Sunday, August 7, 2011

I pity da foo!

Great summer treat! I just made a blackberry fool. Super easy and delish. I made what will be about 2 servings worth, and wasn't really measuring anything. So here's a rough guide:

Using a fine mesh sieve, puree the following:
8 plump blackberries
1/3 of a chipotle pepper (the type in the can with adobo)

To the puree add a squeeze of lime juice and about 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Mix until thoroughly combined.

In a separate bowl combine 1 cup of heavy cream with 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1.5 tablespoons powdered sugar. Beat on high until soft peaks form.

Fold the blackberry mixture into the whipped cream. Scoop into bowls and serve with a handful of fresh blackberries for garnish.

SO light. So refreshing. Dee. Licious.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Restaurant Review - Hotel Hershey

Had fabulous brunch at the gorgeous Hotel Hershey on Sunday. I'll start from the start. The building is incredibly beautiful. And Sunday brunch is held in the circular dining room, which has beautiful frescos painted on the ceiling, and pretty great views of the ponds and fountains behind the hotel. Very elegant.

Which, to maintain that elegant air, you'll be expected to get fancified. Jackets required. No jeans, no flip flops, otherwise you'll get no brunch. Pretty straight forward.

I thought the food was very good. And, actually, one of the most memorable things was the coffee. It was medium bodied and nutty. I'd be willing to say it was better than Dunkin Donuts, and I love their coffee! This brunch had a nice mix of different foods. Lots of seafood, numerous meat dishes. I thought the dessert could have been a little better done. In part because a lot of the desserts were just too big! I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but I ended up with a giant piece of cheesecake. Chocolate peanut butter cheesecake, mind you. Yes, please cry for me now.

This was a very good brunch, and worth the money. It wasn't as amazing as the brunch at Rittenhouse, but that brunch was twice the price. So, if you're in Hershey for a weekend, hit up the Hotel Hershey for a classy time.

Restaurant Review - Eastern Standard

Went to Boston a few weeks ago, and I've been meaning to post about this restaurant since then. So so SO fantastic! Chris picked the restaurant, and it was the perfect low key high brow local. Nice ambiance, crowded as all get up, but a place you could feel comfortable being dressed business casual or classy casual. I wouldn't wear flip flops or anything, but a jacket wasn't required either.

I decided to force a little adventure Chris, so we started with the marrow (tip of my hat to Mr. Peifer here, who a few years ago forced my first marrow adventure upon me). OMG. Amazing. It was served with toasted baguette slices, which there could have been more of, minced garlic, herbs, and rock salt. It was like my tongue had been raptured. Although, to be fair, I wouldn't have described it like that at the time, because I didn't realize the rapture was coming then. I learned that a week later. But it was a really wonderful starter. Marrow is kind of gross to look at, but tastes great. Its buttery and fatty and just a wonderful treat. And you get to scoop it out of the bone with a cool little spoon!

For entrees we split the rib-eye, which was served with a bleu cheese sauce over potatoes and lightly sauteed spinach, and the lobster gnocchi with meyer lemon brown butter sauce. Do I really need to go into the details? Both of these dishes were hands down delicious. I don't usually order rib-eye, but this one was excellent. And the gnocchi! OH the gnocchi! It was soft and squishy, but was apparently pan seared so that at least one side of every perfect little dumpling was crispy. It gave it such a unique twist. Loved it. Lovelovelove.

Dessert was surprisingly unremarkable. We had profiteroles (they are sort of like mini brioche (which are sort of like mini round croissants (which are...just kidding!))) that were toasted, filled with ice cream, and drowning in caramel and chocolate syrup. Good, but seemed pale in comparison to the rest of the fabulous meal.

Must take a moment here to tip my glass to the great bartenders at Eastern Standard. The cocktails were fabulous. Whiskey Smash will surely be a hit. I also had a fruity froufrou girly drink that involved pineapple and ginger. It was great. But very girly. The cocktail list will overwhelm you, so plan to have (at least?) two!

