Tuesday, December 29, 2009

the tastes and treasures of phoenixville's thai l'elephant

Most Thai restaurants must appeal to a largely American clientele, which leads many of them to compromise their traditional tastes by adding sweetness and toning down the long, slow buildup of chili heat that is a Thai cuisine characteristic. At Thai L'Elephant, a sophisticated, darling restaurant found nestled in the Kimberton Square Shopping Center on the edge of Phoenixville, the compromises are not always obvious.

The owners Nui Kullanna and Sakesun Supasri say their restaurant can tone down the heat for the supposedly tender American palate, but your palate will revel in the kitchen's sure-handed spicing, and will allow, if your ordering desires, to sample the authenticity of curries by maximizing your star-rating spice requests to the highest level (seven stars is the spiciest).

"Our main thing is to serve authentic Thai food from a friendly staff in a place that is comfortable and inviting," said Supasri, who was raised in Thailand around a household who operated their own traditional restaurant and of course, requested that he'd assist in dinnertime preparations beginning at the ripe age of six.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

raspberry shortbread dreamies

Call me old-fashioned, but I always wanted to attend a cookie swap.

Spending an evening focused solely around cookie-talk sounds like a night I would want to relive again and again for the rest of my life. So, when my mom invited me to attend the cookie exchange she was taking part with her women's group, there was no denying I would be there baring sweet treat gifts.

Although a bit overwhelmed with selecting a recipe to represent myself in a sea of women skilled in handheld sugar treasures, I opted to whip up a batch of jam-filled shortbread cookies. The recipe came from a previous cookie swap my mom attended, and with some adaption for yours truly, and a new name, I birthed Raspberry Shortbread Dreamies.

Raspberry Shortbread Dreamies

makes about 3 dozen

1 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups flour
1/3-1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

Combine butter and sugar, until fluffy. Beat in extract and gradually add flour until dough forms into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for an 1 hour, or until dough is manageable. Roll in 1-inch balls. Place 1-inch apart from one another on an ungreased baking sheet. Using end of wooden spoon handle, make an indentation in the center. Fill with jam. Bake at 350 degrees for 14-18 minutes, or until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and place on wire rack.

Combine below glaze ingredients and drizzle over cookies.

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 oz. cream cheese
2-3 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

something's hiding in here's plastic wishbones

Contributing to City Paper's Food Section has always been a favorite thing of mine to do, especially taking part in their column Small Bites, which offers brief golden nuggets of the week's best in all things edible.

This week Small Bites returns and I whipped up a tell-all on Something's Hiding in Here's Plastic Wishbones. Have a peek!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

a food-obsessed fiend's year in review, september to december

A brief glimpse of fall in photos.

Sampled two of PYT Adultshakes, the Caucasian (Absolut vanilla + vanilla ice cream) and the Double Espresso (Van Gogh espresso vodka + espresso ice cream + fresh ground espresso).

A visit to Hamburg, PA's Hamburger Festival with a memorable taste of The Dutchie (seen below) made on a classic pretzel roll.

Pumped out a decent dose of pumpkin whoopie pies because what's the best thing of the fall season? Pumpkin everything, of course.
Celebrated my brother's birthday by making him Chewbacca cupcakes composed of a cookie and cream mini-cake recipe.
Experienced a local raw milk dairy and the pleasant creaminess of raw milk.
Posed with my all-in-one apple pie pumpkin cake in B's back woods.
Catered my first wedding, with a butter almond cake smeared with almond buttercream, aside a variety of handmade sweet treats.

Took part in the New York Food and Wine Festival, where I attended an Alicia Silverstone cooking demonstration where she premiered several of her recipes from her new cookbook, The Kind Diet.

My lady friends and I also dined at Ninja, New York while partaking in the NY Food & Wine Festival, as seen below.

By the time Halloween rolled around, B and I attended in a Disney Zombie party, where we went donned as Tinker Bell and Peter Pan. I later also dressed up as Bat Man (err, woman).

For our one-year anniversary, I made B a heart-shaped cherry almond tart. This is my attempt at trying to make something rustic, yet beautiful.
Accepted the invitation to attend the Winter Foodie Potluck at Messy and Picky's place, where Zoe of Whipped Bakeshop brought many examples of her fine handiwork.

In conjunction with an article I was working on, I agreed to have my portrait painted by local artist David Knoecklein. Below, is the progress of our first session.

