. so one day, i was all geared up to make one pesto and my food processor quit working. out came my trusty blender and i discovered that a blender pesto is much smoother and creamier than food processor pesto, but you have to be careful that you don’t overblend.

i don’t use recipes for pesto, just ratios and if you memorize the ratio, you can be completely creative in making pestos out of anything that sounds appealing.
2 – 3 parts herb to 1/2 part oil, 1/4 part cheese, ¼ part nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, juice of ½ a lemon (if using herbs other than all basil) and salt.
And you can easily make pesto vegan by just leaving out the cheese (although you have to add more salt to compensate)

regardless of which device i use, here’s my process for making pesto:
roughly chop the nuts in the processor first and set aside. chop the garlic by hand. grate the cheese. process the herbs in the processor with the olive oil until halfway to the final texture. add the nuts, garlic and cheese and continue to process. add more oil if necessary to achieve the texture you want. tightly cover the mixture and set aside for an hour.

the combinations are endless.

and after the summer is long gone you can still evoke the memory of lazy summer nights and the perfumed air of a thriving garden.

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Filed under Food, gardening, summer, tips

Stop it! Just stop it!

i’m not a first adopter and i’m not a trend setter. or perhaps i should say that neither of those are a goal of mine but sometimes i accidentally become the first at something.

but these days everything goes viral and every other day there’s another new meme to keep up with and/or add to and it’s even difficult to be on the cutting edge if you’re trying. (well, except maybe if you’re a kardashian…)

here’s the thing about memes: most often lunacy takes over and someone has to declare that it has to stop (not you ann counter).

so now i’m declaring that some things have to stop.

can we just talk about the grilled salad? okay, so maybe this concept would work if we were talking about grilling vegetables that make sense to grill like peppers, onions, eggplant or even corn. i might even be able to get on board with grilled tomatoes (although i’m not sure why a glorious, fresh august tomato needs to be embellished.) i subscribe to a couple of cooking magazines and a couple of other magazines that routinely include recipes and this idea of a grilled salad has been making the rounds.

so let me get this straight: i’m supposed to take a perfectly wonderful item like romaine lettuce — which by the way i eat because it’s crunchy and usually cold– and burn it on the grill. and i’m not even sure why. i have had this burned lettuce and i don’t get the appeal. is it just because it completely flies in the face of logic?

grilling salad either began and an act of clumsiness or a drunken meme and now it’s evolved into a party trick. i guess that we have just plain run out of ideas. that must be it. there are just so many cooking shows and cooking segments and cooking magazines that we have to make up insane things just to fill air time or pages. but when you run out ideas stupidity prevails. like grilling lettuce.

and speaking of grilling, can we just talk about grilling summer fruit and/or perfectly good pound cake? i’m especially baffled by the proliferation of recipes calling for grilled watermelon. i’ve had grilled fruits (peaches, nectarines and pineapple) and they’re good enough, but grilled watermelon is ridiculous. it does not make it taste any better, in fact one thing watermelon is not enhanced by is being eaten at anything other than icy cold temperature. isn’t the reason we eat watermelon to be refreshed on a hot summer day. how is a wilted, burned, limp slab of watermelon refreshing?

btw, if you notice almost all of these grilled fruit recipes call for ice cream or whipped cream to complete the flavor profile, which leads me to believe that the real flavor everyone is raving about is sweet ice cream or liquor flavored whipped cream.

we need to cease with the compulsion to “do” anything more to some of the glorious bounty this time of year than just enjoy it. we also need to stifle the impulse to follow along with every harebrained idea that gets printed in a magazine or posted on-line.

chris rock said it best: “just because you can doesn’t mean it’s to be done.”


Filed under Food, gardening, laughs, seasons, summer, tips

Good Food and the Earth’s Bounty

let’s just get this straight: i am an omnivore. i like meats, cheeses, veggies, fruit, bread and most things alcoholic, not that that constitutes food, but most alcohols are made from grains or fruit so they qualify as some kind of food source. maybe just food for the soul. i say this because c, my sister and i recently enjoyed a meal at a restaurant called Vedge that was one of the best meals we’ve ever eaten on all of our years of eating out. here’s the kicker: it was all completely vegan.

now, c and i are good cooks, i’m a pretty good baker and we have pretty high standards when it comes to food. that’s been amplified because of our recent weight loss because we’re no longer mindlessly eating food. if it’s not very delicious, we’re not eating it.

i can confidently say that every single item i ate at vedge tasted delicious, was beautifully presented and that the entire experience was inspiring.

if you haven’t been to vedge, you must go. <img src=" photo vedgephilly2_zpsfa51388b.jpg” alt=”” /> owners and chefs rich landau and kate jacoby are brilliant ground breakers making amazing cuisine. they’ve earned all kinds of accolades nationwide over the past year, all of it well deserved.

the menu is set up as small plates, so they recommend you order three or four dishes each, and trust me, you will want to order three or four dishes for yourself, or probably everything on the menu.

