Saturday, September 27, 2008

The best dumplings I have ever made!

For Recipes to Rival this month, we were challenged to make dumplings!  I hav done this before, but never with my own dough. These dumplings are the best I have ever made, and the secret really was the hot-water dough we used rather then the usual wonton wrappers I buy in the store. They made the perfect pot-stickers.  The shrimp-turkey filling our host suggested was really flavorful and savory.  I ate these dumplings happily for lunch every day for a week, although they are best right out of the pan!

Check out the post here for the recipe and to see how the other R2R chefs did!

Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers

My first savory challenge from the Daring Bakers!  Our hosts this month Natalie from Gluten a Go Go and Shel from Musings from the Fishbowl set us a challenge to bake vegan and, if we were up to it, gluten free.  We're going with Lavash, a bread or cracker that is middle eastern in origin. 

I was glad to have a break from the sweet challenges, just for the sake of our health, and because I had never made crackers before.  We were also set a task to make a vegan, gluten free dip or spread.

My lavash turned out a bit thick, (since I didn't read the directions carefully enough and see to roll the dough in 2 batches) but still browned nicely and was tasty.  I topped it with seasoned salt from L'Olivier and Co.  My spread was inspired by italian bruschetta- grape tomatoes, garlic, and basil from the garden.  Simple, fresh and delicious.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Garlic Chicken

No self-respecting Italian doesn't cook without garlic.  Personally, I love the stuff.  So this month's Weekend Cookbook Challenge was right up my alley, being garlic-themed and all.  Plus, it's being hosted by Chocolate Moosey, my new blogging mentor through Adopt-A-Blogger (although I had planned to participate before we were matched up).

I turned to my brethren, the Italians, to give me a good garlic recipe.  The Silver Spoon is the Italian equivilant to the Joy of Cooking in America.  Broad, well versed, and consistent.  

This recipe for Garlic Chicken has a strong garlic presence, but the pan roasting brings out the sweet, mellow flavors of cooked garlic, rather then the strong, acrid flavors of fresh.  This was perfect for roasting up a whole chicken and having leftovers for the whole week.  

Pollo All'Aglio
adapted from The Silver Spoon
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 chicken, cut into pieces
1 garlic bulb, separated into unpeeled cloves
5 T dry white wine
salt and pepper

heat butter and oil in a pan.  Add chicken and cook, turning frequently for 15 minutes until golden brown all over.  Add garlic cloves and cook until papery skins have turned golden brown.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Pour in wine, cook until evaporated.  Cover pan and simmer over low heat 30 minutes until chicken is cooked through.  remove lid, increase heat and cook until sauce thickens slightly.  

Serve with garlic cloves on the side, squeezing out roasted garlic as desired. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TWD: Dimply Plum Cake

So due to come unknown cognitive impairment, I am reading this recipe beat butter, add eggs, then sugar.  And I think, "really Dorie?  everyone knows about the creaming of butter and sugar being very important for optimal texture and flavor."  But I look again.  my brain sees butter, eggs, sugar.  Part of me thought of going to the P&Q section and posting about this conundrum, but I wanted to make the cake for breakfast and I was hungry.  So with faith in the great Dorie, I put in the butter, add the eggs, then the sugar.  I look again.  Butter, sugar, then the eggs.  Like every other recipe ever.  I could have, at this point, thrown everything out and started over. But I kinda wanted to see where it would take me.

Well, the cake turned out no worse for wear. Actually, it turned out great.  The plums were a little sour, so maybe mother nature could be a bit more accommodating next time, but the cake was nice and sweet, with the orange zest doing it's job nicely, and just a hint of cardamom in the back.  

Our breakfast was yummy, and even though I bartered some with my neighbor, (thank you very much Darlene) there is plenty for breakfast tomorrow and onwards. 


please see our host, Michelle of Bake-en for the recipe and the TWD blogroll for the rest of the gang's efforts.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Trip to Lithuania

I've joined a new blogging group, My Kitchen, My World.  We "travel" to different countries through their cuisine each week.  For my first week, we're off to the exciting land of Lithuania. Hmm.  This is not a place that exactly tops my must-go list.  A quick google search yields a cuisine full of beets, potatoes, and pickled things.  yummy.  There were some interesting potato "kugels," but they looked like calorie fests. I then came upon this soup, that seemed to have a good amount of vegetables in it and would make use of the leftover bacon in the fridge.  Perfect!  Off to Lithuania!

