Saturday, October 18, 2008

Henry's Cafe & marvelous mismatched pasta

A friend recently commented to me that it drives her bonkers when, being on a fixed income and wanted to eat some spaghetti, she has to combine different shaped half-empty pasta boxes together to achieve a perfect pot. Not a stickler for such, a visit to Henry’s Café off of Pottstown's High Street and a satisfying bowl of mismatched pasta caused this lady to want to endlessly rant and rave.

With attractive bar seating revealing the open kitchen and owner/chef Jamie preparing your meals to order, my plus one and I had overwhelmingly pleasing lunch experience. As he selected the cook’s highly-praised seafood pasta, shown above, served with a fantastic assortment of calamari, mussels and shrimp, I selected a full-sized pasta portion of mix-master’s grilled chicken plate, shown below.

Ideally seasoned and cooked to an impressive al dente, the tomato-y blends created before our own eyes absolutely peaked to the tippy-top of my most favorite foods.

And, without a doubt, I must briefly mention that the chef's wife/co-owner solely creates all the eatery's desserts in-house. They're delectable, old-fashioned and light, and a visit is incomplete without a few tastes. Below, are the two we sampled -- an apple bread pudding and a fresh blueberry cobbler.
Words of advice for future diners: Share everything with your dining companions. Also, when the chef suggests throwing some jalapenos into your dish because "that's how he'd eat it," follow his lead.

Friday, September 5, 2008

a perfected cup of chai

Living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, you're entitled to even the smallest bits of urban life while still embracing vast amounts of countryside. However, if you are a caffeine addict such as myself, the journey in locating a decent cup of joe sadly ends at the nearest Dunkin' Donuts.

But, when my home town of Boyertown recently decided to house the eighth location of the alternative coffee house chain, Hard Bean Cafe all the local swiggers of the java rejoiced! A convenient source for some decent brew, the newest Hard Bean is nestled in the center of Philadelphia Avenue sporting a gorgeous wooden awning. Inside, the inviting deep-red atmosphere screams cafe-chic and offers a large-scale space for evening entertainment and social set-ups.

However, the presentation of their steamy beverages is what caught my thirst-crazed attention the most. While my coffee-loving companion opted for a sizable chai tea latte, shown above, which possessed the perfect foamy combination of equal parts spiced tea and steamed milk, I opted for the shop's Montana.
The monstrous sip, shown above, splashed a decent heaping of espresso into my selected choice of Hard Bean grounds -- Razzy Jazzy Java -- and kept me guzzling until my giant-sized mug was bone-dry. Also satisfying my never-ending sweet tooth at the town's hippest establishment by far, the day's pastries included a moist blueberry bundt cake with a sugary buttercream icing that was undeniably addictive bite-by-bite.

Without an sort-of doubt, I have found a new locale to become a regular revisitor.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Nudy's Cafe & irresistible choc-chip pecan pancakes

It has been decided (between myself and my dearest friend) that the best breakfast combination is between an irresistible short stack of chocolate chip pancakes and incredible heaping of fresh slices of bananas. However, our favorite morning-time hang has become uninterested in pleasing our early day urges, so I’ve set out to find another sweet spot who excels at creating this perfect pairing.

A recent visit to Nudy’s Café on Bridge Street (there’s four locations, I believe this one is by far the best) with my plus one has left me giddy to quickly grab my girl pal for an early morning chowdown. Although the menu did not support my addiction to the ‘nana-chip stack, the waitress did recommend the choco-chip and pecan cakes that were sweetly sprinkled with powdered sugar and flawlessly flipped to perfection, shown below.

My plus one, without hesitation, ordered the café’s crab benedict, shown below, which arrived beautifully plated and impressively light and fluffy.

While my morning-munching experience rarely highlights anything besides fatty pastries and feta omelets, a bite into the seafood salad-and-egg layering left me flabbergasted. For me, it takes a specific touch and taste to capture the correct outcome in a mayo salad and Nudy's did just that for their crab concoction. Sided with nothing out of the ordinary -- home fries and asparagus -- the dish could surely stand solo.

