Tuesday, September 29, 2009

a fall flavored harvest pizza

Once the month of September draws near (heck, even late August), I can't help but embrace the autumn season with open arms. Although these scrawny, hungry fall arms may appear to the average daily chomper as already overdoing it with the fall flavors, I honestly consider, is that possible?

Recently, B had anxiously arrived at the idea of an autumn pizza. Sprinkled with the always-addicting pumpkin pie spice, swirled sweetly with some pumpkin puree, and plopped with an overabundance of fresh fall vegetables, it was obvious that such a light bulb in the beau's brain was something that could not be ignored. Taking an old recipe we had from a healthier alternative to Auntie Anne's pretzels, we tackled the challenge of converting the season's best tastes into a doughy and satisfying suppertime sphere of freshness.
Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

makes 1

1/2 cup warm water
1 tablespoon yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup honey
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or, an even amount of allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger)
4 cups whole wheat flour

In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast and honey. Stir together and mush around the yeast. Let sit.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add to honey, salt and milk to pan, and heat to 120 degrees.

Pour milk mixture into yeast mixture and stir. Then, add flour to mixture, a cup at a time (add more flour if needed). Sprinkle in pumpkin pie spice. Knead dough for 5-10 minutes and when able to roll into ball, plop it into a bowl. Cover and let it rise for 1-1 1/2 hours.

Pull the dough out of the bowl and knead for a few times to release the air. On a floured surface, roll wad of dough into desired size and shape of your soon-to-be-made pizza. Set aside.
Select a colorful assortment of fall veggies (see above: green and yellow zucchini, and butternut squash) and to be chopped and placed attractively atop your sauce and smoked cheeses.
For the pizza's sauce, take 8 oz. of tomato sauce and whisk with 8 oz. of pumpkin puree. The saucy blend will appear a gorgeous burnt-orange.
Assemble the sauce, choice of cheese (we selected a mozzarella-and-smoked provolone blend) and chopped fall vegetables atop the pumpkin-spiced crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes until toppings are browned and crust appears crispy.

The result: A seasonally-appetizing dinnertime crunch that's accented fall flavors may have you never again craving a cheesy Sicilian snooze.

Naomi Strauss & chocolate chip cookies

As if I can't say it enough, my grandmother, Naomi Strauss, meant the world to me. This, of course, is why when filling out the question-and-answer from City Paper's Meal Ticket for their weekly feature, The Good Word, it was inevitable that I'd take the first opportunity I could to blab 'bout my lovely heroine.

As published a fews weeks back, I wrote:

If ever there was a baker’s hall of fame, my grandmother, Naomi Strauss, would be the star. As a Mennonite and a Pennsylvania Dutchwoman (same as myself), she crafted killer traditional sweet treats that were mixed, mashed and pinched to perfection, and I am forever grateful to her for passing on to me all that she could. With a childhood flooded with rounds of funny, shoo-fly and apeas cakes, mountains of fluffy Dutch doughnuts and delectable sweet buns and rolls, I never questioned whether I should skip a night’s dessert.

To continue reading, click here.

There was something comforting and exceptionally special about visiting my dear grandmother regularly, and without question, having fresh baked cookies always available to nibble on. It is of the norm, that a gigantic Tupperware container would be filled with her recipe of chocolate chip cookies, usually also pumped with oatmeal.

No one has ever made cookies like her, and this is not a bias opinion. However, I recommend you all, see for yourself.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 5 dozen

1 1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 eggs
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups flour (I use whole grain/wheat.)
1 package (12 oz.) chocolate chips
1 cup nuts, oatmeal, etc. (I use toasted almonds.)

Cream butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and fluffy. Sift flour, soda and salt. Add to wet mixture. Fold in chips and nuts. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

pan-seared sesame-crusted tuna

There's something special about a guy that can cook. There's something even more special that my guy can cook well. Coming from a girl's who's always hungry, always worrying about the next great thing to eat, B has become seemingly accustomed to satisfying my need for a delicious dinnertime feed.

Although, working nighttime shifts in a steakhouse and sometimes, working opposite shifts completely, a nice meal always appears as a pleasant surprise to me. However this time, B's wonderfully wooed me by preparing one of my all-time favorite dishes -- pan-seared Ahi tuna plated with a delightful soy-based reduced sauce.

