Friday, July 29, 2011

Let Me Eat Cake!

After two weeks of focus on ice cream, out thoughts have turned naturally to cake...

Cherry Upside Down Cake

I love cake.  The denser, butterier, sweeter and richer the better.  And this upside down cake fits all of these descriptions, especially when topped with mascarpone whipped cream.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm kind of a "toss all the ingredients in the mixing bowl and blend" kind of baker, but this cake requires some finesse and three mixing bowls to be precise.  The fact that I dirty three bowls is testament to the yumminess of this cake, for I do not take messing up the kitchen lightly.

I am the designated baker of my extended family, and this cake is always requested for holidays.  It's standard fare on July 4 starring sour cherries, but it also makes a Christmas appearance featuring (out of season and very expensive) raspberries.

I found this recipe in Mom's Big Book of Baking by Lauren Chattman,  which has become my baking Bible.  Chattman was a pastry chef in her former life, so she knows how to spin sugar and mold fondant.  But after having children, she reassessed her priorities in the kitchen and developed these simpler but equally tasty recipes.  If you are at all inclined to bake but are not at all inclined to fuss, this is the book for you.  The recipe below is probably the most complicated in the entire book, and it's infinitely doable.

Cherry Upside Down Cake

For fruit topping:

2 cups fruit of your choice.   My fave is sour cherries, but I have also made this cake with blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, peaches, and all have been very yummy.  Pitting the cherries is kind of the pits, but the cake is amazing.
6 TBSP butter
1/2 cup sugar (you may have to adjust this depending on the sweetness of the fruit you choose; for sour cherries use more, for peaches, use less)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

For cake:
Nonstick cooking spray
Parchment paper
1 1/3 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp salt
1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup whole milk

Heat oven to 350.

Prepare the pan: Spray bottom and sides of  a 9 inch round pan, then line pan with parchment (bottom and sides; the sides will ripple a bit, that's ok. Spray parchment and set aside.

Make the fruit topping:  In skillet, melt butter on medium heat; add sugar, fruit and cinnamon.  cook, stirring frequently, til juices release and sugar melts.  When fruit is softened, 4-5 mins, remove it with a slotted spoon and place fruit in prepared cake pan on the parchmentleaving syrup in skillet.  Boil syrup 3-4 more minutes til it is reduced and concentrated a bit.  Pour syrup on fruit and set aside.

Make the batter:  Combine flour, baking powder, cornmeal and salt in small bowl.   Set aside.

Place egg whites in large mixing bowl and beat with whisk attachment on high until stiff peaks form.  Do not get any yolk in the whites or they won't hold their shape.

Combine butter and sugar in another large mixing bowl and cream together on medium high until fluffy.  Add yolks and vanilla; blend completely.  Continue to beat on medium, and slowly add flour mixture, alternating with the milk until batter is smooth.  Then slowly add the whites, folding gently, and mix until all white streaks have disappeared.

Pour the batter into the pan on top of the fruit mixture and smooth the top.  (Fruit syrup will ooze over the top, that's fine.)  Bake 50 mins til cake is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool completely, then unmold on platter and peel off the parchment.  Top with whipped mascarpone cream, or plain whipped cream.

Bask in adoration and awe.

Speaking of cake, we'd be remiss if we did not address the source of this post's title...."Let them eat cake!"  (or in the original French, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!"

Poor Marie Antoinette has gone down in history as having uttered this heartless and cruel phrase upon learning that the peasants had no bread.  But the attribution is considered inaccurate both from a chronological and a linguistic standpoint. The line was initially written by Jean Jacques Rousseau quoting "a great princess" in 1766 in his autobiography Confessions.  But  in 1766,  Marie Antoinette was only 10 years old, and not anywhere near serving as the queen consort of France during the dark days preceding the Revolution. And the original quote refers to 'brioche', which is, essentially, bread, not cake.

Look for more on cake in the coming weeks....Regardless of who said it first, we repeat:  Let them eat cake!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ice Cream + Reduced Balsamic = Elegant Simplicity

Ice cream jacked up with caramelized balsamic and fresh fruit takes this summer staple to a whole new level.

