Monthly Archives: August 2014

Blueberry Cream Cheese Flan

In Spanish:  Flan de Queso Casero con Frutas de Bosque

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At then end of the Paella blog I mentioned this dessert:
Blueberry Cream Cheese Flan

If you like cheesecake (and I don’t know many people who don’t), you’ll love this flan. It is super simple to make – mix sugar, eggs, cream cheese and milk. Divide mixture into 6 dishes and toss in a handful of blueberries, then bake in a water bath. The result is a rich and creamy flan dotted with fresh blueberries.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 6 Servings

INGREDIENTS
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 13 1/2 oz milk (whole, lowfat or skim)
  • 4-6 cups hot water
  • 6 oz fresh blueberries
  • 6 Tbsp honey
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mixing.filling
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poring.into.ramekins

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PREPARATION
  1. Heat oven to 400F.
  2. Heat water on stove top or in microwave. Set aside.
  3. Place sugar, eggs and cream cheese in a medium mixing bowl. Mix with an electric mixer on medium speed until blended. Pour in milk and continue to mix for 1 minute.
  4. Divide the blueberries between the 6 ramekins. Pour flan mixture into the ramekins.
  5. Place the ramekins in a broiler pan and pour hot water into the pan. Make sure to pour enough water, so water level covers 1/2 of height of ramekins.
  6. Bake in oven for about 30 minutes, or until flan rises.
  7. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Run knife around edge of each ramekin, then turn out onto plates. Drizzle a tablespoon of honey over the top of each flan and serve.

If flan won’t be served immediately, allow to cool on the counter for 20 minutes and refrigerate until serving.

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A Paella Party!

It had been almost a year since we grilled a paella outdoors on the paella grill. And unfortunately, we weren’t going to be able to do so on the weekend we had invited some friends over for this outdoor experience. The 2014 summer weekends had been consistently splendid up to this point, but this particular Saturday proved uncharacteristic in that it rained almost all day and into the evening. But alas, making paella (a saffron-flavored Spanish dish made with varying combinations of rice, vegetables, meat, chicken, and/or seafood) is very flexible and something you can make over your kitchen stove—which is what we did.

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Barb Walsh, Brad Collins, Fran and Grant McNinch

Our guests—two other couples who all once resided in my old Yardley ‘hood before I moved to Langhorne—contributed to the Spanish theme with appetizers of grilled eggplant rounds dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar topped with tomato slices, feta cheese and basil, and an antipasto platter of sorts with Serrano ham and manchego cheese rolls, sliced chorizo and olives; and we uncorked numerous bottles of Temperanillo red wine, among other requested cocktails. So despite the inclement weather, we were determined to make the most of great food, ample libations and engaging company.

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Spanish appetizers were enjoyed while the paella cooked.

Paella might be the world’s most perfect company dish—from the drama of presenting the giant pan at the table, to the beautifully seasoned, addictively flavorful rice.

ingredients
The raw ingredients
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Chicken thigh pieces browning in the paella pan
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Russ stirring the paella as it cooks
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Brad assists in the compilation of the caprese salad
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Meat is pushed to the edges while the grated tomato is added
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The paella ingredients before the bomba rice is added.
The story continues after the recipe…

Continue reading A Paella Party!

Perfecting the Personal Pizza

A short while ago we blogged about our first attempt at a grilled pizza, with some success. The visual effect left something to be desired, so not satisfied with mediocrity, we vowed to make several more over the course of time. With that resolve, we spotted a Roasted Tomato, Fennel and Asiago Pizza (Cooks Illustrated) that appealed to our culinary sensibilities and used that recipe as our base this time around.

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While I was hoping to make the garlic-herb pizza crust from scratch, we had a premade pizza dough in the frig that was about to expire. (Those of you with wheat issues may want to use a gluten-free dough.) As you may recall in the previous pizza blog, Russ had a bit of an issue rolling the dough into some semblance of a circle. This time however he had a lot more success.

He discovered that there was more hand working the dough, not so much rolling it out. The bubbles take a beating under a rolling pin, leaving the finished product dense and tough. Instead, think light and gentle, and work with your hands to pull and stretch the dough out to your desired size. If the dough proves impossible to work with—snapping back when stretched, for instance—it’s either been overworked or is too cold. Let it sit at room temperature for a full 15 minutes to let the gluten relax and the temperature rise before trying again.

As luck would have it, just as we were going to start making the pizza, an unexpected rain storm burst out of nowhere (predictions were ZERO percent precipitation that day!) So Plan B was to use the oven, which we preheated to 550 degrees. (Note this recipe is for grilling pizza.)