If you happen to be in Boston, go to Eastern Standard. I promise you won't regret it. Thanks taking me, Chris!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Best Pancakes Ever?

I received a recipe via email last Sunday. It was entitled "The Best Pancake Recipe." I thought it sounded promising, and looked easy. I could BAKE the pancake!

Turns out, the thing that came out of my oven was not at all a pancake in the traditional sense. Given the composition (lots of sugar, not much flour, lots of eggs) I should have recognized it for what it would end up being: a custard. Yes, a slightly more meaty custard than something like creme brulee. But certainly a custard. I do think this would have been lovely as a light dessert. It really isn't a breakfast item. So, I'm kind of disappointed.

Pros: This was super easy. And it looks really pretty once its done.
Cons: None, if you wanted a dessert.


1 large or 2 small ripe pears (I used anjou)
1/2 cup sugar (set 1.5 tablespoons aside in a small dish)
1/4 cup flour
3 eggs
2 tsps vanilla
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400. Spray a 9" cake round with vegetable oil.
2. Peel, core, and slice the pear into thin wedges. Layer on the bottom of the pan.
3. In a food processor, combine the large portion of the sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, butter, and the pinch of salt. Process until combined, about 30 seconds.
4. Pour the liquid mix over the pears. Bake in the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is springy.
5. Remove from oven. Turn the broiler on. Combine the remaining sugar and the cinnamon in a small dish, then sprinkle the mixture over the top of the pancake. But in the broiler. Broil in 1 minute increments until the top is a beautiful golden brown color.

Word to the wise: be careful with the broiler. My broiler has two settings, so I put it on low. It was taking forever, and I was getting impatient. So I put it on high AND left it for two minutes without checking. Mistake. Big mistake. Definitely ended up with a little bit too brown top. Oh well.

Another word to the wise: Let this set for a bit before trying to plate it. The custard needs to cool and settle. You can always plate it and reheat it a bit. But if you try to cut it and put it on a plate just a few minutes after it comes out of the oven it will crumble into a pile of mush.

Definitely a dessert. Not a breakfast dish.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Stuffed French Toast!

So, this may sound strange, but I had never made french toast until I tried this recipe. Its not like I haven't done elaborate breakfast dishes before. But, for whatever reason, I've just never been inspired to make french toast. And I don't know why I decided to make french toast on this occassion, either! But I spent a week trying to decide what I wanted to do, and I ended up with a delicious decision. I was going to make french toast stuffed with pecan mascarpone filling. I had some mascarpone that was fast approaching (or passing!) its best by date. And I'm really into pecans right now. Its a phase.

This recipe may sound like it might be kind of complicated and fancy-shmancy-pantsy. But it was much easier than I had expected.

Anyways, here's what you'll need to make this recipe: (Serves 4)
Day old bread. I went with challah, but I think brioche would have been a nice choice as well.
6 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 an orange, juiced
1.5 tsps orange zest
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 container (8oz) mascarpone
1 cup pecans, chopped (plus a handful for garnish, if you decide to go that way)
2 tablespoons butter

Whisk together the eggs, cream, orange juice, zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, sugar, and salt in a bowl. I actually used a pyrex dish for this.

Combine the mascarpone and chopped pecans. Spread the mixture on the pieces of bread. Make a sandwich with two pieces of bread, and then let them sit in the cream mixture for about 1.5 minutes on each side. Heat a nonstick skillet on medium heat, and melt half of the butter. Once the butter is melted, cook two of the sandwiches at a time until golden brown on both sides. This may take about 5 minutes per side. Once the first sandwiches are done, set them on a plate, melt the second half of the butter, and cook the rest of the french toast.

I put homemade whipped cream on my french toast and garnished with some pecans and segements of orange. And, of course, maple syrup. Delicious!