Grybø sriuba su laðiniukais (grybienë)

200 g (3/4 cup) bacon, finely cut
1 l (4 cups) fresh mushrooms, cut into medium pieces
5 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 onion, finely cut
2 carrots, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves
200 g (3/4 cup) sour cream
5 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
5 peppercorns
3 bay leaves

Fry bacon and onion. Place all ingredients, except sour cream, in a soup pot, cover with water and cook on medium heat until potatoes and carrots are soft, for about 30 minutes. When soup is done, add sour cream and bring to a gentle boil.
Black bread goes well with this soup.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ruth Reichl's Spaghetti Carbonara

I recently picked up a copy of Ruth Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires, her memoir of her early days as a critic at the New York Times.  It's a fun book- it talks about how and why she came up with her legendary disguises and includes some of her best reviews from over the years.  She writes that the book will include recipes instead of photos since the book is about food- my kind of book.  When I saw this recipe of Spaghetti Carbonara, I knew I would need to try it.  I've always been heasitant about the whole egg yolk thing, but with my newfound appriciation for anything with an egg yolk on it, this dish might be perfect!  Plus its got bacon?  Sold!  

Since this recipe is in a book, I'm submitting it to the blogging event Novel Food, just under the wire. 

Ruth describes this as "bacon and eggs, but on pasta instead of toast." It's a good analogy. 

Let's see what wikipedia can tell us about the origins of the dish:

"Like most recipes, the origins of the dish are obscure, and there are many legends about it. As the name is derived from the Italian word for charcoal, some believe that the dish was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers. Others say that it was originally made over charcoal grills. Still others suggest that it is so named because the specks of bacon and pepper in the pasta look like bits of charcoal. . . Its popularity began after the Second World War, when many Italians were eating eggs and bacon supplied by troops from the United States. It also became popular among American troops stationed in Italy; upon their return home, they popularized spaghetti alla carbonara in North America."

Now that we've had our history lesson, the recipe:

- 1 pound spaghetti
- 1/4 to 1/2 pound thickly sliced good quality bacon (I prefer Nueske's)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 large eggs
- Black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. When it is boiling, throwthe spaghetti in. Most dried spaghetti takes 9 to 10 minutes to cook,and you can make the sauce in that time.

Cut the bacon crosswise into pieces about 1/2 inch wide. Put them in a skillet and cook for 2 minutes, until fat begins to render. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook another 5 minutes, until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp. Do not overcook; if they get too crisp they won't meld with the pasta. Meanwhile, break the eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in, and beat them with a fork. Add some grindings of pepper.

Remove the garlic from the bacon pan. If it looks like too much to you, discard some, but you're going to toss the bacon with most of its fat into the pasta. When it is cooked, drain the pasta and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat, toss again, add cheese and serve.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Man with a Tray Cupcakes" or Malibu Pina Colada Cupcakes with Lime Cream Cheese Frosting

I have many criteria for a perfect vacation.  One of them is that for some part of the vacation I get to sit on the beach (or by a pool, if I must) while a man with a tray brings me pina coladas.  If that man were to bring me a cupcake instead of a drink, he would bring me these.

Start with a plain old cupcake. Add pineapple, Malibu, and coconut.  Bake.  Hit it with a syrup made of sugar and Malibu, just for that extra rummy goodness.  Frost with your standard cream cheese frosting zinged up with lime juice and zest.  Top with a lime wedge.  Smile, relax, and swim.  The man will be around with another one soon, and you can charge it to your hotel room. 

I mixed these up for Cupcake Hero, an event I have been meaning to participate in forever.  This month's theme was to combine any two of the past themes.  I chose lime and liquor.  Check out other entries through the end of the month here

I'm gonna go for a twofer and submit these also to Sugar HIgh Friday: Cupcakes.  yeah!