I learned this trick from the most fabulous houseguests over July 4th weekend.  They weren't actually my houseguests; they were invited to the family beach house by my sister, and, if I am to be totally honest, I wasn't thrilled that our existing group of 25 was to be expanded by 4 total strangers.  This view was rapidly revised when I met these fab folks, and I continue to eat my unuttered words as I relish the divinely simple dessert executed for our mob by Susie, the mom of the pack.

Now, anyone can scoop a bowl of ice cream and call it dessert.  And generally, it is received with joy and jubilation, particularly at this time of year.  But Susie took the ice cream dessert to a whole new level, and showcased the bounty of summer in the process.  I just might have a new best friend.

Susie's Symphony

2 cups balsamic vinegar
1 quart top quality vanilla ice cream
6 ripe peaches or nectarines, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
4 sprigs fresh mint cut into a fine mince
8 cookies of your choice--Susie used packaged almond thins, but any good quality butter/wafer cookie would be fine.

In saucepan, boil vinegar over medium heat until it reduces to a thick, gooey syrup, approximately 20 minutes.
Scoop vanilla ice cream into individual bowls.  Garnish with a generous serving of peaches.  Drizzle a scant teaspoon of balsamic syrup onto each scoop of ice cream, sprinkle with mint and garnish with a cookie.

Your guests just may break out in song over this, I nearly did.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Avocado Green Tea Ice Cream & not an Ice Cream Maker in Sight!

A First for Me!  Home-made ice-cream
Apparently the Chinese adore ice cream and consume vast quantities of the stuff, according to Michael Strange, CEO of Bassett's Ice Cream.  Mango and also Green Tea ice-cream are two of Bassett's top exports to Asia - which isn't that surprising given that these are both regional flavors. 

Green Tea itself has become pretty popular in the U.S., in part because of its alleged health benefits. While these benefits have not yet been conclusively proven, it's reassuring to think that this home-made ice-cream recipe may actually be somewhat good for you.  (OK, we're stretching the point..but there are no reconstituted milk solids or artificial flavors in our recipe and we do include a quarter cup of neat green tea).

Our friend, an inspiring and extremely health aware home cook, Joanna Schwartz provided us with this recipe and I'm game on to try it out on my unsuspecting family this weekend.

My partner in crime, Keri, had an altogether different reaction to the sound of this recipe "It sounds utterly revolting," said she (anything covered in chocolate is more her thing...).  I beg to differ. 

Green Tea is a powerful antioxidant

Joanna - Girl around town in Philly!

To visualize the unusual flavor, Joanna compares it to the avocado bubble drink on the menu at Nam Phuong, a Vietnamese restaurant she frequents on 11th and Washington Ave in Center City, Philadelphia. 

She makes an impressive case: "This is the one dish I've ever prepared that my family unanimously loves. No small wonder! And you don't need an ice cream maker!"

I like the sound of no ice-cream maker, because I don't possess one.  So here goes.

Avocado Green Tea Ice Cream
2 avocados-medium ripe,
2/3 cup of sugar,
1 individual size plain yogurt,
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup green tea (brewed and chilled)

Cut open avocados and discard the peel. Measure out and place all ingredients in a blender and blend until the mixture is a somewhat dense puree. For a creamier ice cream add more milk and sugar if you like it a little sweeter. Pour into a sturdy bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  (Note I don't keep full fat milk at home, so I improvised; I used 2% milk and added an extra 1oz of yoghurt to make sure that I didn't compromise the creaminess of the final ice cream.)

Place in freezer. Every half hour for 3 hours stir vigorously with a wooden spoon, making sure to get any frozen bits off the sides of the bowl and mixing them in.

Delicious served with fresh raspberries.

If you don't have the energy to churn the ice-cream by hand, stop by Bassetts Ice Cream at the Reading Terminal Market and try their Green Tea flavor.  It's dandy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Franklin Fountain: We all Scream for Ice Cream!

Green tea ice cream on a waffle cone. 