Don't get intimidated. This is actually pretty easy, and as long as you've had a cup of coffee before starting, I'm confident you can make delicious french toast at home.

Herb Roasted Shrimp

This is a great little recipe. Requires almost no effort, very little time, and turns out looking elegant and tasting delicious. My kind of recipe!

What you'll need:
6 tablespoons olive oil
6-10 sprigs thyme
3 large sprigs of rosemary, halved
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1.5 lbs large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar

Preheat your oven to 400. Combine the olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and pepper in a 13x9 pan. Bake the oil in the oven until the herbs are aromatic, which should take about 12 minutes. Remove the oil from the oven, and add the shrimp to the mixture. Toss the shrimps with tongs until they are coated with oil. Bake for another 8 to 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are just a bit pink.

Remove the pan from the oven and immediately mix in the salt and the vinegar. Toss the shrimps again, and then let them stand for about 5 minutes.

And that's it! I served this over some quinoa that I made in a rice cooker. I tossed the quinoa with a little salt and champagne vinegar to give it the same notes, and used some of the excess oil as a sauce. On the side I served sauteed spinach with roasted tomatoes and garlic. Everything was very simple, really tasty, healthy/wholesome, and safe for my guest (she is lactose intolerant and allergic to gluten). As Charlie Sheen would say: Winning.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quick Curry

I'm slowly learning how to use my slow cooker. This recipe was awesome, and I could even do this one during the week because it was so easy to put together, and takes about 7 to 8 hours in the slow cooker. Perfect timing!

What you need:
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger (I cheated and bought a jar)
1/3 cup tomato paste
1 medium onion, chopped (I used red onion, because my friend said they are healthier)
2 lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs
1/2 cup plain whole milk greek yogurt
Salt and Pepper
Scallions, thinly sliced (for garnish)

Whisk together the garlic, curry powder, cumin, ginger, tomato paste and 3/4 cup water in the slow cooker. Stir in the chopped onion. Place the chicken on top of the mixture. Cover the chicken with 1 teaspoon salt and a 1/4 of a teaspoon black pepper.

Cover and cook on the low setting on the slow cooker for 7 to 8 hours. I turned the chicken midway through, but that probably wasn't required. Just before serving, stir in the greek yogurt, and an additional half teaspoon salt.

And that is it. Really. Super easy. Super delicious. Serve over long grain rice and garnish with scallions.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Easy and Elegant Dinner Party Dessert

God I love aliteration, don't you? But enough about my great title. Let's talk about the dessert!

The hands down best dinner party desserts are the ones you can make a day in advance. That way you don't need to use your oven for your dessert while you're also trying to use it to make your dinner. And it won't screw up your timeline, or require any effort while you're having post dinner conversation with your guests.

I've found that, generally, custards and cremes and things of that nature are pretty great dinner party desserts. Not only can they be made in advance, they actually demand that you make them in advance so that they have enough time to set.

The type of dessert I'm talking about here is the kind offered in fancy shmancy restaurants. So you're thinking, "uh oh! must be complicated!" right? Wrong! Panna cotta is surprisingly simple. And, as it turns out, so is pot de creme!

This recipe will help you put together adorable and delicious Bailey's Pot de Creme. Not your normal chocolate pot de creme, which means you won't compete with fancy restaurants where your dinner guests may have experienced pot de creme. Great plan, right? And the active time on this is only about 30 minutes. The dessert must be made with at least 4 hours of fridge time, but can be made with 24 hours of fridge time. So easy. So delicious. Giant win for you!

Ingredients: (This is to serve 8. I cut it in half)
1.5 cups of heavy cream
1/4 cup Bailey's liquer
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
8 egg yolks
Pinch of Salt

1. Mix together the heavy cream and the whole milk in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and let stand.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and salt.