Man With a Tray Cupcakes

Pina Colada Cupcakes
adapted from Crazy About Cupcakes by Krystina Castella
1 sitck unslated butter, melted and cooled
1/3 c pineapple juice
2 T rum
1 t vanilla
3 eggs
1.5 c all purpose flour
1 c granulated sugar
1 t baking powder
.5 t baking soda
.25 t salt
1/3 c crushed pineapple
1/3 c shredded coconut ( I used unsweetened) 

preheat oven to 350.  line cupcake pan. 

beat together melted butter, pineapple juice, rum and vanilla.  add eggs, one at a time, mixing until well blended.

in a separate bowl, blend flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. 

with mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients to wet, gradually.  fold in pineapple and coconut.

fill liners 3/4 of the way.  bake 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

While still warm, top with

Malibu Syrup

1/2 c sugar
1/4 c water
2 T Malibu (or more, to taste
1 t vanilla
1 t butter

bring sugar and water to a boil over med-high heat.  after 2 minutes, add malibu, vanilla and butter.  let cook 3-5 minutes more until syrupy. 

when cool, frost with

Lime-Cream Cheese Frosting
1 stick of butter
8oz cream cheese
1-2 c powdered sugar (to taste)
juice and zest of 1 lime
1 t malibu or vanilla

combine all ingredients except sugar using a hand mixer.  add powdered sugar gradually to each desired sweetness and consistency. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Neil!

Today is my little brother's birthday.  He is 24 and lives in Los Angeles with his dog, Tyson.  Here is a cupcake I made for him.  Neil, one day when you are a rich successful agent, you can remember your poor social worker sister and the cupcake she made you for your birthday even though you were gambling with dad and his money in Las Vegas and were not here to eat it.  Then you can return the favor by buying me something nice, like my own bakery, or at least a nice vacation.  Have fun!

PS I am mailing your present tomorrow.

Winemaking, South Philly Style: Part One

a photo essay on the tradition of making wine with your friends.  in a basement.  in south philadelphia.  surprisingly enough, this wine is good. 

Boxes of Alicante grapes (Dante brand) in the back of the rental truck, waiting to be crushed.

Grapes in the hopper of the crusher/destemmer

The grapes' juice, pulp and seeds in the fermentation vats prior to the addition of yeast. These will need about a week of fermentation prior to pressing.

For white wine, the juice isn't fermented in the presence of the skins - so the skins go right into the press.

Touching all those grapes can make your hands mighty purple. No, I didn't just strangle Grimace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Review: Lunch at Cantina Los Caballitos

Today was my second visit to Cantina Los Caballitos. The Ladies and I went for lunch.  Now there is a ton of hype around this Passyunk Ave eatery and their second location, Cantina Dos Segundos in northern liberties.  I really liked the tacos I had the first time I was there, but today's meal was a disappointment all around, from the food to the service.  

So to start out, the waitress came to take drink orders and tell us the specials while one of us was in the ladies room.  Maybe I am being picky, but I like to be there when drink orders are taken (I was in the ladies room).  Instead of telling us the specials, she told us (well them, she never offered to tell me the specials) to walk inside and look at the bulletin board.  

Ms. C ordered tea, and when it was brought she was brought no real sugar (only artificial sweetener) and no spoon.  We asked for some.  It was brought  . . . eventually.  Throughout the meal our waitress didn't really pay that much attention to us (twice we had to flag her down), although she was kind enough to spill salsa on Ms. A's bag and leg when she cleared our plates.  Awesome.  

Now, on tot he food.  My black bean soup was tasty, but the beans were a little al dente.  I would prefer them to be a bit creamier.  Ms E got the chicken quesadilla which she reported was just okay.  Ms C's fried plantains originally came with cheese and crema all over them (which I don't know why since they were sweet plantains)  She had made it clear she was lactose intolerant, so we sent them back for dairy-free ones.  they were good, but as Ms. C said, "I've had better."  Ms. A and I got the tortilla salad, which was okay, except everything was chopped into such small pieces nothing really stayed on the fork.  I had chicken added to mine but it was a bit over cooked and didn't really add anything to the salad, so I ended up not even eating it.  Oh well. 

Overall, crappy service and "eh" food.  Nothing to rave about.  Perhaps with the new location, they are stretched too thin?  Weekday lunch just not worth it to them?   Royal Tavern, by the same owners, never fails to satisfy. Let's hope it doesn't go the same way as Caballitos. 