I won't deny my love for chocolate-anything, but for future top-of-the-morning munchies, crab benny is now becoming a forerunner.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

classic coffee mugs

If you want to win over my heart, buy me a mug.

And, if you are actually going to go about this, make it one that can handle some serious ounces of liquid caffeine. Coming from a lady whose mornings consist of over five refills, I cherish my mug collection and must admit I am partial to handmade pottery.

Recently, while attending Art Star's Craft Bazaar at Philadelphia's Penn's Landing, I couldn't resist Pink Kiss Ceramic's vintage-styled sipper. The adorable creation of Baltimore-based artist Shawna Pincus-Bracco, shown above, is undeniably my new favorite mug due to its perfected stenciling (her hubby conveniently runs his own business, Spaghetti Kiss, a screenprinted apparel line) and appropriate sculpting.

Pincus-Bracco, a girl with tons of talent in my book, writes this of her mug-love: "There is nothing more satisfying then drinking from a cup that was made by human hands. I have people tell me that they will wash their favorite mug after every use just so that it's clean for the next time, even though they have a cabinet full of clean commercially made dishes."

That's me!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

banana chip loaf

Being raised Mennonite, there's an overwhelming ideology that less is always more. In relation to cooking, the simpler the recipe, the better the end results. Satisfyingly so, many of the crusty passed-down cookbooks found within my family line are jam-packed with recipes that throw together your cupboard's usual inhabitants (think flour, sugar, salt, etc.) for some of the easiest, yet surprisingly addictive desserts and pastries.

And, since I believe that the pairing of bananas and chocolate is heaven sent, I browsed some of my mom's old books for a bread-making tutorial using just that. While I modified the original recipe to meet my preferred tastes, here's the recipe for my delectable 'nana chip loaf, shown above, that's incredibly uncomplicated and flavorful.

Makes 1 loaf

2 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup of ripe bananas
1 cup chocolate chips
3 eggs

Simply, mix together the above ingredients and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. It could, quite possibly, be the best sweet bread you have ever tried!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

toasted coconut & cocoa cupcakes

When a close friend from college emailed me photos from her new island residence, the most envious shot was the image of a coconut tree that was planted right outside of her balcony. Although she's been there a few months now, it is about time I whipped up a batch of coconut cupcakes -- in her honor, of course.

This vegan cupcake recipe comes from my most prized baking book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and mixes the likes of coconut-fiends aside serious chocoholics.

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 cup coconut milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Mix in a medium bowl flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.

Melt coconut oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Once melted, turn off heat and leave setting on the stove so it does not solidify.

In a separate medium bowl, mix coconut milk, sugar, vanilla and coconut extract. Stir in melted coconut oil. Add the flour mixture, beating until smooth. Fold in shredded coconut.

Fill cupcake liners two-thirds full. Bake 24-26 minutes.

Once the deep-brown mini-cakes are finished baking, begin to prepare the suggested coffee buttercream frosting.

1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup margarine
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp. coconut milk or soy milk
1 1/2 tsp. coffee extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Beat shortening and margarine until nicely blended. Alternately add the sugar and milk, continuously beating. Add the extracts and beat until the topping is light and fluffy.

While the icing is to-die-for solo, topping the island treats off with some toasted coconut is sure to please your cupcake-loving crowds. Grab a 1/2 cup of shredded coconut, and after preheating a dry frying pan for about 2 minutes, pour the white flakes inside while you constantly stir with a spatula. Once, the shreds are honey brown, remove the pan from the oven's surface.

Finish the tiny dessert by sprinkling the gorgeous golden flakes atop the already frosted cakes and most definitely, take a massive bite, or two or three.

burnt butter and sugar ice cream

Steve Herrell of Herrell's Ice Cream in Northampton, Massachusetts has been known for years as Mister Mix-in. Credited for being the first to mash in candy bits like Heath bars and sweet treats like Oreo crumbs into his creamy ice, Herrell's paved the way for our now favorite, and entirely loaded, mountainous scoops.

While the entire process of Herrell's is something we are comfortable with — ice cream parlors smooshing in our sugary selections on a marble slab — experiencing it at one of the pioneer hotspots seemed like a necessary action. As my travel companion picked a mint cookies and cream combination, I dug into a heaping dish of burnt butter and sugar ice cream doused in homemade hot fudge that left this girl dizzy in a feeling of complete bliss.