A simple dish to sculpt at the conclusion of a hectic week, his prepared plate of tuna and a delicate side of coconut-ginger rice screams sophistication without having to stress for time, or money. Coated with a blend of black-and-white sesame seeds sweetly mixed with lemon and pepper, the dainty fish, cooked to a perfect medium rare, almost melted gingerly in my mouth. However, what made the exceptional fish steak was the spicy-sweet sauce that offered the ideal bite to balance the seafood's crust.

Glopping honey aside fresh chili juices, ginger and soy sauce, my wannabe chef produced a perfect pairing to the already-tasteful tuna. And, being a girl who loves lots of gooey dips accompanying my dinner, I could not have asked for a better accessory to my dinner plate.

So now I have to simply confess, dinnertime in may be the next step in our relationship, as long as B continues being the one doing all of the cooking!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tap and Table Gastropub

Living in the suburbs of a big city, you become accustomed to having the so-called "diamonds-in-the-rough" [of your local restaurant scene] be spaced few and far between. Unlike the urban life, where satisfying mouth fiestas can easily be found in walking distances, my country-esque landscape packs scrumptious supper splurges, but for out-of-towners, they may need a sturdy map to dine at my suburban thrones.

Recently, a couple close to B and I, tipped us off to a local gastropub that's been in operations for a little over three months. Any eatery that's bursting with a profound love of craft beers and furthermore, decently paired entrees, is definitely a dining excursion in my go-to book, which is why we recently trekked to Emmaus' Tap and Table Gastropub.

Proud to have over 149 hoppy pleasures, most rarely found at any local bar or pub, the gorgeous beer menu may take a proclaimed fiend a minute or two (or ten) to breeze through and make the decision for dinner's first sip. Your surroundings, boosting in a dining room lit solely by candlelight and a grubbing space lined with communal deep-red wood tables, are reminiscent of any fall-fused, low key soiree, while still maintaining the comforting feel of an Oktoberfest celebration.

Although the dinner menu is sketched around only a handful of options, the selection is top-notch and mostly everything, even down to the ketchup, is housemade. Aside from ever changing nightly specials (for our visit, fish and chips were the evening's featured starter), the basic menu offers beer-brewed appetizers, entrees and desserts, and if ever there was a locale for an epic beer king, this is your cathedral!

[Please excuse the photographs! The dimly lit dining scene, minus an obnoxious flash, did not make for the best of images.]

Floored over which decision to decide on first, we opted to sample the artisanal cheese plate to begin our feast. Plated with aged cheddar cheese, delicate brie and bold bleu, and then, accompanied with toast points and sesame crackers, baby chardonnay grapes and in-house candied cashews, the cheese assortment was exceptional, and the fruit, tart and sweet.

Yes, I ate a burger. A Kobe beef burger. Embarassed by my overwhelming consumption of beef patties, I cannot resist sampling a gourmet burger, paired with a pint of beer, at any substantial restaurant. I apologize for not being over versatile (which, I honestly am) in the last few months, but this beefy 'wich was what I needed on the crisp weekend evening. Slathered with aged cheddar, plopped with caramelized onions and layered with applewood bacon, the medium-cooked red meat was fresh and juicy, and the homemade bun, the ideal exterior pocket I always wish for prior to sinking my teeth into some beef.

Suggested, following ordering pan-seared duck beast, is a pint of the St. Feuillien Brune, served on draft. The St. Feuillien Brune, a deep brown ale doubled-conditioned and brewed Abbey Dubbel-style, offers up-to-par roasted flavors that pair exceptionally well with richness of the duck and its sauce accompaniment, the red wine grape sauce. Sided with purple Peruvians and crunchy string beans, our German feast couldn't get better than this!

No meal is complete without a bite or two of dessert, and since summer is almost officially at its close, the housemade ice cream trio wasn't too hard to select. With a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout toffee chip scoop, a Young's Double Chocolate Stout chip scoop,and sweet-and-natural, non-alcohol vanilla bean, captured what a brewpub does best — splash puddles of hoppy punches into some of the eatery's most-pursued dishes.
Most importantly, a true beeraholic can't visit a gastro without a sampling of a few decent brews. Here's what we tried: Ommegang Grand Cru Rouge, Furthermore Oscura (for coffee lovers, such as myself), Dogfish Head's Punkin Ale, and previously mentioned, St. Feuillien Brune.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

taste of hamburg-er festival

It is almost unreal to me that less than a year ago, I had not devoured a juicy all-beef patty for over eight years. (You hear that? EIGHT!) It was by choice, of course, and in my past vegetarian ways, I did grill many amazing all-veggie patties. But since abandoning those ways, I have gobbled a ton of juicy hamburgers (excuse: have lost time to make up for) and can't imagine ever going back to a non-beef burger life.

