PHILADELPHIA — Don't look now, but Philadelphia is showing its culinary independence again. Every spring, for the past four years, the mayor's office has organized a no-holds-barred dining event in the foremost restaurants of the city, pairing well-known cookbook authors around the country with top local chefs.
It is a gastronomic collaboration that is known as "Philadelphia's Book and the Cook." And in my opinion, a spree worthy of a cross-country excursion just to sample the provender. For no other city in the world (and that includes Paris) would undertake the task of transporting some 50 geographically diverse cookbook visitors with varying degrees of temperament to work in tandem with an equal number of volatile restaurant chefs--merely to give the public a once-in-a-lifetime meal.
The restaurant that chose to have me design a menu, work with its chef and accept bouquets (if any) after the meal was the White Dog Cafe, a warm and wonderful row-house eaterie on Sansom Street, practically on the doorstep of the University of Pennsylvania.
Judy Wicks, White Dog's owner, knows the secret of running a successful cafe--make the food wonderful and make everyone feel at home. And it works like a charm with the steady collegiate clientele and visiting firemen alike. Kevin von Klause, the restaurant's young chef, is a highly talented ex-Texan, whose only concern during my visit to his kitchen was whether I was truly comfortable with the rendition of my dishes.
Truthfully, I have not worked in a professional kitchen environment for more than a decade and am not burning for a return bout. But this experience with a dedicated cook rates a very deep bow from me. If invited, I would return to the cafe in a flash--and more to the point, I will also eat there any chance I happen to be footloose in that city.
I devised three menus for my debut at the White Dog Cafe, with three desserts of choice. Here is one.
GREENE'S LEMON MOUSSE WITH RED-LETTER PUREE
4 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 package unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Juice of 3 lemons
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
1/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
Toasted slivered almonds
Beat egg yolks with granulated sugar in large bowl until mixture forms ribbon when spooned back on itself. Set aside.
Soften gelatin in cold water in small bowl. Place over hot water and stir until gelatin dissolves. Set aside.
Whisk cornstarch with 1/3 lemon juice in medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in remaining lemon juice, lemon zest and gelatin mixture. Whisk into egg yolk mixture and transfer to top of double boiler.
Cook, stirring frequently, over hot water until mixture thickens. Add 2 tablespoons liqueur and cook 1 minute longer. Cool, then refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until very thick, but not set.
Beat cream with remaining 2 tablespoons liqueur and powdered sugar in large bowl until thick. Fold custard mixture into whipped cream.
Beat egg whites until stiff in another large bowl. Fold egg whites into mousse. Transfer to large serving bowl and chill 6 hours or overnight. Decorate edge of bowl with slivered almonds. Serve with Red-Letter Puree. Makes 12 servings.
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled
1 cup fresh or frozen raspberries
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon kirsch
Place berries, sugar, orange juice and liqueur in food processor container or blender. Process until smooth. Press through fine strainer to remove seeds. Serve well chilled. Makes about 2 cups.