Monday, December 21, 2009

family traditions through sugar cookie cut-outs

As a child, there was always a strong kitchen presence in my upbringing. To say that I was inexperienced at baking and cooking would be a terrible lie, and I honestly, looked forward most to the moments where I would spend time concocting the next-best-thing for the Strauss' mouths with many of my loved ones.

Of course, it would be unnatural to not carry on several of the traditional family recipes, intermixed with a handful of new dishes and desserts, because they too were once new to our dining scene. While Thanksgiving deals mostly with entrees and side dishes, Christmas' forerunners are always the desserts.

December, for me, is incomplete without spending an evening mixing, flattening, cutting and baking my grandmother's recipe for sugar cookie cut-outs. Simple and classic, the holiday-shaped cookies are tasty and flavorful, and make for not only, a fun baking session, but also ideal drink dunking. (My grandmother loved hers plopped in a steamy cup of coffee.)

Naomi Strauss' Cut-Out Cookies

4 cups of flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup butter (or margarine)
3 eggs
2 teaspoons of baking powder
milk (as much as an egg shell can hold)

Combine the above ingredients together, and then form into a ball. Lightly flour a counter top surface and roll the dough as thin as pie crust. Take several cookie cutters and cut the dough into desired shapes. Bake cut cookies on a greased cookie sheet, at 350 degrees until browned, about 12 minutes.

The rolled-out cookies work well as is, but if you wish to add pizazz and color to your butter-colored cookies, dash sprinkles or decorating sugars atop the baked shapes shortly after they exit the oven. A simple frosting may also be slathered on the cookies and here's an easy recipe:


1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter
1-2 tablespoon(s) milk
Food coloring

Mix all of the above until well-combined, and chill briefly before adding on top of cooled cookies.

Also published here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

a food-obsessed fiend's year in review, may through august


My best friend and I traveled to New York City and Brooklyn to make a few pit stops at beloved bakeries and galleries. Below, I visited Brooklyn's Baked, a bakery whose baking book my friend had purchased for me at Christmas. Such amazing goodies!

And, of course, I brought back some sweet treats for B to sample, too.

The most intense moment of the year was my serious dome chop, which had me soon sporting a fun pixie hairstyle.


For my 24th birthday, my baking obsession only enhanced when I received the gift of an icy blue KitchenAid mixer. I was in pure shock and bliss!


My dear grandmother is a silver fox, and in honor of her July 4th birthday, I created Silver Fox Strawberry Surprise Layered Cake. Nothing is better than taking advantage of the season's best fruit. I could live solely on strawberries.

Being a coffee-aholic, the coffee-rubbed burgers I whipped up were probably one of the better combinations I have ever tasted. Who wouldn't love their beef caffeinated?

A year or so ago, one of my closest friends, Melissa, moved to the British Virgin Islands (sob, sob) to work at a travel magazine. Although miles and miles away from me, we managed to stay in constant communication. When she visited home this past summer, we decided to deepen our bond by getting matching tattoos. Both getting LO-VE, Philly-style, permantently inked in our skin, we will forever be linked. Hers follows Pop Art stylings, while my tattoo follows traditional stenciling, with a cupcake acting as the "O".

I've always been a nerd to uncovering the workings of how things are made, especially those food-themed. This summer spun my fresh interest in touring nearby breweries, with Lancaster Brewing Company being my first stop.

Philadelphia-based food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond released their book, Almost Meatless, this year. The duo satisfyingly sculpted, as the title assumes, health-conscious recipes that scale back our meaty intakes, without sacrificing the flavors we carnivorously crave. In promotions with the book and area food bloggers, I participated in their virtual potluck, bringing the deviled eggs.


I excuse myself anytime I become a complete spaz over a celebrity of the food world. I knew when attending the Atlantic City Food & Wine Festival that Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes would be there, and I mentally prepared myself to play it cool prior to meeting him. Although not everyone in the baking business world receives quite a lucky break as Goldman has, but with a dream to one day own a bakery, who better to talk to then the king of Charm City Cakes, himself.

a food-obsessed fiend's year in review, january through april


Before I came along, this sad boy never experienced sushi. Now, over a year later, he is in love with the best food on the planet, and me, of course.

Our most favorite sushi eatery is Veekoo, where we prefer order far too many maki rolls. Our favorite? The Lovers Roll wrapped in soybean paper and stuffed with Fuji apples, cream cheese, cucumber, soft crab and smoked salmon.