Cantina Los Caballitos on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TWD: ceci n'est pas un turd: Chocolate Chunkers

These are the last of the TWD cookies for a while- hallelujah!  I must admit, it's my favorite of the bunch.  Actually, these cookies are fantastic.  They make up in flavor what they lack in appearance.  For real, they are not the most attractive of cookies.  They look like, well, turds.  But they are soooooo yummy.  They should be with 3 types of chocolate!  There is not much dry ingredients in these and a healthy dose of melted chocolate, which makes for a brownie like flavor studded with semisweet and milk chocolate chips, plus chopped toasted pecans and raisins.  YUM. I had to give these away so I wouldn't eat them.  

Monday, September 15, 2008

I've been adopted!!

I'm super lucky, because a veteran blogger has offered to take me under their wing and show me the ropes of the food blogging world.  Carla, of Chocolate Moosey has adopted me under the Adopt-A-Blogger program run by Kristen at Dine and Dish.  

Carla and I both like to bake, from the looks of it, and she is a fellow member or Tuesdays with Dorie.  She is a fellow Pennsylvanian, although she is from the other side of the state.  I am sorry to disappoint her with the fact that I am a fake Pennsylvanian.  I will try to keep the rivalry going as best I can, although I am a true (Northern) California girl at heart. 

Please visit Carla's blog and look for new hotness on I'll Eat You based on all the wisdom she has to share.  

Review: Aqua

Last night we hit up Aqua with some friends who have been raving about its good food at good prices for a couple of years now.  I've yet to find really good Thai in this city and Aqua's so-called Thai Malaysian concept intrigued me.  (I apologize in advance for the photo quality as the lighting was extremely low and reddened by their lampshades, but I think these reviews are always more interesting with photos. )

We started with two appetizers, Roti Canai, an Indian flatbread served with a potato curry sauce, and Rice Net Spring Rolls.  The roti was one of the meal's highlights, light and crispy served with a curry dipping sauce that was mildly spiced with a wonderful coconut backdrop.  Addictive.  The spring rolls were a pretty standard shrimp spring roll, but the wrapping was a mesh type of rice paper that makes for an interesting, crispy crazy interface.  It should be light and airy, but ours were greasy.  

roti canai

Entrees were Beef Rendang, slow cooked, tender, tender beef cubes in an aromatic oniony sauce.  I was surprised by how much they fell apart in your mouth.  Mee Siam is a mildly spicy noodle dish with seafood and tofu.  Good, but nothing special.  Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps were nicely flavored with lemon grass, but was not what we were expecting.  The chicken was minced up and rather juicy, which made it hard to contain in the lettuce.  Think squab in lettuce wraps at a chinese restaurant, only with thai-er seasonings.  The Sizzling Malaysian Tofu was covered in a rather gloppy sauce, but the house made tofu was terrific.  It was crisp on the outside and creamy and molten on the inside.  Rice is ordered separately, and their coconut rice is nicely aromatic with a hint of the creamy nut. 

beef rendang

The atmosphere is nice, modern and clean.  The staff is friendly and accommodating, although they were very busy and it showed.  When our drinks were brought, we were only brought one, because they had "run out of cups" and they had to wash more before the rest of us could be served.  One entree came out a good 5-10 minutes before the others, and rice was brought after the rest of the meal, and only when reminded.

thai chicken lettuce wraps

I would return, maybe on a weeknight, when it isn't so hectic.  I think with careful ordering, you can have a satisfying and relatively affordable meal here; the bill for four people was under 80 dollars.  

Aqua on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Operation Baking Gals!- Round Three!

Operation Baking GALS is at it again and this round, I'm a host!  Here are details about my team and how you can join me.  You can also check out the other teams here, and join one of them if you like.  The important thing is that you join!