So, being a self-proclaimed burgeraholic, it was only fitting that I attend Hamburg's 6th Annual Hamburger Festival. With over 21 burger vendors, in addition to a handful of other food-themed stands, it is recommended that each attendee chowdown on as many burgers that seem feasible in your soon-to-be stuffed stomachs, and then, vote for best burger in all of Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

Hecky's Sub Shop, located on one of the main streets of the burger-loving town and also, the main route of the festival, luckily enough didn't have to set up shop in the humid outdoors. Conveniently offering up their cool indoor dining pleased any sweaty attending fiend, but the fact that their newest burger, The Dutchie, was the best I had tasted all day, I could not ask for any less (or even, a better name).
The Dutchie, a decent-sized beef patty smeared with a sweet barbecue sauce and glopped with a cheddar and bacon cheese spread, was served fresh on a pretzel bun. The sweet of the sauce, paired with the savoriness of the roll, made for ideal bites of the day.
My second favorite show-stopper, Kooper's Tavern's Chowhound Burger Wagon, travelled all the way from Baltimore to hopefully become the renowned Burger King. Offering everything from a one-pound beef patty, to a turkey, veggie and bison, the tantalizing truck boosts for their build-your-owns, crunchy sides of fries and pickles, and makes a mean-and-gooey bleu cheese concoction, titled the Elvis Got the Blues.
Kooper's bag of sweets.
Elvis Got the Blues, a mix of Maytag blue cheese and crispy apple-smoked bacon, squeezed in a fresh and fluffy Kaiser.
Other tasty creations included Laurel Center's two 'wich creations: The Texas Toast Southwestern served coated with homemade coleslaw and cheddar cheese, and The Surf and Turf layered with fresh crab meat and a nicely tart remoulade.
Next year, I plan to squeeze in five whole-burger bites, or maybe, being ambitious, enter the burger eating competition.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

toasted almond butter cake with almond buttercream frosting

I am quite the cake connoisseur. Yet, almond cake connoisseur? Not so much. I have dabbled with many, upon many, cake flavor creations, but when asked to prepare an almond tasting cake for a soon-to-be wed couple, I nervously had a lot of practicing to do.

Almond cake is one of those tastes that can be taken down so many twisting routes. Whether you want to tackle a breakfast crumb cake, a moist pound, or a light-and-fluffy sponge, combinations with the almond can tastefully be done. However, when you are making a tiered wedding cake, it can't be too light, or (in my book, ever) too stiff.

Honestly, the past week consisted of me mixing-and-matching everything produced from the crunchy nut (extracts, pastes, flour meals, etc.) into gorgeous floury blends, until magnificently, a delicate dough was produced.

And, let's just say, the wedding pair couldn't have just one bite!

Almond Butter Cake
makes one 2-layer cake

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (mixed all-purpose with whole wheat)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) almond paste, room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two 8-inch pans with baking spray and parchment paper.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat butter, sugar and almond paste until smooth. Add eggs one at a time; mix until thoroughly blended. Add vanilla and almond extracts, beat until batter is smooth.

Add flour mixture in three additions and the buttermilk in two additions to the butter blend, starting and ending with the flour.

Fill tin pans, leaving 1/4-1/2 inch from the top of the pan. Bake until crowns of cakes are firm and golden brown, just about 22 minutes. Cool completely before removing from pans.

Almond Buttercream Frosting
makes about 3 cups

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup veggie shortening
2 1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons rice milk, or soy milk

Combine butter and veggie shortening until smooth and fluffy. Add powdered sugar a cup at a time, splashing rice milk a tablespoon at-a-time, while blending. When well-combined, mix in almond and vanilla extracts.

For decorating: toast 1 cup of sliced almonds for perimeter of cake, as well as crown of cake.

Assembly: Do not assemble the cake if it is not yet cool. Place the first round of the cake onto a 8-10 inch cake board. Cover the entire top of the cake with buttercream. Place second layer directly on top of the other. Frost second top of second layer. To ensure easy production of decoration, chill the two layers of the cake for about 15 minutes before icing the sides/edges. Remove from fridge, ice the cake entirely. Individually place the sliced almonds around the edges. Serve immediately, or store in air-tight container.