Sunday, January 31, 2010

the winter warming roasty tomato soup

In the lull of the close of one the chilly season's worst months, a dear friend and I decided to occupy our time with our first attempt at a slurpable concoction of roasted, juicy tomatoes and fresh basil. Although not fond of many Food Network stars, we took our recipe lead from Mr. Florence, and I can't deny that his devised blend far surpassed what I had expected from the combining tastes.

Although, like any first cooking attempt with any pairing of people, there's always a challenge. And, through barrelling laughs and bits of broken blender sucked into our soup (yes, there was a reason Tyler suggested using an immersion blender, not the norm' in the blending machine world), the overall flavor of our friendly swirl boosted my winter blues with just a few brief swigs.

Roasted Tomato Soup
adapted from Tyler Florence

2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (mix of fresh heirlooms, cherry, vine and plum tomatoes)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
2 small yellow onions, sliced
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart chicken stock
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, optional
3/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes, garlic cloves and onions onto a baking tray. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

Remove roasted tomatoes, garlic and onion from the oven and transfer to a large stock pot. Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, bay leaves, and butter. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.

Wash and dry basil leaves, if using, and add to the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to low heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish in a bowl with a few leaves of basil and enjoy the bite of roasted reds, via your spoonfuls.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

sweet and sugary butterscotch buns

The appeal of a gorgeous and gooey sweet buns need little introduction, but when contemplating preparing a batch yourself, the process seems time-consuming and tedious. However, when Food & Wine Magazine revealed a recipe that cuts prep time in half, and crafts insanely delicious, drool-worthy sticky rolls, I couldn't help but share it with you.

(Note: I adapted some of the instructions and ingredients to save you even more time and money.)

3/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 stick unsalted butter—6 tablespoons softened, 2 tablespoons melted
2 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

In a liquid measuring cup, heat the milk in the microwave until warm, about 1 minute. In the bowl, combine the warm milk and the yeast. Add the granulated sugar and softened butter, and mix for about 1 minute. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the flour and salt and mix at low speed until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and mix the dough for an additional 2 minutes longer. Plop dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325°. Spray a standard 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough out to a 9-by-24-inch rectangle. In a small bowl, mix the light brown sugar with the cinnamon. Brush the 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the dough and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Beginning at a longer end, roll up the dough as tightly as possible and pinch the seam. Cut the log into 2-inch pieces and set them in the muffin cups cut side up. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the buns are golden brown. Remove from pan.

Butterscotch Glaze
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons Scotch whiskey
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon baking powder

In a small saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter, Scotch, heavy cream, water to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt, vanilla and baking powder. Generously drizzle glaze, when slightly cooled, over top each bun. Serve immediately.

Easy Tip: If you store the sticky buns in an airtight container, you'll be able to experience fresh buns for days and days to follow. Pop an individual roll in the microwave for 30 seconds to experience their fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

the pleasing and pristine pub of wegmans

In the 132,000 square feet of the No. 74 store of the $4.8 billion family-run grocery company, Wegmans, lays nestled a full-scale, Irish pub-styled eatery — a first for the Rochester-based company.

The East Coast supermarket chain placed third on Fortune magazine's 13th annual list of "100 Best Places to Work." Sliding up two spots from last year's ranking at No. 5, the Collegeville location roughly employs 550 full- and part-time positions in one of their newer establishments, with a small chunk of those employees maintaining their in-house restaurant for area grocery shoppers.

Pristine and welcoming, the on site tavern lessens the load of supermarket shopping by offering affordable, speedy cuisine that may not necessarily be on the healthier side, as their chain raves elsewhere, but does in fact succeed in conveniently working with the hustle-bustle of our everyday lives.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

boosting on beers at the craft ale house

The attractive, comfortable brewpub, with its fancied and wholesome bar food, sweet-natured staff, and well supplied, unique beer listing, seems at first glance to have been whisked off its foundations in Central Philadelphia and plopped down in Limerick, by mistake.