we started with charred shishito peppers, peel and eat lupini beans and an assortment of green olives to accompany our cocktails. i grew shishito peppers this summer and c and i sautéed them in good olive oil with just a pinch salt and thoroughly enjoyed them. these were as delicious as those. none of us had ever had a lupini bean, but i will hunt them down to eat now. done in a spicy oil, they would remind you of a mild fresh lima.

next, i had a yellow beet, avocado, smoked tofu and capers dish, kind of a savory napoleon of deliciousness, c had the funky kim chee stew, spicy and wonderful and ch had the fancy radish dish for which vedge is famous
which presents five different radishes of varying heat, some cooked, some raw. next course ch and i had carrot swarma style with lentils and harissa,
a beautifully composed dish with a range of savory, sweet and spicy flavors and c had the roasted miatake mushroom, which he reported was quite delicious. both c and i had the fingerling fries, easily one of the best potato dishes i’ve ever eaten. not like any kind of fried potato you have ever eaten.

finally, we all indulged in dessert. personally, i shied away from anything dairy-like since vedge is vegan, thinking that even the best effort would fall flat. both c and ch enjoyed their “ice cream” and “cheesecake” respectively, though noted that it paled in comparison with the real thing. i enjoyed the sticky toffee pudding,
which was one of the best desserts i have ever eaten in my life. vegan cake is so often dense and gummy, but this was like a sponge cake. here’s the recipe and you’ll never guess what substitutes for eggs in this cake.

what they are doing with food reminds me of what alice waters started back in the 1970s with chez panisse, but even more revolutionary because it’s vegan. i feel compelled to say the standard, “you won’t even miss the meat”, but that’s not doing justice to the cuisine at vedge. the fact is, not only will you not care whether there’s meat on your plate, you will be so enamored with the inventive flavors of your food that you’ll be asking, “what’s meat?”

thankfully, landau and jacoby are opening more locations for vedge and have just published a cookbook, so we can attempt to replicate their dishes at home.

as a little point of pride, here’s a blogger who wrote about vedge and about a first visit to philadelphia, giving both rave reviews.

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Filed under Food, gardening, seasons


september’s one of those transitional months. it’s not quite fall by the calendar date but the light has changed, which makes it not feel very much like summer anymore. the once prolific blooms on the annuals have slowed, their deep emerald leaves are fading to yellow green and fraying at the edges. the geraniums are still going strong. i hate to pull them up when they’re still so pretty, but somehow they feel misplaced this time of year. it’s just too early for the chrysanthemums, though the stores are full of them now, they’ll be nowhere to be found when i really need them in november.

we’ve had a number of days previewing fall weather this summer, but the definitive feeling of fall is more about the change in light than the change in temperature.

a funny thing happens this time of year — the summer’s appropriately bright tops and ts suddenly feel garish and out of place. so too with embellished sandals. where the bright sunshine of summer welcomed the strong hues and sun kissed sparkles, the amber light of fall begs for deep, rich jewel tones, muted colors plain leathers. problem is that the more appropriate hues of autumnal clothing are in fabrics much too heavy to wear now. this is another time of year i carry an extra pair of shoes and a light jacket or sweater to work. start the day with a jacket and flats, ditch the jacket and change to sandals in the afternoon.

much as i enjoyed the herbs all summer, it’s now time to abandon the fresh basil plants and turn the leaves into pesto or process them with some oil and freeze them in ice cube trays for use in winter sauces. surprising how much of an addition of this basil will perk up a sauce or soup.

i dried a good deal of my oregano last year, which turned out to be some of the best oregano i’ve ever tasted, but it feels a little too early to pull it up for drying. likewise for my thyme. the sage will be safe and happy until it’s all cut down for the thanksgiving turkeys. my silly tomatoes are still green pellets so i have to decide whether to pick them and wrap them in newspaper and wait for them to ripen, or just enjoy them as fried green tomatoes.
there are still plenty of multi-colored cherry tomatoes in the farmer’s market for confit. i just saw what looked like an amazing recipe for a meatloaf that was roasted surrounded by these little gems. i hope to have time to try that before they’re all gone.

c and i didn’t take a full summer vacation this year but we did get to spend some time on the beach. it’s been years since we hung out on the sand or romped in the ocean waves, maybe because of being overweight and overly self-conscious. it felt so freeing to put on a bathing suit and enjoy the waves, even though i spend a pretty good part of my time getting knocked over.

our back yard is our little oasis that takes us through every single season and we were able to enjoy it quite a bit this summer since the weather was rarely too hot and humid. in fall we’ll enjoy a fire every weekend in our outdoor fireplace and sometimes c even rakes leaves by the light of a coleman lantern. the cacophony of the cicadas and crickets will be replaced by the distant sound of high school band soon, the sound that carries fond memories of our three back in the day.

but for now, while i’m planning for fall, i’m still clinging to the last bit of summer. the light will tell me when it’s time to fully move along.

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Filed under Fall, family, Food, gardening, seasons