3. Whisk in the warm cream/milk mixture.

4. Mix in the Bailey's.

5. Strain the mixture into a 4 cup measuring cup.

6. Pour into pots de creme or small ramekins.

7. Place ramekins in a deep baking dish. Fill baking dish with hot water, up to a 1/2 inch below the rim of the ramekins. Cover the baking dish with foil. I recommend doing all of this on the stove top over your oven, because moving the baking dish is kind of scary!

8. Place the hot water bath in the oven. Bake at 325 for approximately 25 to 30 minutes, until the center of the pot de creme is just set.

9. Let the dishes cool on a wire rack. Once cool, cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.

And its that easy! How could this dessert not be delicious? It's almost entirely fat, sugar, and alcohol!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner in Harrisburg - A Review

**This is a guest entry, written by Aaron Paul and Kristin Russell-Paul, two of my lovely dinner guests. I didn't change anything, or unduly influence them with bribes!**


Cheddar Cayenne Coins and Pepper Dip
Veggies and Ranch Dip
Arugula, gorgonzola, pears and candied walnut salad
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roast Duck and Confit
Cranberry Stuffing
Brown Butter Cake

For Thanksgiving this year, our lovely friend and host Jessica invited three of us to her new domain in Harrisburg for dinner. She promised a classy dinner with drunken shenanigans to follow, and who could turn down such an invitation? So we all travelled in on Thanksgiving morning, by train or car, in order to see what our always-talented chef was going to serve up.

The two of us arrived to find preparations well under way, and the kitchen smelling delightful. While the dogs played, the people snacked. First up on the menu were hors d’oeuvres of Cheddar-Cayenne Coins and fresh veggies with two delightful dips. The Cheddar-Cayenne Coins were a huge, huge, huge hit. Like Madonna in the 80s. Jess said she had not made up all of them, because she assumed that 10 per person would be plenty. This was an inaccurate assessment, because our merry group devoured them with as much enthusiasm as 12 year old girls at a Jonas brother concert. These were totally perfect, just a hint of Cayenne and a deliciously creamy cheddar flavor overall. They were also quite pretty, and had a good size and consistency for dipping. It was basically love at first bite, and the poor little things stood no chance. The flavors held up well against both the lighter-bodied red that Jess and Dean had already started in on before we arrived, and the heavier Cab Sauv that we moved on to shortly thereafter.

The sit down portion of the meal began with an arugula, gorgonzola pear, candied walnut, and pancetta salad. The ambitious combination of tart and sweet flavors in this dish resulted in a fantastic blend that allowed the dish to be simultaneously light and heavy. The arugula and pear combination gave the meal a green beginning while the gorgonzola and pork piqued one’s appetite for the impressive flavors to follow. What was amazing about the dish was its ability to remain well balanced while exclusively using big-flavored ingredients.

After finishing our salads the ducks were ready and were served alongside roasted Brussels sprouts and a cranberry stuffing. Probably due to the popularization of freeze dried foods in the 1950s and 60s, Brussels sprouts have earned an undeservedly bad reputation. These were fresh and roasted in olive oil and fresh herbs. A simple combination but one that made you feel like you were doing your arteries a favor while still being hearty enough to fend off the coming cold weather. The difference between fresh and frozen brussels is like the difference between Oscar Meyer cold-cut roast beef and a grass-fed, beef tenderloin cut from your local butcher the morning before you grill it. They’re virtually unrecognizable apart from the incredible fact that they’re from the same species.
The stuffing of cranberries and bread crumbs was a playful complement to the roast duck and, when enjoyed in conjunction with the confit, continued the evening’s successful juxtaposition between tart and sweet flavors. For anyone considering substituting duck for turkey on your favorite November holiday keep it mind two things: first, it’s worth it; second, it’s more work and more greasy than the iconic bird. We split two birds between the four of us and, instead of harvesting them for their meat, simply cut them down the middle with a pair of kitchen shears and allocated a half to everyone. While possible to conduct in a civilized manner, it really pays to use your hands so as to get at all of the delicious morsels of meat that these birds have to offer.

