THE FOOD LIFE: HOLIDAY CHECKLIST

’Tis the season for sweets! Our list includes the best holiday standbys and a few new treats we don’t want you to miss.

GRUYERE

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PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF LE GRUYERE

Melt this nutty, cave-aged cheese for a crock of Swiss fondue, or keep it simple and serve alongside honeyed walnuts on a holiday cheese board. We recommend the Alpage, a Gruyere made only once a year, from cows milked after grazing on upper-mountain pasture in the summertime. Get it at Di Bruno Bros. and get it quick—most of this cheese will be snatched up by January. (For a local Alpine-style option, try the award-winning St. Malachi from the Farm at Doe Run in Coatesville.) Available at Di Bruno Bros., multiple locations, 215.922.2876, Dibruno.com.

FUNCTION’S CORTADO

The cortado’s name comes from the Spanish verb cortar, “to cut.” It’s a shot of espresso cut with an equal amount of hot milk and just a smidgen of creamy foam on top. At Function Coffee Labs, you can choose from a list of carefully selected roasts to customize your cortado. Let the tasting notes—which call out flavors like apricot cream, blackberry pie and dulce de leche—be your guide. Function Coffee Labs, 1001 S. 10th St., 267.606.6734, functioncoffeelabs.com.

SOOM CHOCOLATE TAHINI

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PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF SOOM FOODS

Our local tahini company’s under-the-radar flavor kicks chocolate peanut butter to the curb. The Zitelman sisters at Soom spin up sesame tahini, powdered cane sugar and cocoa powder to make this spread. Slather it on waffles, spoon it onto a banana and add chocolate-tahini cookies to your holiday baking list this year. Order online or find it at area co-ops and markets—find the full list of locations at soomfoods.com.

BAKED LEMON RICOTTA

Claudio’s imports its light, lemony dolce ricotta from Puglia. It’s more like a dessert than a cheese— buffalo-milk ricotta whipped up with sugar and citrus extract, then baked. Slice it up and serve in thin wedges for a simple holiday dessert. Though it’s near perfection all on its own, why not try it with a drizzle of tart currant syrup or bitter chocolate sauce? Available at Claudio Specialty Foods, 924 S. 9th St., 215.627.1873, claudiofood.com.

B BEET BRANDY

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PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF OARDROOM SPIRITS

Boardroom Spirits uses 16 pounds of beets to distill just one liter of B, the local distiller’s new vegetable brandy. It’s clear and earthy, and at 90 proof, it’ll knock your beet-red socks off. If you’re a die-hard beet lover, sip it straight up; if not, shake it with rosemary simple syrup and add a splash of ginger beer for a holiday cocktail. Pick up a bottle at Boardroom Spirits, 575 W. Third St. in Lansdale, 267.642.9961, Boardroomspirits.com.

CRÈME BRÛLÉE

Armando Tapia moved from New York City, where he worked his way up at Francois Payard Bakery, to open his own French bakery in South Philly. The case is full of tarts and tiramisu, meringues and macarons. We especially love the bakery’s namesake, the classic crème brûlée. Break through the caramelized sugar sheen to get to creamy decadence speckled with vanilla bean. Crème Brûlée, 1800 S. 4th St., 215.334.9000.

ON A MISSION

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PHOTOGRAPH: NEAL SANTOS

Mission Taqueria, new in Center City, combines cocktails, foosball and housemade corn tortillas for a modern take on the Mexican restaurant. Mission’s party atmosphere is likely to put even the Grinchiest grump into a festive spirit. Certainly the margaritas help, but the food delivers just as much flavor as it does fun. This is an entirely different experience than the barebones but soulfully authentic taco joints that dot South Philly, and the city’s food scene is better for having both types of places.

Try the fried-fish tacos, made with meaty mahi-mahi and topped with just the right amount of bright pickled cabbage. Of course, you’d expect terrific seafood options here: Sam Mink, who operates the excellent Oyster House just downstairs, also owns Mission. (For more on Oyster House, see page 48.) The land-based items are just as good. We liked the savory-sweet pork al pastor tacos and the crunchy, light chicharrón (fried pig skin) as well. The churros, served with a dark-chocolate dip, are a valid reason to stay for dessert.