However, for us locals, the opening of classy beer bar in such close quarters to our residences, can only be seen as luck, and with owners Gary and Melissa Fry celebrating their one-year anniversary of Craft Ale House on December 29, area hopheads could not be more pleased.

The Frys, proudly fond of all things found in a frosty pint, have a love for beer that far surpasses the casually addicted sipping status. The couple met at a beer bash, both representing their then workplaces that boosted on booze — Melissa at Valley Forge Brewing Company and Gary at Sunny Brook of Pottstown — and soon was born the perfect pair of beer connoisseurs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the hidden pleasures of the corner pantry

As a fresh sophomore at Arcadia University years ago (in 2004, to be exact), I was assigned to interview and shadow a business owner going through the motions of what made them a success. Now thinking about it, I immediately chose a small-town, newly-established eatery, in comparison to any other business. Such a decision, may have then been telling of what would become of me and my sole efforts in writing, yet then, I was just ready to immerse myself within the world of one-on-one storytelling.

Either way, my first interview in the world of food was with Kim Nein of the Corner Pantry of Limekiln, Pennsylvania. Spunky and eccentric, Nein is a creative chef and energetic entrepreneur who reflects her rural setting and home styled tastes perfectly in her fancy foods and darling decor.

While managing the breakfast and lunch hot spot for a handful of locals, in addition to an active catering business, Nein swirls her styles through heartily stewed soups, chunks of savory meat loafs, delicious bowls of chicken pot pie and daily changing concoctions of quiche.

Recently, I revisited the Corner Pantry, which is attached to the Limekiln Post Office, and delved deep into a heaping plate of chicken salad atop some gorgeous greens (seen below). The hyped salad, pumped with cranberries and walnuts, was savory and sweet, and a bit more interesting than the typical poultry salad you find at many lunching locations.
Although she previously reported to me that she adores cooking in comparison to baking, she sure as hell does not show it, boasting a handful of traditional treats throughout her petite shop, including classically crafted apple pies (seen below), lemon bars and the ever-changing selection of fresh cookies.
However, she is openly fond of antique collecting, and has an impressive knack for locating the must-haves from area thrift shops, estate closings and yard sales. My favorites of any antique collection are always those that are kitchen-inspired, and Nein not only fittingly displays those that she loves the most, but she also graciously offers them up for sale.

Below, I close with a series of the items I found, most adoringly. There are a ton of aprons up for grabs. I personally liked this garden-inspired design, even though I haven't a clue how to garden.
The salt-and-pepper shakers enclosed in a retro television was probably the coolest grain set I've seen. The ladle set with a embroidery pouch was rustic, yet adorable.
Nein swears these are not for sale, but how cool are they? They're a stack of olden half pint paper containers used once at a dairy for ice cream.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

breakfast bites of nudy's cafe

As meals go, breakfast has become a celebrity. Proudly carrying the title of the "most important meal of the day," a decent breakfast can influence you and your body the rest of your awakened hours of your hectic day.

But, with all fussing over and fantasizing of what to shove in your mouth, first thing, most of us sadly settle for the normal boxed cereal, or a simple egg scramble. That's where Ray Nudy comes in — the namesake and owner of the Nudy's CafĂ©, a six location breakfast hot spot.

With locations in East Whiteland, West Whiteland, Uwchlan, Wayne, Dowington and, of course, locally at 450 Bridge Street, Nudy has sculpted a satisfying, sit-down brunch eatery that not only offers traditional morning munchies like creamed chipped beef and finely chopped hash browns, but also is borderline quirky with grilled cinnamon bun French toast and year-round pumpkin pancakes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

crazy about kombucha?

Starting the new year off in a sleek, saucy fashion, I comissioned a dear writerly friend to offer her wise words on the craziness of kombucha. A professional at its tastes, to say the least, Jen reviews two brands, allowing your 'buds to become tranced at the excellence of the holistic brew.

Hello, stink-happy fizzies. Of course, I’m talking about kombucha (pronounced kom-BOO-cha). It’s often called raw tea or the elixir of life—sometimes even the champagne of life, given its carbonated-seeming pep.