For dessert, Jess did her best to send us firmly into a sugar induced coma for the evening in the most delicious of possible ways. She made a brown-butter, pumpkin spice layer cake that also involved candied pecans, crystallized ginger and totally delicious, cream cheese frosting. We had been looking forward to the cake since she first described it and posted a picture on Facebook, and it was more delicious than it looked. Ample slices were served with a drizzle of pumpkin fudge sauce and we might have gotten instant diabetes, but it would have been worth it. The cake itself was nicely spiced and moistened, with a good crumb. There was a really lovely ratio of cake to frosting and toppings. The combination of flavors really worked well together, and made for a holiday appropriate alternative to the standard pumpkin pie. Jess described this as the Thanksgiving cake of Gloriousness, and we’d say that’s a fair assessment. One of us is not usually a fan of cream cheese frostings, but the frosting on this one was very smooth, with a good balance of flavor. The butter and two types of sugar cut the flavor of the cream cheese so that it wasn’t overwhelming or unpleasant, but rather quite yummy.

Overall, this was a delightful dinner, and Jess a very gracious host as always. The menu did an excellent job of putting a slight twist on the Thanksgiving standards, and we are very grateful to have been able to share the evening with our friends.

Bricco - Italian, Harrisburg Style

I hit Bricco for dinner the other night. Apparently they have a partnership with the local culinary school. And, honestly, you could sort of tell. Lots of good ideas that were not executed so well. With almost every dish there were good things, and, unfortunately, there were not so good things. Except the dessert. It was adorable! The restaurant itself was really nice. Great layout, lots of space, nice bar and awesome chef's table. The prices were reasonable, and the portion sizes were very large.

Here's what I had:
Salted roasted beets with goat cheese and pistachios
Pappardelle with duck and pancetta
Risotto with beef short ribs and mushrooms
Adorable mascarpone cheesecake square are my thoughts on the food:
The caponata was very sweet. Not what I was expecting, but good on the crostini it was served with.

The salted roasted beets were a miss. The combination of beets+goat cheese+pistachios just didn't work. The beets were, as beets are prone to be, very sweet. But the goat cheese didn't really do anything to off set that. And the pistachios were added on whole (at the most slightly chopped), which meant that you would occasionally get a pistachio, but it wasn't evenly distributed. So. eh. This dish didn't really work for me.

The pappardelle was rather interesting. I was really excited about this dish, but as it turns out, I just don't think pappardelle was the right pasta for the sauce. The sauce was hearty, and a penne would have probably been a better pair. Pappardelle are wide noodles. The sauce was also a little too salty. I think the chef underestimated the salt factor of the pancetta. But, man, this was close to being a delicious sauce. And they were generous with the duck and pancetta. So, if this dish was made by a culinary school student, then they're getting close!

I'm starting to wonder if I've gotten sensitive to salt. Because I had a soup at another local restaurant a few weeks ago, and sent it back based on the fact that it was way too salty (in fairness my friend sent hers back, too). I just said the last dish was salty, and, finally, I thought that the major failing of this dish was that it was a bit too salty. But, as far as risottos go, this was otherwise very good. The texture was creamy, the dish was hearty, and the short ribs were cooked perfectly. So, aside from the fact that I thought they'd gone just a touch heavy on the salt, this was a good effort.

Finally, just a little note on the dessert. They had two dessert menus. One for full size desserts, and another that featured what I'd describe as tapas-style desserts. And those little desserts were the perfect size and price, not to mention the fact that the one I ordered was delicious!

So, while I wouldn't say this restaurant is the best Italian I've ever had (I'm lookin' at you, Perbacco) I'll certainly go back and try other things.

Short Ribs - Without my Secret Ingredient

So, since I've been making short ribs, I have always had one secret (and secretly awesome!) ingredient: the magic braising liquid. It was a lovely gift from one of my favorite friend-cooks, Lee. He gave me the braising liquid he had perfected over the course of six braises. And, man, you could not go wrong with it!