The evening before, we roasted the tomatoes for 20 minutes as described in this recipe–in the oven, not on the grill. But the next day they seemed too watery to me. Having roasted tomatoes before, I knew they usually take a long time, so I popped them back in for 1 1/2 hours at 325 degrees. This eliminates moisture and concentrates the flavors—a very important step. They came out beautifully!

roasted.tomatoes

While Russ worked the dough, I placed the 11″ pizza stone in the oven to preheat; prepared the onion, fennel, garlic mixture in a sauté pan; and grated the Asiago cheese (we used more like a cup.) The dough was split in two, and the first pizza was assembled directly on the hot pizza stone, put in the oven for 5 minutes, turned and cooked for another 3 minutes. Perfectly browned crust! The second try, Russ decided to assemble the pie on a cookie sheet and slide it onto the hot pizza stone. GONK. Without a pizza peel and cornmeal, not a smart move! We finally managed, but made a bit of mess with toppings falling off.

As a final touch we added fresh basil from the garden cut into ribbons. We oohed an aaahed as we ate, definitely agreeing we’ll make this combo again! For those who prefer a bit of meat, a good addition would be crumbled Italian sausage with fennel. Although, if you do add other ingredients, you may want to scale back on the fennel/onion mixture so that the pizza doesn’t get soggy.

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INGREDIENTS

Continue reading Perfecting the Personal Pizza

Vidi, Vici, Vegan

OK so maybe the title is a bit nonsensical, but it does make sense to try out this vegetarian restaurant. In an unassuming mini strip mall off of Second Street Pike in Southampton, PA, sits the Blue Sage Grille. Established about 14 years ago, this BYOB restaurant has become one of the most popular restaurants in Southampton and the “granddaddy” of vegetarian restaurants in Bucks County. It serves lunch and dinner 5 days a week (closed on Monday), and now also serves Sunday brunch.

“The quality of the food that comes into the kitchen is great,” explains executive Chef Mike Jackson. In fact, 98% of what comes into the restaurant is whole food, be it grains, vegetables, fruits or beans. But you won’t find a lot of meat substitutes like tofu or seitan here. There is balance between vegetable, grain, beans and dairy, and Jackson and his kitchen staff bring out the best in each. “The challenge is that we need lots of different vegetables,” says Jackson, “in fact, some of our entrees take four sauté pans to prepare.”

On the “con” side, the place itself is quite small, 15 tables in all, packed closely together. We were seated at a booth on one end of the restaurant, which our dinner companions, Barry and Eve—who have eaten here often—told us was actually spacious compared to other tables. Reservations are a good idea any night, but absolutely required on a Friday night, as the place has so few tables. The sound level was at times deafening, resulting in the waitress having to repeat herself, and made conversation a struggle.

But the “pros” certainly outweigh the cons. The atmosphere is casual, and the food is definitely top-notch. Even a die-hard carnivore would have difficulty not enjoying something off this eclectic menu, which includes numerous vegan entrees for those so inclined. Food service was leisurely / slow (which is actually refreshing when enjoying an evening out), and the wait staff is attentive. Beware, the portions are very large, and VERY filling. Also on the plus side is that it’s a BYOB, with no cork fee.

nachos
Being our first time at this establishment, we relied on our dining friends for advice. The only thing they told us to stay away from were the Empanadas, which they said were dry. With that tip in mind, we started the process of narrowing down our choices from the list of appetizers, salads, tacos, sandwiches, entrees and dessert. Finally, Russ and I settled on one of their “5-star” appetizers to share: Adobo Goat Cheese Nachos—Fresh‎ blue corn tortilla chips with smokey adobo black beans, roasted corn, grilled julienne red peppers, oven-dried cherry tomato halves, creamy roasted onion goat-manchego queso. When the large platter of nachos arrived at the table, it was all I could do to keep Russ from diving in before I could take a photo!

balls??
Barry and Eve chose the Arancini, a twist on the classic Italian rice ball—almond crusted green apple risotto fritters with gazpacho dipping sauce and dry aged goat cheese; the four pieces easily divided among the two couples.

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Our second choices varied from different parts of the menu. I think the next table over influenced Russ’ decision with the arrival of their Falafel Wrap—Griddled whole wheat wrap encased crispy falafel fritters, cucumber-yogurt dressed jicama slaw, char grilled green curry barbecue red onions, roasted red peppers, served with baby greens in chile lime vinaigrette… it’s presentation solidifying the selection for Russ.