The science-minded explain that kombucha is a living culture of beneficial microorganisms. For several weeks, a process similar to fermentation wheedles yeast and bacteria to grow, forming active enzymes, probiotics, amino acids, and antioxidants all in the mix. Skip the guesswork; this drink is alive and kicking as it skis down your throat.

Kombucha is an organic senses-provoking beverage in that its distinctly stenchy aroma, tartly effervescent taste, and “floaties” (strands of the living culture) sometimes turn drink-goers off from testing out a single sip.

True, kombucha may be an acquired taste or crafted from flavors only meant for more daring of palates. Before venturing beyond the picky palate world myself, my beau, a Philadelphia-schooled chef, told me how odd it appeared that I was so darn picky, and yet I went nutty for this somewhat obscure beverage with its smell he likened to feet in a glass bottle.

A year or two ago, I noticed GT’s Organic Raw Kombucha (seen above) in the produce section of Douglassville’s Kimberton Whole Foods. Despite my then more choosy palate, I decided to test out the only drink not akin to the colors of typical fruit juices. I grabbed a bottle of Multi-Green, which includes Klamath Mountain blue-green algae, spirulina, chlorella, and not surprisingly, “100% pure love!!!”

I’ve heard some Negative Nancy reactions to Multi-Green, and that’s me putting it lightly. To my relief, I was wild for the zippy, rejuvenate-my-insides flavor of Multi-Green and especially loved liking something just that bizarre. Yes, I in fact enjoyed the taste of the chef-coined foot beverage produced in California.

On a recent trip to the store, I purchased GT’s Cosmic Cranberry from its Synergy Organic & Raw line. Zippy and singing in zing, indeed, it reminded me quickly of bogs up north if cranberry bogs could buzz—because this bevvy buzzed.

A brand I wasn’t familiar with, High Country Kombucha of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain region, sat on the same shelves. I picked out Chai Spice and Lemon Myrtle (photo, seen below).

High Country markets its kombucha somewhat differently than GT’s and seems to craft its product similarly but with a few variations, one being that its culture feeds on caffeine and sugar, while GT’s is caffeine-free and only contains the sugar already in its whole ingredients, like fruit.

The Chai Spice involves extracts from organic herbs: cardamom, chicory and ginger roots, carob, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

The blooming plant-inspired second flavor I tried had the extract ingredients of lemon myrtle, hyssop, chamomile, meadow sweet flower, and hibiscus. Its flavors seemed less distinct, but maybe that’s because I’ve been on a kombucha-tasting kick! Very kombucha-y nonetheless.

A tip for newbies to this tongue twister of a drink—the settled culture strands floating almost in slow-motion in the bottle may tempt you to shake it up before you open it, but this is your worst bet, as you’ll spew the kombucha across the room. It’s never too snazzy cleaning up a sticky mess after that! I can vouch for this firsthand; even a barely bumpy ride home in the car can startle an explosion out of a freshly opened bottle.

So shake gently, and realize—that’s an understatement!

If you can in fact nudge your brain out of thinking this bevvy is too new age (it’s actually been brewed across the world for hundreds of years with a still longer-known history in some countries) or bizarre for your olfactory machine and taste buds, know that avid kombucha sippers claim a nearly endless inventory of health benefits from drinking it.

Kombucha’s plethora of carefully thrown together ingredients makes it naturally anti-bacterial as well as anti-fungal.

With its balancing properties, this suggested daily health tonic aids in digestion, works to detoxify the liver, and promotes a sense of good feelings health-wise. Do a quick search via the interwebs and find list after list of discovered health benefits kombucha lovers have tacked to its tail.

Overall, I am pushing GT’s over High Country, although I only dabbled in two out of the latter company’s six new herbal flavors. They also sell five flavors in their starter line (seen below) —Original, Goji Berry, Ginger, Wild Root, and Aloe.

When I find something I love and pine to share it with others, I generally take the liberty of turning it into a verb. So please, if your palate dares, kombucha it up!

the beers and burgers of kutztown tavern

Honestly, I don't expect much out of a college town. Yes, they typically have their suitable bars for the upper classmen, a ton of pizza joints, and occasionally, an organic lunch spot for the health-conscious students, but overall, they aren't that special.