B purchased an amazing sauce book at the beginning of the year, which helped spark a month of delish dishes crafted around interesting splashes of flavor. His first round, a smoked salmon pasta.

Valentine's night dinner of blue cheese and walnut-topped steak with baby zucchinis made great use of another recipe from the sauce book. I loved it so much, I continuously ask for a repeat.

I attended an exceptional wine tour of the Finger Lakes of New York with my best friend and her family. My favorite wine from the bajillion visited wineries was Montezuma's Cranberry Bog.

I had to courage to replicate my grandma's prized recipe for fastnacht doughnuts. Made heart-shaped doughy pockets in the process.


I've always been a fan of Jukebox Cafe, but for whatever reason, the end of the winter months began our obsession with grabbing brunch at the Boyertown eatery, probably once or twice a week. Below, their fresh strawberry-stuffed french toast.

My cousin married a great lady who has great taste in all things delicious, including connections to Bethlehem's best caterer, the Mint and Parsley Leaf Kitchen.

Being a complete mushy couple, we crafted our own whole-grain pizza, with a pretzel-based dough.
And then, as seen below, we both tried on my new pair of glasses, Ray Ban Wayfarers.


Spring struck me with a baking stick, and although I was previously addicted, I may have went a bit overboard. However, I am sure all of my surrounding family and friends were pleased.
Below, top to bottom, morning glory muffins, mocha chip cupcakes, maple butter bacon cupcakes and peanut butter bomb diggity cupcakes. Also, in honor of the Easter holiday, I made peanut butter eggs with my cousins, and for my family's feast, German chocolate cake bird's nest cupcakes.

sampling the sweet-and-savory of top chef's jen carroll

It is an understatement to say I am fond of Top Chef.

As pathetic as it may sound, I look forward to Wednesday evenings most during the ongoing season, and if I am unavailable to watch the current episode that evening, I must go online to spoil my anticipation by peeking to see who was sent home.

There's an appealing flare to Bravo's hit series, but what is more appealing is when Philadelphia-based cheftestants premiere on the nationwide series. It would be almost unfair to not side with a homegrown star, especially if her cuisine easily screams on its own.

Jen Carroll, the Chef de Cuisine of 10 Arts of the Ritz-Carlton, sashayed her way through the competing contestants, proudly standing until the final four. Soon after Tom Colicchio and Padma politely gave the local chef the knife, her work's comforting kitchen decided to promote her exit off the show by offering a three-course tasting menu that embraced not only the best fall flavors, but also showcased the best of her on-air skills.

Off of an appetizer tasting menu boosting with ten selections, I choose the warm goat cheese salad (seen below), paired with cutesy cubes of baby red beets, frisee and orange confit. The creamy cheese, delicately fried into decent-sized rounds, melted so perfectly in my mouth, and was just an energizing entrance to Ms. Carroll's cuisine.

My dining partner, one of my closest friends who also shares my Top Chef obsession, selected the Kabocha squash soup (seen below) to begin her courses. Swirled with spiced pepitas, superb-tasting pureed squash and chunks of honey crisp apples, the soup paired sweet and spicy in the utmost class, and was almost too addicting to just sample a few slurps.

For the second course, I was torn between what protein to pick as my main dish. What I loved about the chef on television was her no-fear attitude toward cooking all forms of meat. (Yes, sometimes they weren't always successes, but I blame that on the stress of competing.) I opted for the her scallops (below), served with the most delicious truffle butter I have ever laid eyes on. The pieces of fish were prepared ideally, and with the sauce, a delicious duo was created.

The meat of the braised short rib (seen below) was light and tender, and the best texture of a beefy dish that I've ever chomped on. Served with a comforting side of baby veggies and mash potatoes, and a red wine sauce, this plate did home-cooking better than any mama could wish to perform. Of course, dessert is always the best part, and at 10 Arts they were sure not to fall short on their third course. The sweet potato cake, an upscale version of the holiday's best cake, was served with a mouth-watering cream cheese mousse and hazelnuts, and scoop of sweet potato sorbet. Gorgeous and light, I even tried to weasel a recipe from Carroll for this one!

The milk chocolate parfait breached borders because of its pairing with caramelized bananas. One of my favorite things in the world is combining chocolate with bananas, and this dessert platter did not fall short on doing just that, quite swimmingly.