Team We'll Eat Everything is baking for Mark, a very special soldier and member of the Army National Guard. Mark is a single father from Philadelphia stationed in Iraq. He recently lost his fiancée and mother to his two daughters, Shanira, 3 and Dayonna, 2. This is Marks's second deployment, having served 3 years in Afghanistan before having children. When not serving our country in the gulf, Mark serves our youth as a teacher in a Philadelphia public high school. Mark's sister is my co-worker, and is taking care of her neices while their father is in Iraq. Shanira and Dayonna are very excited that I will be sending their daddy some cookies, and we have decided that they will help me bake! I'm looking for few people out there to join me and the girls to send some love over to their dad and his friends. Email me at and I'll put you on the team! I'll contact you later in the month with the address for shipping, which should take place from 9/27-10/6. Looking forward to meeting all of you!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Salad Niçoise, Our Way

This is one of my favorite dinners.  I can't remember when P started making it, but I'm glad he did.  The sushi-grade tuna makes it special for a weekday dinner and fancy enough for company.  I love the crunch of the haricot verts and the warmth of the seared tuna and  creamy potatoes with the cool, crisp lettuce and tomatoes.

 Of course, we omit the niçoise stalwarts of olives and hard-boiled eggs, since I don't like them, but feel free to include them if you try this yourself

Our Salad Niçoise

Romaine, leaf or boston lettuce, cleaned
Haricot verts (or regular green beans)
Red Bliss or other small potatoes
Grape tomatoes
Tuna steak

Fancy mustard (coarse, Dijon, whatever)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Apple cider vinegar
Salt, pepper
Herbes de Provence (optional)
Small shallot (optional)

Prep the beans: blanch small batches in rapidly boiling, generously salted water for about a minute, or until you hear beans start to "pop". Immerse immediately in ice water to shock. Once chilled, try thoroughly.

Throw the potatoes (whole) into the still-boiling water. Cook until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from water, let cool and dice.

Wash the grape tomatoes and split each in two.

Make the dressing: combine about a teaspoon of mustard with a 2:1 balsamic-to-apple cider vinegar blend. Add finely minced shallots and a nice pinch of herbes de Provence (if you're using them). Start whisking and drizzle in olive oil until volume is about doubled. Add salt and pepper to taste.

For the tuna, rub each side with a little olive oil and season with coarse salt and coarsely ground pepper. Sear in a blazing hot grill pan for about 2 minutes on each side.

Let the tuna rest for a minute, slice up, and combine all the components however you like.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gastropub Roundup: Standard Tap, St. Stephen's Green, and Royal Tavern

If you ask me, the term "gastropub" is a little unfortunate, because when I hear the prefix "gastro-" the next thing that pops to mind is usually "-intestinal", which unless you're a real fan of nose-to-tail eating, is not that appetizing. Regardless, there's been a trend in our town for some time towards bars that serve food that goes beyond the usual buffalo wings and pre-formed burgers. Here are three bang-bang reviews of a few we've been to recently.

St. Stephen's Green is the newest place in this roundup. Located across the street from my high school in the spot that formerly housed before-its-time Belgian trendsetter Cuvee Notredame (and before that, an Italian place called Mezzaluna, if anyone remembers that), it's an open, airy kind of place with outdoor seating as well. I believe it's on its second head chef since it opened. The menu features some of the usual gastropub standbys, but dishes tend to have a lighter feel than some of its compatriots, to the point where some items on the menu (like the grilled chicken wrap) seem a little out of place. I had the catfish BLT, which contained some nicely crispy cornmeal-breaded catfish among the B, L and T. L's burger was not great, however – the burger itself lacked any kind of crust or char, and it was topped with some portobello mushrooms that had an almost otherworldly spongey texture. If you're in the neighborhood and get lucky by ordering the right thing, it's a good bet, but I wouldn't make a special trip.

St Stephens Green on Urbanspoon

The Royal Tavern on Passyunk Avenue has been around for a while now, and its culinary cred is a definite part of its appeal. Indeed, its owners went on to open the remarkably successful Cantina Los Caballitos (and Dos Segundos) which also stand alone on the strength of their food. The focus here is mostly American, with a bit of a Southern bent (ribs, mac 'n cheese, etc.), though the specials sometimes get pretty adventurous. First off, there's no excuse for not ordering the popcorn, which for $3 comes in a large paper bag smothered with truffle butter and pecorino. On my first visit this year, I was intrigued by the "Louisiana crawfish boil salad", featuring potatoes, corn and artichoke hearts along with the crawfish tails. It proved a little disappointing because it was served with a thick aioli drizzled around the plate rather than a thinner dressing that could have been tossed with the salad to bring the whole thing together. On my next visit, I had a far better salad of roasted cauliflower, chickpeas and red onion that hung together where the crawfish salad fell apart. I also had the delicious (if a bit spicy) mussels with chorizo and poblanos. L had a burger, which was excellent. All in all, the intriguing dining (and drinking) choices make this more worthy of a special visit, though if I had the luxury of living in the neighborhood I would probably end up dropping by often enough.