Similar in tastes to fresh French toast slices, Mr. Herrell’s low-air gourmet cream is luscious enough solo without his well-known smoosh-ins. However, with a massive laundry list of add-ins in addition to the overwhelming flavors (think espresso with chocolate chips, Hostess orange cupcake, malted vanilla, white rum, etc.) one may never have to revisit another ice cream shop again.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

attractive grains and granola of the hungry ghost

With a sugary soul and baking in my blood, visits to local bakeries are always a given when away on vacation. However, when the bakery's the Hungry Ghost Bread and the lovingly baked grain breads are daily produced in its interior as they are, one's personal experience of baked good-intake will be changed forever.

The exterior, shown above, is an attractive ivy storm in quite an unordinary structure. Stepping foot inside, a large hybrid stove occupies most of the space, which houses both clay brick-lined and wood fired chambers. Following each firing of the massive baker, the team at the Hungry Ghost is then fit to produce over 200-300 loaves of bread, which is suiting for how popular their delectable organic breads are throughout their town of Northampton, Massachusetts.

Since my visit was on a Tuesday, the rundown of their varieties were as follows (each day hosts a list of specific blends): French, 8-grain, spelt, rye and a beautiful blend of cornmeal and molasses for which I selected, known as the annadama. The loaf, a crusty outer shell with a perfectly sweet and soft inside, was most definitely the best use of flours I have ever tasted. And, since I tend to carb-control my diet, I decided to also grab a fabulously nutty one-pounder of their Vanilla Celebration granola, shown below. Mixing almonds, walnuts, sunflowers seeds and raisins amongst tons of ideally toasted oats, I may have to travel to Massachusetts a bit more often.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

doughy popovers & homemade apple butter

After receiving a convincing tip to visit Judie's Restaurant in Amherst, Massachusetts, we knew, without a doubt, that it was our next stop for lunch. While the dinner menu looked to-die-for (consider the drunken scallops with bacon or the roast garlic-crusted salmon), sticking with a soup/sandwich/salad combo meant that we could fully experience what Judie Teraspulsky, owner of Judie's, is known for -- her homemade popovers. Shown above, the popovers are a doughy ball of goodness with an impressively flaky outer shell and moist hollow interior. While there are options to get one pumped with sirloin tips or shrimp scampi, I selected the original just so I could sample her homemade apple butter. Perfectly sweetened and not at all too spicy, the topping just enhanced the already-delicious pastry and acted as an ideal companion to my homey potato and corn chowder.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

an unforgettable goat cheese quesadilla

As a first-timer to Plymouth, Massachusetts' old-time streets, all I heard from past visitors was the disappointment they felt from viewing the "massive" rock. But, if it's the land of the first settlers, let's instead consider what tasty grub they brought to our dear homeland. Located beautifully on the waterfront, Carmen's Cafe Nicole serves quirky breakfast and lunch dishes that beat the average beachside bite. Opting for a cafe special -- a goat cheese quesadilla loaded with sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms, and grilled to an utmost perfection -- I was pleasantly surprised with my dining decision. Sided with a homemade pico de gallo and a dollop of the typical sour cream, the Mexican plate surely allowed me to consider that this pilgrim hotspot has matured into an awesome hungry girl’s haven.

Friday, July 18, 2008

cider doughnuts

Coming from a girl who clocked far too many hours at a local cider mill in her early teen years, a sweet jug of swooshed apples is a must-have for my entire fall season. But, with autumn seeming just too far away in this sticky summer months, biting down on a decent cider doughnut seems almost as perfect.

While vacationing in New England this week, a friend and I made a stop at Russell Orchard's in Ipswich, Massachusetts. As I squealed over the idea of picking my own blueberries and raspberries in the hot July sun, even if I was being eating alive by millions of stinking bugs, I nabbed two doughy rounds to later satisfyingly sink my teeth into. Moist and fluffy, the orchard's bakery excelled at supplying me with red deliciousness, all while providing two out-of-towners with the tastiest mid-morning treat ever.