Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pecan Pie

I've never before baked a pecan pie, but the recipe (straight from the Betty Crocker cookbook) looked really easy, and I had all the ingredients on hand, so . . .

It smells divine! I'm finally getting used to this electric oven. It browns pie crust better than my previous gas oven did.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review: The Blue Tortilla

Type: Mexican
Location: 18 N. Main St., New Hope, PA, 18938
Phone: 215-862-5859
Liquor License: No
Take-Out: Yes
Price Range: $16 - $20 for entrees, with a $13.95 lunch special for all regular menu entrees ($15.95 for special entrees)

We went into New Hope yesterday to poke around the shops for the afternoon and grab a bite to eat. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, we happened to hit an all-weekend arts & crafts fair, which meant the town was mobbed, with several blocks closed to all but pedestrian traffic, and loads of vendor tents/booths. After poking around the booths, and a few of the shops, we settled on The Blue Tortilla for a late afternoon lunch.

Before writing this review, I decided to check on its reviews at Trip Advisor, and mostly agree with them. Apparently, The Blue Tortilla has been there for years, but I never noticed it, right next to The Landing, the latter of which I've eaten at many times over the years.

We caught the $13.95 lunch special deal for any entree on the menu, that runs from noon to 4pm. At 3:30pm, despite the crafts fair, most of the lunch crowd had disspiated, and we found a seat-yourself table outside for two. The waitress/hostess brought us menus within a few minutes, and a waiter came by a few minutes later to take our order.

I opted for the chile relleno, and my companion opted for the chicken enchiladas with mole sauce. Below are the descriptions of each dish, from their menu.

Chile relleno: Poblano Pepper roasted and stuffed with mozzarella cheese, dipped in egg, lightly fried and baked. Served covered with our Grandmother's Tomato Sauce, re-fried beans, rice and hand-made corn tortillas. Um, no, there were no beans served with this dish, refried or otherwise.

Chicken Mole Enchiladas:
A soft corn tortilla is dipped into our homemade dark red Molé Sauce. We wrap shredded chicken breast in it and top it with cream. Served with re-fried beans and Mexican style rice. Ditto on the beans -- there were none.

While the food was tasty, it seemed expensive for Mexican. For that price, any other Mexican restaurant I've been to would have served two chiles relleno, not one. Both my tomato sauce, and the mole sauce were very good.

Several reviewers at Trip Advisor complained about lousy service, and a few complained about being served the meat version of vegetarian orders, and being forced by the owner to pay for them anyway.

We didn't have any of those problems, but it's a bit of an issue when the dishes you are served are not as advertised on the menu, and are missing a component. Although being served entrees without the beans that the menu clearly states come with them isn't quite the same as being served chicken mole without any mole, or a chile relleno without the chile, it's just plain wrong.

To put this in context, New Hope is a touristy town with cute little shops, antiques, and art galleries, that attracts a lot of day-trippers on weekends. With a location on Main St., right smack in the center of town, The Blue Tortilla can get away with charging high prices, but when it completely omits ingredients listed on the menu for its entrees, and keeps raising its prices as another reviewer noted, it probably can't count on a lot of repeat business from locals such as us.

For my money, I think I'll stick to The Landing, Ninety Main, or the Mansion Inn.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Recipe: Spice Cake with Caramel Frosting

I needed to bake a birthday cake, and settled on spice cake. The cake batter recipe is a bit of a mish-mash of several other spice cake recipes I read that sounded pretty good. I'm sure this would be good with buttercream or cream cheese frosting, but caramel sounded good to me, so I went with that.

Spice Cake

Yield: one 2-layer cake, or one sheet cake
Time: 15 minutes prep; 30-35 minutes at 350F, plus cooling time

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1/2 stick of butter (1/8 lb., or 1/4 cup)
  • 1/4 c. shortening or vegetable oil
  • 2+ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, chopped (optional)
  • frosting
  1. preheat the oven to 350F, grease and flour your cake pan(s)
  2. make sure the butter/shortening is soft, and toss all but the last two ingredients into a big bowl
  3. stir everything together, then start off slowly with a hand mixer, and increase the speed when all danger of flying flour is past, until the batter is smooth
  4. pour it into your cake pan(s)
  5. bake for 30-35 minutes at 350F
  6. cool in the pan(s) on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn out onto the rack to cool completely (or just cool in the pan if you use a 9" x 13" dish, and only frost the top)
  7. frost the cake (I'm awful at this, but whatever)
  8. sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top of the frosting
Notes: Some people mix the walnuts right into the batter, but I used them to partially hide my lack of frosting skills. Also, add a pinch of salt, if you use unsalted butter. I also piped on little peaks of cream cheese frosting around the edge, just for the fun of it.