Franklin Fountain is a veritable shrine to the traditional ice cream parlor.  Its vintage authenticity radiates out of every nook and cranny.  From the porcelain sign that dates back to 1920 to the marble counters and the all white uniforms on the staff, this place looks like the real deal. But looks can be deceiving.  (Remember how pretty my rhubarb relish looked?  Ugh, the flavor just came back to me.  Pause for deep, cleansing breath, nibble some chocolate to eradicate the gross out).  The proof is in the tasting, and, after a few bites of Franklin Fountain's ice cream, we were sold.

The Franklin Fountain sources all of its ingredients from local providers, starting with family owned dairy farms in Berks and Lancaster counties.  Fruits, nuts, chocolates and other flavorings are also sourced from local purveyors.  Of course, we're advocates of locally grown ingredients and supporting family farms, but ultimately, if the results are weak, it doesn't matter whether the building blocks came from next door or Timbuktu.  Fortunately for all of us, the results are stupendous.  The variety of flavors is interesting without being ridiculous.  My daughter had the green tea, which she said was "refreshing, an excellent palate cleanser."  (Can you tell her mom is a food writer?).

The peach, sampled on a previous visit, was fantastic, ditto the blueberry and black raspberry.

Other members of our party enjoyed:
Mt Vesuvius--ice cream, brownie chunks, chocolate sauce, whipped cream and malt powder.

Chocolate coke float

Lightning Rod--brownie topped with coffee ice cream, a shot of espresso, chocolate covered espresso beans and a pretzel.

We couldn't write about this place without mentioning that they were featured on Man vs. case you missed it, you can watch the episode here.

What's your favorite ice cream place?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ice Cream Week Kicks off at Reading Terminal Market

Stay cooool while the rest of the City melts

If you're an ice cream aficionado then head to historic Reading Terminal Market this Saturday July 16th for some ice cream mayhem!  In recognition of National Ice Cream Day, which was first initiated in July 1984 by then President Ronald Reagan, the Market is hosting a day of frozen fun. 

As the oldest ice cream manufacturer in the U.S., Bassetts Ice Cream will be spearheading the ultimate Ice Cream Festival; Bassetts first started trading at the Market way back when - in 1893 to be precise. 

On July 16th, Bassetts will be joined by some of Philadelphia’s leading independent frozen dessert artisans including the Market's own Miller's Twist. Other attendees in years past have included Bredenbeck’s Bakery & Ice Cream Parlor & The Franklin Fountain. 

Highlights of the day include ice cream eating contests, tastings, games, demonstrations, giveaways, live music, children’s crafts and more. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Center Court at the Reading Terminal Market.

Perhaps you'd like to take a turn at ice cream juggling at Philadelphia's Ultimate Ice Cream Festival...?  Thought not.  Only for the brave hearted this; don't try it at home :)

For Bassetts, 2011 is a very special year; it marks the 150th anniversary of this famous Philadelphian institution.  The story of the Market and the success of Bassetts is entwined. 

Believe it or not, Bassetts very first ice creams were manufactured in the basement of the original market building.  Bassetts was a runaway success however and demand soon outstripped the production capabilities onsite at the Market. 

The company may have moved its production elsewhere, but it still sources ingredients for its ice creams from merchants at the Market and Bassetts' CEO Michael Strange has been known to try out new flavors on willing merchants and customers at the Market.

Strange relates an anecdote about his Matcha (Japanese Green Tea) Ice Cream which was released in 2010. 

According to Bassetts' CEO, the company researched Green Teas high and low, testing and tasting -- but nothing hit the spot. 

Lynnette Chen, owner of Tea Leaf at Reading Terminal Market saved the day. Lynette is extremely knowledgeable about Asian Teas and found the perfect 'match' for Bassetts.  Today, Matcha Green Tea Ice Cream is one of Bassetts' top selling new flavors. (Vanilla is still far and away everyone's no 1. favorite!)

Take a look at the marble counter top which runs the length of Bassetts' stand at the Market.  This marble dates back to when the Market was newly built and Bassetts opened its first retail store in this vert same spot.  It's a piece of living history! 

Come to the Market on July 16th and create your own special ice cream memories.

Bassetts is a fifth generation Philadelphian business.  The company is still owned and operated by the original founders great-great grandsons Michael Strange and Roger Bassett.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Five Fun Facts About Ice Cream

Everyone loves ice cream, especially this time of year.  As we began our research for a two week feature on this favorite frozen treat, we found the following sundae of interesting facts.....