Even if you’re just popping in for a couple of happy-hour rounds, order yourself some chips and a trio of flavorful salsas, including a very unusual one made from coconut and hazelnuts. It’s a definite upgrade over the typical margarita joint. —JM

Mission Taqueria
1516 Sansom St., 2nd Floor
215.383.1200
missiontaqueria.com

GOING DUTCH

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DUTCH TREATS COVER PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF ST. LYNN’S PRESS

Add regional heirloom recipes to your holiday baking lineup with Dutch Treats (St. Lynn’s Press). Food historian William Woys Weaver’s new cookbook will guide you in recreating the traditional pies, cakes, cookies, festive breads and schluppers (bread puddings) of Pennsylvania’s rich food tradition.

Weaver interviewed central Pennsylvania home cooks while studying the Pennsylvania Dutch food culture for his PhD dissertation in food ethnography. “One by one I started getting recipes from these people,” he says. For example, when he tasted a lemon cookie at a roadside stand in Dauphin County, he asked the woman who baked it to write down the recipe on a brown paper bag. After triple-testing the recipe, he added it to the Dutch Treats collection. Weaver says it’s the best lemon cookie he’s ever tasted.

“I’d say about 95 percent of the recipes have never been published before,” he says. “They all came from people directly.” The book includes recipes for Belschnickel Cookies, Railroad Cake, Kissing Buns and Sour Cherry Schlupper, each accompanied by personal stories and folklore.

You can attend Weaver’s workshop on Pennsylvania Dutch cookery at the Philadelphia Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center on November 7 from 6 to 8pm. A copy of the cookbook is included in the class price of $35. —Katherine Rapin

TEA PARTY

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PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF LA COLOMBE

The name La Colombe has been synonymous with great coffee for decades. Now it’s decided to turn its attention to tea. This fall, the company introduced a new tea and tisane menu in its cafes, using top-quality tea leaves and precise preparation techniques to elevate another beverage.

“We wanted to introduce and educate people about the world of tea, beyond what is offered in most [American] cafes,” says tea expert Alexis Siemons, who helped develop La Colombe’s new program along with its supplier, Rishi Tea. The new tea menu includes Hojicha, a charcoal-roasted Japanese green tea that tastes toasty and slightly caramel, as well as loose leaf Pu-erh, a fermented tea specifi c to Yunnan Province in China, with a funky, almost cheese-like fragrance and piney flavor.

“There are nuances within each tea leaf,” says Siemon—flavors that can be drawn out when the tea is steeped in just the right way. Ruby Oolong calls for 195-degree water and a four-minute steep; Yunnan Breakfast Black should get four minutes in 212-degree water. (You’ll get a reminder from the barista when you order a cup.)

La Colombe has also developed two tisanes—a French term for infusions made from herbs, spices and/or dried fruits. Peppermint Cardamom is bright, with warming cloves and basil oil; Golden Turmeric has a licorice sweetness and gingery spice. Both are caffeine-free and settle the stomach, perfect after a rich winter meal. The tea and tisane menu is available at all Philadelphia café locations. —Katherine Rapin

Lacolombe.com

DRUNKEN HISTORY

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PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF HARRY N. ABRAMS

Author and spirits impresario Steven Grasse delves into the history of our hops-fermenting, cider-pressing, cane-distilling and frequently imbibing ancestors in his new book, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History (Harry N. Abrams). He delivers his findings alongside playful illustrations by Michael Alan, plus updated recipes for spruce beer, switchel, fish house punch, and many others.

In its pages, you’ll discover gems like Benjamin Franklin’s “Drinkers’ Dictionary,” which featured more than 200 ways to describe getting drunk. Employ his terms in your everyday conversation: “Wasn’t Johnny’s head full of bees last Friday?” “People sure had their top gallant sails out at that wedding!”

Impress your friends with this fun Philly fact: By 1776, there were more than 100 licensed taverns in downtown Philadelphia—which was only roughly one square mile at the time. It’s evidence that, as a city, we’ve pretty much always loved drinking. Grasse, who’s the booze enthusiast and brand-maker behind Hendricks Gin, Art in the Age Spirits and Jolly Roger Gin, will school you in our country’s alcohol-ridden past. From page one, you’ll likely be tempted to uncork a bottle and toast to our drunken history as you read. —Katherine Rapin

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