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Lynn chose one of their delicious salads (name forgotten, mea culpa!), a bed of mixed greens and kale, with lots of crunchy almonds, sweet and mild cipollini onions, roasted baby beets, red grapes, black mission figs and shaved manchego cheese slices—unbelievably huge, and quite tasty. But WAY more than a days worth of fiber in this baby!

quesadillas
Barry ordered the Quesadilla Rustica cut into 4 pieces, filled with mozzarella, tomatoes, and other veggie ingredients with a side of black bean salsa and arugula;

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and from the Taco menu Eve chose the Blue Corn Asparagus—Griddled with monterey jack, grilled asparagus and tomato-almond romesco, black bean salsa, ancho crema, field greens. Both dishes were pictures of perfection!

carnivale
While we waited for our entrees, our “influential” friends at the neighboring table received theirs, and encouraged us to photograph them to add to the blog. One entree was the Carnivale, a stuffed squash in what looks like a beet juice reduction with baby roasted carrots and parsnips.

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Continue reading Vidi, Vici, Vegan

Agricola in Princeton

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The advent of farmers markets and farm-to-table restaurants have brought food sourcing to the forefront of Americans’ consciousness, with the farmers market movement already serving a broader purpose. More pressure is put on grocery and other fast-food segments of the industry as people begin to look for fresh food in their everyday dining options. And in that vein, the “highlight” dining experience of my birthday celebrations back in July was at Agricola, a farm-to-table restaurant in Princeton that uses fresh local ingredients from their very own Great Road Farm as well as from other neighboring providers. In Latin, “Agricola” means “farmer” which embodies their farm to table spirit and their dedication to community and comfort.

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Agricola runs the gamut from enormous flatbreads made in the wood-­burning oven that are perfect for sharing—and we did, ordering the Shibumi Farm’s Mushroom Flatbread with oregano, great road farm egg, chili flakes, parmigiano-reggiano—to the impressive entrées, such as the impeccably tender and crisp NY State Duck “Two Ways” (serves two) over faro and turnips with cherry gastrique for textural contrast and color. While it is not a BYOB, we ordered a bottle of French Cotes de Rhone that went fabulously well with the complimentary basket of crusty bread.

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4shibumi.mushroom.flatbread

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Although we did not choose seafood, the choices include a fun starter, crispy Atlantic cod fritters, said to be as addictive as french fries. A green olive/fennel tapanade bringing a visually compelling arctic char dish to life. Vegetarians are well considered here, with a wild mushroom stew that includes farro, kale, sunchokes and the slight sting of harissa, a north African pepper paste. But keep in mind that the menu changes often depending on the season and the available produce and meats.

Creating the magic that appears on the plates is executive chef and partner Josh Thomsen and Manlee Siu, his chef de cuisine. Before working at Agricola, Mr. Thomsen, cooked under Thomas Keller at the renowned French Laundry in Yountville, Calif., and Michael Mina in Las Vegas.

Back in 2005, while out in California for Russ’ sister’s wedding, we were fortunate to have a photo of us taken outside the French Laundry in Napa Valley, and then visiting the organic farm of the Jacobsen Orchard, the supplier of fresh produce for the restaurant. The highlight of the trip was the amazingly fresh lunch composed of just-picked fruits and vegetables from their garden, prepared by Peter Jacobsen and his wife Gwen in the outdoor kitchen.

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Above are pictured the Jacobsen Orchard and Peter tending to his organic garden.

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Russ, Lynn, David and Dan at the French Laundry in September 2005.

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Dan and Dave Hartman helping Peter Jacobsen cook our organic lunch al fresco at Jacobsen Orchard in September 2005.

NOTE: having worked at Mercer County Community College for 30 years, it makes me proud that Agricola is supporting MCCC’s Culinary Arts Program with scholarship money for deserving culinary students who demonstrate a combination of passion, creativity, and academic achievement.

An Historic Landmark – The Washington Crossing Inn

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Ideal for weekday business lunches or fine evening dining with family and friends, the Washington Crossing Inn offers a relaxing atmosphere, scenic views, and fabulous menus. With friends Barb and Brad in tow on a recent gorgeous August evening, we experienced alfresco dining while sheltered by a lush canopy of trees in the outdoor patio area intimately nestled next to their Secret Garden, while listening to live steel drum music.

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BandB2

The Washington Crossing Inn never disappoints as a social venue. And now that the dining has been recalibrated, the entire experience rocks. The building exudes bona fide historic warmth. The barroom is a popular watering spot—vibrant and cozy. Sunday Brunch is a traditional hit. Fridays and Saturdays feature live music in the barroom. And as spring breaks, alfresco dining on the lovely patio ranks among the region’s best.   — Bucks County Magazine

There are three menus to order from: The Tavern Menu, The Tapas Menu, and the Secret Garden Menu.