Royal Tavern on Urbanspoon

Last up, one of the joints that was early on the scene with the sophisticated pub fare, Standard Tap in Northern Liberties. The menu covers all the bases: mussels, steak frites, fried calamari, salads, and the all-important burger. Sitting in the upstairs bar area in the middle of Tropical Storm Hanna, the air and beer were a little warmer than ideal, but we still had a decent meal. A salad with apples, walnuts, and bacon also featured some really good goat cheese. My order of bratwurst with sauerkraut was three shockingly large links of brat atop some nice sauerkraut (watch for peppercorns) with sides of fingerling potatoes and collard greens. L got the hanger steak frites, which was a decent rendition though cooked a little unevenly, my mother went for a burger that had a nice charred flavor, and my father had a duck confit salad. As you'd expect, a nice selection of beers is available. The verdict? A solid bet for well-executed upscale bar food. However, the venerable Tap may have been an innovator when it showed up, but I think the menu may be due for a refresh.

Standard Tap on Urbanspoon

I think we've only hit on about 2% of the upscale-dining bars in Philly - we've yet to try places like the South Philly Tap Room, Memphis Taproom, and Ugly American, but I suppose we're bound to sooner or later. I think we have to appreciate the innovators in this field for raising the bar-food bar (if you'll pardon the pun) for in this city. (Did I mention Monk's, Nodding Head, North 3rd...) But, in this increasingly crowded field, the places that stand out are those that continue to innovate. It's not just getting your microbrew selection and burger and fries right anymore; it's about bringing something new to the table.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

TWD: Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops

Yet another cookie for TWD.  I love cookies as much as the next guy, but I'm itching to make some of the other lovely recipes in her book.  And we will, soon.  But for this week,  Rachel of Confessions of a Tangerine Tart (I like that name) selected these Chocolate Whopper Malted Drops.  This cookie uses malt powder in place of half the dry ingredients, which is very different.  I also had chopped up malt balls and chocolate chunks.  Its cakey and very chocolatey, but I must say, I was underwhelmed.  I don't mind malt, but I don't think that there was enough of the flavor, or maybe it doesn't translate well into cookies.  I did, however use a new ingredient and had a lot of fun chopping my whoppers up!

Check out the rest of the TWD bloggers here

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Lemon Blueberry Tart and American Spoon

more adventures from michigan . . . 

American Spoon uses the produce of northern Michigan to make delicious preserves, jams, salsas, and sauces.  They produce and sell out of their store in downtown Petoskey, and have a gelateria and cafe next door.  When you visit the store, there is a big island in the middle that serves as a "sample bar."  See something on the shelf you want to taste?  Just ask and they'll open it for you.  I picked up a surprisingly good combination of blueberry and lime preserves to take home as well as some lime and lemon curds that are acerbically tangy and sweet.  These curds were fantastic and thick, unlike many store-bought curds I've seen.  Your spoon can stand up in it. That's just the consistency I like.

When we got back to the cottage, we used some of this lemon curd to top a basic cookie crust.  Scattered with the season's peak perfect blueberries, it made a bright summery dessert.  It was simple, but so pretty I had to share. 

It couldn't have been easier.  Make up your favorite crust and blind bake it.  Pour in good quality store-bought curd.  (you can, of course, make your own, but that makes it less easy.) Top with fresh berries.  Raspberries would be awesome, too. 

At the American Spoon gelateria, they have a wide range of flavors, encompassing the old standbys like hazelnut and straciatella, as well as new variations like ginger.  I liked the hazelnut I tried, but the texture was far more like ice cream then true gelato.  I'll take Capogiro any day.  The atmosphere of the cafe is a bit like an olde tyme scoopery. The sandwiches and other lunch fare featured fresh seasonal ingredients in simple, delicious preparations.