Caramel Frosting

Yield: approx. 2 cups
Time: about 45 minutes, but most of that is spent waiting for the caramel sauce to cool before beating in the powdered sugar

  • 1 stick of butter (1/4 lb., or 1/2 cup)
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 c. powdered sugar
  1. melt the butter in a large saucepan
  2. stir in the brown sugar, and bring it to a boil on medium heat, stirring constantly
  3. reduce the heat to low, and boil for 2 minutes
  4. stir in the milk, and bring it back to a boil
  5. remove it from the heat, and cool to lukewarm
  6. stir in the powdered sugar, a little at a time, then beat until smooth
Note: If you stop after step 5, you basically have a caramel sauce that you could use on ice cream, or whatever you like.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Eggplant Gratin

We've had quite a crop of eggplant this year, from a mere six plants. Although we have given more than a few away, we mostly are looking for different ways to disguise the fact that the main ingredient is eggplant. Don't get me wrong -- we both like it -- but in and of itself, eggplant has more texture than flavor, and has a way of soaking in the flavor of anything with which you cook it.

I'm getting sick to death of ratatouille and eggplant parmesan, so I decided to do an eggplant gratin today. What's not to like about any veggie hidden within layers of cheese? I adapted this from Ina Garten's recipe on Food network. Ina's recipes are always pretty reliable, and the reviews of this one give it five stars, overall.

Yield: 2 servings
Time: 20 minutes prep/assembly, and 30 minutes to bake at 400F

  • 3/4 pound eggplant, unpeeled, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup good bottled marinara sauce (I didn't use any, so I'd call it optional)
Note: I have plenty of quarts of my own homemade tomato sauce, canned, and I didn't have to open a new one for this. It really doesn't need any, one way or another.

  1. slice your eggplant into 1/2" slices, brush it with olive oil, and roast it at 400 - 425F for approximately 20 minutes, flipping it over once (you can fry it in a pan for a lot less time, but that soaks up way too much oil, even if your pan is almost smoking hot)
  2. Take it out to cool down, either on a cooling rack, or paper towels
  3. mix up the egg, ricotta, milk, salt and pepper (it's okay if it's still a little chunky, but smooth works, too)
  4. layer in the roasted or fried eggplant, with the mixed up wet ingredients, topping it all off with shredded cheese
  5. bake uncovered at 400F for about half an hour, until the top browns nicely
  6. let cool for a few minutes, and serve while still warm
Note: I used 10-oz. ramekins for this. It doesn't really matter what you use, but you may have to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Siam Cuisine

Type: Thai
Location: 4950 York Rd., Buckingham, PA
Phone: 215-794-7209
Fax: 215-796-7216

According to its website, there are several locations of this restaurant. We went to the one in Buckingham. In theory, the Doylestown location might have been closer to home, but parking in downtown can be a real PITA, and the one in Buckingham is in a cute little strip mall with upscale stores that's right near my cats' veterinarian. There are no parking issues in that mall, especially on a Monday night.

We each ordered soup to start, and split a mixed seafood dish. My other half ordered the hot & sour soup for $4; I went with the tom yum gai. The hot & sour soup was allegedly delicious. My soup, on the other hand was not so stupendous. The broth was great -- nice and lemongrassy-spicy the way it's supposed to be -- but the sliced chicken thrown into it was worthy of a rubber chicken circuit hotel lunch. It's as if the chef tossed the chicken into the boiling broth, forgot about it for 10 minutes, and said "eh, serve it anyway."

Granted, it was a Monday night, and we were the only two people in the restaurant for the duration of our meal, so maybe the chef wasn't on his game when we visited. Still, overcooked chicken slices do not belong in a soup, if they are the featured ingredient. Overcooked chicken can be used in a soup, but chop it up into small chunks, and make it into something like a semi-thin pot pie filling, with carrots, peas, and diced potato.

Our mixed seafood dish was also partially overcooked. We ordered "seafood ginger" for $20. The angel hair pasta on which it was served was great. The shrimp were only slightly overcooked, but the scallops were overcooked big time. I don't really like scallops to begin with, but I will eat them them if they are prepared correctly. Little white hockey pucks don't do it for me.

On the upside, the squid and salmon components of the dish were perfectly cooked.