So, when paying a visit to the stomping ground of those enrolled in Kutztown University, I was a bit caught off guard when I realized that the country-esque town housed a microbrewery, the Golden Avalache Brewing Company, part of the eatery Kutztown Tavern.

Kutztown Tavern, a slightly hipper than most sports bars, boosts on their housemade beers, premiering regular freshness to the mix by having a handful of seasonal ales. While their classic German-styled brews range from their nothing-special blonde lager and a Donner Weisse, they also always offer a bold cream ale and a floral and fruity brown ale.

Visiting in early winter, B and I were able to sample their seasonal pumpkin ale (seen above, on left) which kicked together an attractive mix of wintry spices for a delicate and light slurp. Being an extreme fan of all things blueberry, I opted for the seasonal fruity lager (seen above, on right) which was comparable to my personal favorite, Sea Dog's Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale.

The tavern's perky menu offered selections that followed their Germany vibes, while still serving the college-area community. From soft pretzels appetizers to gourmet pizza and pastas, the menu wasn't off-the-wall unique, but was able to satisfy this beer-chugging, Starving Marvin.

Offering a lean turkey burger smeared with housemade cranberry relish (seen above), my bunned pleasure was festive and tasty, and paired with perfectly prepared sweet potatoes fries, my lunch hit the spot on the bitter January Saturday.

For B, he selected a pretzel roll sandwich (seen below) that was pumped with generous and appetizing amounts of soft crab and cheese. The bun, one of the better soft pretzel rolls around, was for me, the best part, and I'm sure B would agree.

Although the beer was mighty-fine and my burger was delicious, this is a spot that, only if in the area, is a must-visit. However, travelling miles to get to the tiny college town of Kutztown, I may be honest and suggest you'd skip that venture and wait until it's hopping in the summer because of the Kutztown Folk Festival.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

raving about raw milk, rendering milk sales

The National Dairy Council's advertising campaign has sung for the last two decades that "milk does the body good." The council proclaims through the Dietary Guidelines for Americans study that "people who consume more low-fat and fat-free dairy foods have better overall diets, have more nutrient intake and improved bone health," which proves that milk may be beneficial for the human body, yet rounding out the year of 2009, it may not be great for dairy farmers.

Pennsylvania is one of the top dairy producing states, but similar to the recession in the 1970s when milk prices were at their lowest, the decrease in profits from their products has become a statewide crisis. This year, the PA commonwealth has reported that there are 7,400 dairy farms, with most of these farms listing that they are experiencing losses of thousands of dollars per month.
Positively, Congress recently approved $290 million in direct subsidies to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will be granted to dairy farmers, with hopes for the farmers to receive the funds by the end of the year. However, one potential solution that area dairies are considering is the sale of high-priced, unpasteurized milk, known as "raw milk."

Saturday, January 2, 2010

sugary sensations of sweet ashley's chocolate

In the 1940s, Miller's Candy and Ice Cream sashayed into the hearts of Royersford's sweet teeth by offering an assortment of sweet treats that would offer anyone an ultimate sugar rush.

50 years later, at the exact same store front, Connie and Rob Lawson maintain their shop for all things sweet on Main Street, singing praise to the area's very best, taste-test approved, chocolate assortments.
Beginning the official journey of a chocolatier in the fall of 2005, Connie Lawson always dreamt of opening her own chocolate factory. An unofficial milk and dark chocolate maker since the young age of nine, Lawson began her sales of sweets when living in State College with her husband while managing a coffee shop.
Wooing college students with her homemade sweets, she adored the construction of chocolates because it was something she always excelled at, it was her gift that has never been a frustrating challenge, but has always been an example of a hobby (now career) that was pure enjoyment to her.
Her husband Rob, the son of William Lawson who is a wonderful help to the business, being a business partner and shop assistant, was raised in the Spring City area, where the couple now lives with their 11 year old daughter Ashley -- the business' namesake.