Well, when I moved to Harrisburg, I sadly had to leave it. That's actually how it came to me. Lee was moving, and it just doesn't travel well. So, now after being in Harrisburg for a few months, I'm taking a stab at my first braise without the magic ingredient.

Here's what I used:
3 boneless short ribs (another thing I've never used before, usually I do bone-in)
1 cup of chopped carrots
1 cup of diced onions
1.5 tsps paprika
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups beef stock (low sodium)
1.5 cups red wine (separated)
1 cup water
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Oil for browning

What to do:
Salt and pepper the short ribs. Heat the oil, and when its hot, brown the short ribs on all sides (about 3 minutes per side) in a heavy bottom pan. I used a cast iron skillet. Set the short ribs on a plate. Pour out some of the oil, add about a tablespoon of fresh oil, and toss in the carrots and onions. Add about 1/2 tsp salt. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are a little soft, scrapping up some of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic, paprika, and thyme. Cook for another minute. Add 1/2 cup of the red wine to the skillet, and make sure all of the bits are scraped off the bottom of the pan. Let the liquid reduce a little, about 2 minutes.

Preheat a slow cooker on the low setting. Once the wine is reduced, put the short ribs on the bottom of the slow cooker. Add the reduction to the slow cooker, then add the beef stock, red wine, and water. Mix thoroughly. Put the lid on the slow cooker, and set the timer for 5 hours. Once every hour, turn the short ribs. At 4 hours in, I taste teseted, and decided to cut all of the large chunks in half. I think this ended up being a good decision.

After 5 hours, I took the meat out. I took 2 cups of the braising liquid, strained out the veggies, and then put the liquid on the stove top. I added some salt, a pat of butter, and then reduced it by about 50%. I served the short ribs (to myself!) with plain couscous, roasted asparagus, and the strained vegetables, all topped with the reduction. Delish!

Even without my secret ingredient, the braise still turned out delicious. Thanks, Lee, for introducing me to short ribs!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Candied Bacon!

I was reading an article about New Year's Eve party hosting, and it suggested putting out candied bacon. Candied bacon?! How had I never thought of this? I love bacon. I love candy. Why hadn't this amazing idea come to me?

Now, sometimes you put together two awesome things and get something awful. Example: riding a scooter = awesome, playing in the rain = awesome, scooting in the rain? Distinctly not awesome. But I was willing to give this candied bacon thing a try.

The recipe the article offered looked like this:

8 strips of bacon
4 tbsp light brown sugar
Pinch of cayenne

I decided to try a few different varieties. I made one strip of bacon following their recipe. Then I did a strip using granulated sugar instead of brown sugar. And a third strip of bacon where I substitute maple syrup for the brown sugar.

The maple syrup was definitely the easiest of the three to prepare for the oven. Granulated sugar came in second, and the brown sugar came in a distant (and kind of annoying) third. I could dredge both sides of the bacon with the syrup and the sugar. Not so much for the brown sugar. With the brown sugar I had to sprinkle the sugar mixture onto the bacon once it was in the pan.

Speaking of the pan, I crumpled some aluminum foil to line the baking sheet, so that the bacon didn't sit in its own fat while baking. Popped into the oven for 15 minutes at 325, and then cranked up the heat to 375 for 5 minutes.

How did the flavors compare? Brown sugar was the clear and easy winner. It had the best "candied" effect, giving the bacon a little extra crunch. It also had much more depth of flavor when compared with the granulated sugar. The maple syrup had good flavor, but I really liked the extra crunch from the brown sugar. Another perk of the brown sugar was that it gave the strip of bacon a more rich color than the granulated sugar.

So, brown sugar is a bit more difficult to work with, but that's definitely the way I'll go when I make this dish to bring to a party!