Honestly, I don't know whether to give this place a thumbs up or down.

Maybe I should not order chicken or any form of seafood. What they toss into the sauce is overcooked, but the sauce itself is wonderful.
215-796-7216 fax

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Recipe: Peanut Brittle

This recipe is fairly idiot-proof. I've adapted it from one I found on Food Network, attributed to "Sweet Dreams," which I believe was Gale Gand's cake/pastry/muffin dessert show from several years ago.

I've made English toffee (think the inside of a Heath or Skor bar) many times before, so how difficult could peanut brittle possibly be? It came out perfectly! You don't even really need a candy thermometer, although you might want to use one the first time, so that you can gauge the color of the boiling syrup when it hits the right temperature.

Yield: a little less than an 11" x 17" jellyroll pan
Time: approx. 15 - 20 minutes

  • 1/2 c. water
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1 c. light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 c. roasted peanuts
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  1. mix the first four ingredients and bring them to a boil on medium heat
  2. let the mixture boil, stirring occasionally, until it hits 340F (a rich, semi-dark caramel color in the pot, which looks lighter when it gets poured out); the original recipe said 10 minutes, but it took me closer to 20 minutes on my glass top stove, which regulates the heat level via timed on-off electric, rather than a steady adjustable gas flame
  3. quickly stir in the butter until it melts, then stir in the other ingredients; it'll foam up like crazy, but that's fine
  4. spread it out in a greased jelly roll pan, and smooth it out before it sets
  5. when it cools completely, break it up into pieces, and store it in an airtight jar
Notes: The original recipe used salted peanuts, and unsalted butter, but I had salted butter and unsalted peanuts, so I added just a pinch of salt at the end. I did not add the 2 tsp. of ground cinnamon that the original recipe called for, because I wanted just a classic peanut brittle. As the mixture boils, you may need to stir down a few sugar crystals, if they start to form around the edge of the pot. At the end, you'll have to work fast, stirring in the last few ingredients, and spreading it out to cool, because once off the heat, it'll cool and start to harden pretty quickly. If you want, you can score the brittle with a knife or pizza cutter after you spread it out to cool, which will make it easier to break into neatly shaped pieces, but I sort of like it broken up into odd-shaped pieces of different sizes.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Recipe: Cream Puffs with Mocha Pudding Filling

My mom owned a cookie press thingy for as long as I can remember. Not too long ago, she gave it to me. It came with a bunch of different tips for both cookie shapes and for forming pastry or meringue. Some of the cookie tips can be used for cake decorating with frosting. It's like a pastry bag, really, except that it's an aluminum cannister with a top that screws down to press out the batter or dough.

I've always wanted to try making cream puffs or eclairs, and today wasn't too hot or humid, so I gave it a whirl.

Basic Cream Puff Dough

Yield: about 20 smallish cream puffs
Time: 20 minutes prep; 15 minutes at 450F, and 20 more at 325F

  • 1 c. boiling water
  • 1/4 lb. (1 stick) of butter
  • 1 c. flour
  • 4 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  1. melt the butter into the boiling water
  2. stir in the flour, a little at a time, until it pulls away from the sides of the pot
  3. let it cool
  4. mix in the eggs, one at a time, thoroughly incorporating each, and mix in the pinch of salt
  5. form the cream puffs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat
  6. bake at 450F for 15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 350F and continue to bake another 20 minutes
  7. Let them cool
  8. slice a slit in the side, and fill them

Mocha Pudding Filling

Yield: 8 servings as pudding, or enough to fill the 18-20 cream puffs.
Time: 15 minutes prep; 30-35 minutes at 350F (in a bain marie) or on the stovetop (in a double boiler)

  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 c. strong coffee, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1-1/2 c. flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 4-1/2 Tbs. cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. of vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • a little milk to thin it out at the very end
  1. whisk the egg until light and fluffy
  2. slowly whisk in the sugar
  3. stir in the coffee
  4. stir together the cocoa powder and oil (or melt 1-1/2 squares of baker's chocolate -- 1.5 oz), and stir it into the wet ingredients
  5. sift together the dry ingredients
  6. whisk the dry ingredients to the wet ones, a little at a time, so the flour doesn't clump
  7. stir in the vanilla
  8. pour into a baking/casserole dish and bake in a bain marie at 350F for half an hour; alternatively, let it cook in a double boiler on the stovetop on low for half an hour until it thickens
  9. let it cool
  10. for plain old pudding, stop; for filling the cream puffs, you may need to thin the pudding with a little milk to get the right consistency for piping or spooning into the pastry
  11. optional: dip the tops of the cream puffs in chocolate ganache, or spoon on a little whipped cream
Notes: For a lighter filling, fold some whipped cream into the pudding. My cream puffs came out about 3" across, and not really as puffy high as I expected, but they had a nice hole in the center for the filling. Maybe it was more hot and humid than I thought, although it didn't seem too bad today. Maybe I should have chilled the dough a little before I piped it onto the parchment paper. Still, for a first attempt, I could have done a lot worse. As you can see, I didn't bother with anything on top of them.