Russ and Lynn, not surprisingly, ordered several items from the Tapas Menu: Chicken PintxosCharcuterie with Jamon Serrano, Chorizo and Proscuitto; Fire Roasted Shrimp with garlic, shishito peppers, olive oil and garlic bread; and Chicken Tacos with lettuce tomato and smoked cheddar cheese. Our companions ordered from the Tavern Menu: Shaved Prime Rib Sandwich with crispy red onions, Black River blue cheese, spinach, horseradish cream on a ciabatta roll; and the Grilled Chicken Panino with pickled red onion, spinach, cheddar, and roasted tomato aoili; both sandwiches served with french fries.

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A Bit of History:

In 1919, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created a park along the Delaware to commemorate the famous crossing by General George Washington and his troops in 1776. At this time, the name of the picturesque village was changed from Taylorsville to Washington Crossing. In the 1930s, the Haven family, who had been operating the Old Ferry Inn in the village, purchased the Taylor Family home. They renovated the home, constructed the colonial style addition that is now the present day lobby and ballroom. The original 1817 home was preserved as the inn’s public dining spaces: the Hearth Room and Covered Bridge Room. In 2009, brothers Dr. Eli Mordechai and Jerry Moradi purchased the inn to continue the tradition of the preserving the landmark of Bucks County hospitality.

From daring attack to hospitable acts, the site of this colonial style inn holds a significant place in America’s history.

  • Served as a ferry crossing from late 1600s until 1834.
  • Site of inn / tavern for colonial travelers.
  • Where General George Washington and his troops made the famous crossing.
  • Site of 1817 Bernard Taylor Homestead.
  • Popular landmark inn opened by the Haven Family in the 1930s.

I highly urge you to try out this historic landmark for dinner alfresco before the cooler weather is upon us. However, once the seasons change, you can always dine inside…

Washington Crossing Inn is located at 1295 General Washington Memorial Blvd.(River Road), Washington Crossing, PA

Pizza on the Grill

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The hotter it gets outside, the less inclined we are to turn up the heat on the oven inside. If you use a grill to make pizza in the hot summer months, you can keep the heat outside where it belongs. Grills also better mimic a wood fired oven than your conventional indoor oven. Whether using charcoal or gas, the smoke from the grill will help give your pizza more flavor. It’s also dead easy… so we finally, after years of saying we would make grilled pizza, actually did! Although we did not make the crust from scratch (we had two store-bought pizza crusts in the freezer), it did renew our resolve to create from scratch in the near future.

For starters, the crusts were thawed in the frig overnight, kneaded and put in a towel covered bowl to rise according to package directions. Once ready, it was quite humorous watching Russ try to roll out some semblance of a circle. We finally settled on more of a rectangle for one crust, and an amoeba shape for the other (not winning any contests in the shape department here.)

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A few nights previously, we had grilled a vegetable medley of peppers, onions, garlic and eggplant with plenty left over so that was the basis of our toppings. For the first layer, instead of a pizza sauce, we used seeded and sliced heirloom tomatoes from our garden, pressed to remove much of the moisture. Then scattered on the vegetable medley, followed by sliced fresh mozzarella and grated parmesan. Once aptly topped, close the grill lid and let heat through until the cheese is melted. Slide onto a large pizza stone or cutting board and sprinkle on your fresh herbs (and of course, crushed red pepper!)

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Continue reading Pizza on the Grill

Silky, Satisfying Sorbet

August is here. But don’t sweat it. Enjoy a cool refresher with homemade Lemon Olive Oil Sorbet.

Russ found this recipe online by Deb Brunson. It truly is incredible. Tart but slightly sweet, refreshing but oh so decadent. “Little condensed frozen ball of summer.” This recipe is originally from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, but taken a step further as Russ decided to emulsify the egg white and olive oil resulting in the silky texture.

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Ingredients

  • 14 oz water
  • 11 oz sugar (a shy cup and a half)
  • 14 oz lemon juice (this will be about 9 lemons, but completely worth it)
  • 7 oz olive oil
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp lemon zest (we used closer to a Tbs)
Method
  1. Make a simple syrup by bringing the water and sugar to a boil until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool.
  2. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, egg white and zest to the syrup.
  3. Chill and process according to your ice cream machine’s directions.

Russ’ alteration
Place egg white, lemon zest and simple syrup (when cooled) in a blender and blend until mixture is well combined. With blender running, slowly pour in olive oil until mixture is well emulsified, then add lemon juice and blend briefly until everything is well combined. Pour mixture into your ice cream maker and process until mixture is thick and slushy. Place in container, cover tightly and freeze until firm.

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Next time, we intend to add a few sprigs of rosemary to steep in the hot simple syrup, and once cooled, removed before it gets added to the other ingredients.

(Yields 1 1/2 quarts)