American Spoon Store
411 East Lake Street
Petoskey MI

American Spoon Cafe
413 East Lake Street

Review: Positano Coast

A co-worker and I went out this weekend to sample the local artistic talent at First Friday. We needed to fill our bellies, so she suggested Positano Coast, the airy small plate Italian restaurant on 2nd and Walnut. We were on the early side, having just come from the office, so we had our choice of seating. We sat on the very pleasant balcony which filled up fast. They later opened the sliding doors to give the bar area an indoor/outdoor feel, which I thought was lovely. The whole atmosphere was relaxed and transporting without being overly trendy, which I appreciated. The palate is whites and blues with splashes of yellow, which does take me right back to the Amalfi coast.
The evening was very warm, so we ate lightly, which is easy to do with the small plate system. My dining partner had a salad with a curious combination that included shrimp, avocado, and prosciutto, which she really enjoyed. The portion was ample for an appetizer size and the ingredients were excellent. My antipasto platter had excellent fresh mozzerella, roasted peppers, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, olives and two balls of creamy, crispy fried risotto. I also ordered a side of rapini with ricotta "sauce." I have a feeling the rapini was frozen, but it was nicely seasoned with garlic and red pepper, and the sauce was creamy.
I would return to the relaxing atmosphere of Positano Coast to sample more of their menu.

Positano Coast
212 Walnut Street

Positano Coast on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 6, 2008

duxelles hors d'ouvres

This is a simple little hors d'ouvre we whipped up with some left over puff pastry to bring to a friends house.  Mushroom duxelles is easy, tasty, and versatile.  You can put it in a tart, use it as a stuffing with meat, even mix leftovers with pasta or, as we did last week, in our turkey burger. 

We simply cut the puff pastry into rounds, baked them and split them, put in a teaspoon of the duxelles mixture, and voila!

These tasty little bites turned out to be a bit of an unexpected exercise in trompe l'oie- they looked a bit like little burgers!

I'm submitting this to the blogiversary bash over at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy

Mushroom Duxelles

any quantity of mushrooms you like/need

clean mushrooms and blitz in foot processor until they are a paste.  cook in a dry pan until all moisture evaporates.  add shallots salt, pepper, lemon juice, any herbs and spices to your liking.  

Friday, September 5, 2008

Project Manhattan

Here's an entry by P, since it is about a drink I don't like . . . 

Not too long ago on my internet travels, I happened upon this Washington Post article about one of my very favorite adult beverages, the Manhattan. Aside from going over the basics of the cocktail, it included recipes for Manhattans made using Cynar, the bizarre Italian liqueur made partly from artichokes, and the terribly dramatic sounding Black Manhattan made with a similar Italian bitter. I forwarded this to our friend J, whose fondness for this drink probably exceeds mine (at least in his level of dogmatism about its ingredients), and he thought it might be prudent to arrange a tasting. L and I agreed, and thus Project Manhattan, brilliantly named by J, was born. (I figured this could be a good way to finally use up some of the family bottle of Cynar that seems to have been passed down through several generations already.) Through this endeavor, we learned a little about what makes a good cocktail great, and ultimately, a little about ourselves.The plan was to start with the old standby, a standard Manhattan made with Knob Creek bourbon, and work our way up to the more exotic variations. To avoid getting completely sloshed we made half-size versions of each version, so don't think we're total lushes. I contemplated bringing a bottle of Crown Royal along for further research, but I wisely decided against it, as I no doubt would have found myself victim of a thorough berating by J for suggesting we consider an "inferior blended whiskey" for the cocktail. For the record, I unashamedly enjoy Manhattans made with Crown Royal, and if J disagrees he can get his wife to start her own blog and guest-write on it.

Anyway, Manhattan #1: Knob Creek bourbon, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters. My take: a classic combo, and with good reason. The bourbon brings the body and the heat, the vermouth, just the right amount of sweetness, and the bitters temper the sweetness of both. Easy drinking and smooth. This was made with a 3:1 bourbon:vermouth ratio, which is a little sweet for my taste but still perfectly drinkable.