Recipe: Butterscotch Topping

This is really easy to make with nothing but butter, corn syrup, sugar, salt, and cream. It's wonderful on ice cream or bananas. Use your imagination for a decadent dessert.

Yield: about a cup
Time: about 10 minutes on medium to medium-low

  • 5/8 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 c. light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 c. cream (or evaporated milk)
  1. Mix together everything but the cream and bring it to a boil
  2. Let it go, stirring occasionally, until it's the consistency of a thick syrup (like room temperature corn syrup or honey), which is about soft ball stage
  3. Let it cool, and stir in the cream
Note: I used evaporated milk, and find that it stirs in most easily if the rest of the ingredients are not completely cool, but still slightly warm. I can't taste the difference from using cream, but my wallet sure knows that evaporated milk is a lot less expensive.

Canned Stewed Tomatoes

The tomatoes are ripening fast and furious now -- faster than we can eat them, so it's canning time! I got nearly two quarts from the red ones that were ripe.

Might have enough yellow ones to separately can a quart of those, but it's probably safer to wait another couple of days for three or four more to ripen. We only have one plant that produces yellow tomatoes, and I really hate canning partial jars. Mostly, we have quart size jars, and not many of the pint and half pint size ones.

It's simple to can your own tomatoes:

  1. sterilize your mason jars
  2. cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato, and blanch them until the skin splits, then submerge them in cold water until they're cool enough to handle (you may have to do this in batches)
  3. peel the skin, and get out as many clumps of seeds as you can without being too obsessive about it
  4. cut or tear up the tomatoes, removing the part around the stem end, and stew them on low for however long you want, but I find 10-15 minutes is sufficient for canning
  5. pour 1 Tbs. of lemon juice into each 1-qt. mason jar, and fill it with the stewed tomatoes
  6. place an unused lid on top of each jar, and loosely screw down the ring top
  7. boil, submerged, for about 10 minutes, and remove to cool
  8. when the lids make a pop, screw the ring tops down tightly
Note: you'll see seeds in the jars pictured, but I really did get out the vast majority of them. Some people leave them in, but I think it just makes the whole thing more watery than necessary, and I really don't like getting a bunch of seeds stuck in my teeth, if I later use them, and leave them chunky in a sauce, rather than use a boat motor on them.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Homemade Pizza

This pizza was surprisingly tasty. I made a batch of basic foccacia dough (recipe here), let it rise, punched it down, divided and shaped it into two disks, and froze one of them. With the other, I mostly rolled it out on a 12" x 11" cookie sheet, and formed the edges by hand.

The tomato sauce was something I made yesterday from fresh tomatoes from our garden (blanched, peeled, deseeded and crushed between my fingers), diced onion, minced garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and basil. That simmered on low for 3+ hours before I took a boat motor to it, and filled a 1 qt. mason jar. No need to go through the whole canning process to vacuum seal it, since I knew we were going to use it over the next few days.

Here's where it gets weird. I didn't have any Italian sausage, and I didn't have any mozzarella. So, I sliced up a pre-cooked bratwurst, and used that with some monterrey jack I shredded on top of it. Somewhere, someone is probably thinking that's sacriligous. Actually it worked out fine.

I prefer my crust thinner, but I didn't have anything wider than my cookie sheet on which to bake it. I suppose I could divide the dough into three portions next time. Nonetheless, the crust came out very much like regular NY-style pizza crust, as opposed to that nasty thick Sicilian style stuff. It didn't droop at the point, when I held a slice up in the air, so I managed to get it crispy enough

Although I didn't time it, I popped it in a 425F oven until I could smell it in the next room. When I checked on it, the cheese was bubbly, and had browned nicely. It probably took around 15 minutes, if I had to guess. Pizza crusts don't normally brown very well in my oven, but I didn't brush the edge with any olive oil, either, so . . .