Manhattan #2: Jim Beam Rye, sweet vermouth, Angostura bi
tters. Here's where the whiskey makes a difference. The rye was lacking in the complexity and richness that made the bourbon Manhattan great. I'm sure better results could be achieved with a higher-end rye whiskey, but as a practical matter these are hard to come by when ordering out these days, so bourbon is a safe bet.

Manhattan #3 - the "Perfect" Manhattan: back to the Knob Creek, but this time with half sweet vermouth, half dry vermouth, and Angostura bitters. Wow. What a difference the dry vermouth made. "Perfect" is not the word that came to mind - more like "nasty and Martini-tasting". I like Martinis, but not in my Manhattans, and the dry vermouth just seemed totally out of place after the first two variations.

Manhattan #4: Knob Creek, sweet vermouth, but this time, Regan's Orange Bitters in place of the Angostura. Unfortunately the result, again, was nastiness. The orange bitters were just too sweet and orangey and threw the whole mix off balance. Perhaps if we had used a little less the results would have been more favorable.

And that was it. The night broke up before we made it to the mo
re exotic ones, but a few weeks before the event I did try a Crown Royal/Cynar variation on my own. If you're not used to the taste of Cynar, it may seem a little weird, but I knew what I was in for and I think it worked.

An interesting observation: the male tasters on the panel (J and I) w
ere in agreement that Manhattan #1 with the Knob Creek was superior to #2. Surprisingly, our female tasters (J's wife H and our friend A) preferred the rye Manhattan. Perhaps this is due to chance, or some genetic predispositions toward the fiery richness of bourbon on our part. Not so interesting is that it was pretty much unanimous that #3 and #4 were awful, though that didn't stop us from finishing them.

Did I mention there was food too? J got his hand on some exotic meats from D'Angelo Brothers on Ninth Street - buffalo steaks and an ostrich tenderloin. The buffalo was excellent, and the ostrich was very good too, though some found the bourbony marinade that J prepared for the bird a little overpowering. Great roasted potatoes too.

Overall, it was a fun and educational evening. For J and I at least, we confirmed what we knew all along, but sometimes you need to challenge your assumptions to realize how right you were in the first place. And by not using any of the Cynar, I have preserved my family's legacy for another generation. Cheers everyone!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Peach Amaretto Hand Pies

Peaches have been absolutely lovely around here lately, and I wanted to make something desserty-with them to bring to an evening at J and H's.  When I read first about this Peach Amaretto Jam on The Feast Within, I was reminded of a fantastic gourmet jam I had bought a while back.  I promptly devoured the jar, that's how good it was.  When I the read about Peach-Bourbon hand pies on Smitten Kitchen, I realized that combining the two would be genius, and a perfect party treat. 

I pre-cooked the filling, which I think worked well, but I don't think is a vital step.  You could probably mix the filling ingredients without heating them and it would work as a perfectly good filling.  It may also be less messy,and would allow for more filling in each pie.  For the crust, I used Martha's Pâte Brisée, my favorite pie crust, but might experiment with some others.  

I'm submitting this to I Love to Bake at What's Cooking
4 peaches, blanched to remove skin, and diced
1/4 c sugar
2 tbs amaretto, or to taste
1 tbs cornstarch
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

heat until desired consistency (or not, see note above)
cut pie crust into rounds and place 1 tsp of filling in the center, fold over and crimp edges.  cut a small slit in the top of each hand pie for venting. 
bake 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Operation Baking Gals!

With all the influx of baked goods in the kitchen, I needed something productive to do with them.  When I heard that many food bloggers over at Operation Baking GALS were teaming up to send cookies and deliciousness to soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I decided to join in,  if for no other reason then to find my cookies a good home (that is not in my stomach). 

This week's TWD cookies are all wrapped up, vacuum sealed, and ready to be shipped out to a soldier permanently stationed in Mosul.  I hope they like them!  

Check out the website to join in - no matter where you stand politically, everyone deserves a taste of home!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

TWD: Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters

This week's recipe was chosen by Stefany of Proceed With Caution. These are a nice, substantial cookie with a hint of cinnamon spice.  I used smooth peanut butter because I hate chunky, but in retrospect I think these would be nice with some crunch.  I would also like to up the chocolate quotient here, so I think next time I'll add more chocolate chips!  
Check out the other TWD bloggers here.