1.  Which country do you think has the highest per capita consumption of ice cream?

Yes, you're right the U.S takes first place.  But guess who comes next?  New Zealand -- followed by Denmark, Australia and Belgium. Who would have guessed?

2.  Who invented the first "ice cream"? (And by this we are including all frozen desserts...)

The first "ice cream" was likely consumed in China 3000 years ago.  It was made of snow gathered in the mountains, mixed with fruit pulp, honey, and nectar, and eaten by the emperors.   Marco Polo is said to have brought this recipe back to Italy, where they added milk and made the first gelato.  Grazie, Signore Polo!

3.  So who invented the ice cream cone then? 

Attribution here is murky.  Some sources credit New York ice cream vendor Italo Marchiony, who submitted a patent for a waffle cone in 1903.  He was motivated to find an alternative to bowls due to the high cost caused by breakage and customers walking off with his inventory. 

Other sources claim that the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was the first place that the ice cream cone was used widely.  A merchant ran out of glasses and spoons and in desperation, teamed up with a nearby waffle seller.  They wrapped the waffles into cone shapes and served the ice cream inside to the joy and delight of their customers. 

But didn't the Belgians invent the waffle...?  So surely they must have put two and two together earlier than that.  If there are any ice cream historians out there who know better than we, then please join the fray and clarify this point.

4.  When was the Ice Cream Soda invented?

Our home city of Philadelphia gets the credit for this one.  Ice-cream sodas were invented right here at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia during the 1874 Sesquicentennial by  Robert Green. 

Depending on who is telling the story, either Mr. Green ran out of the cream that he was using to make his "sodas"--which then consisted of said cream, seltzer water, and flavored syrup.   In desperation, he substituted ice cream, and his daily sales went from $6 to $600.  The other account is that Mr. Green sought to lure customers from a competitor who had a fancier, more impressive-looking soda fountain, and did so by adding ice cream to his drinks. It worked!

5.  What is the top selling ice cream flavor?

The most popular flavor by far is vanilla, followed by chocolate and strawberry.  Other flavors that appeared on many of the top ten lists we viewed were:  butter pecan; neapolitan (which is vanilla/chocolate/strawberry served side by side); mint chocolate chip; peach, chocolate chip; cookies and cream; cookie dough.


What's your favorite ice cream treat?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Grilled Dessert? Yes!

Grilled Desserts can be delicious, superbly simple, and crowd pleasing.  With supplies from Reading Terminal Market you can't miss.  Honest.

The only absolute here is to beware of what preceded the dessert on the grill.  We're sure that your garlic glazed salmon was delicious, but its lingering flavor won't do your sweets any good.  Either use foil to cook the dessert, keep a "dessert section" clear of savories in a corner of your grill, or (least temptingly) clean the grill between courses.  That said, here are two easy, yet impressive desserts...

Pineapples from Iovine's

We hit up our friend Chef Bill Beck of Beck's Cajun Cafe in Reading Terminal Market again, and as usual, he came up aces.  Bill offered up a grilled pineapple sundae:  Soak sliced, cored fresh pineapple in rum, brown sugar and vanilla for about an hour.  Grill slices on high heat til just charred and slightly caramelized, about 2 minutes per side.  Place slices in bowl, and top with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce if desired.  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Our other recently discovered grilled summer sweet came from the Philadelphia Inquirer's food editors:  Dessert "Quesadillas".   They suggest grilling flour tortillas filled with mangoes and dulce de leche, brushing the outside with melted butter, sprinkling with cinnamon sugar if desired and and topping the concoction with vanilla ice cream.

Yum, say we, but why stop there?  We offer the following combos, which we think are similarly tempting.....(and suspect that fresh whipped cream, or  mascarpone whipped cream would make an equally lovely garnish).    Or, keep it simple--quarter the quesadillas and pass them around as finger food, omitting the topping altogether.

Try these, they're sure to please....

Dark chocolate and sliced strawberries
Nutella and sliced bananas
Caramel and sliced apples or pears
Milk Chocolate and marshmallows
Blueberries and Lemon Curd
White Chocolate and pitted fresh cherries
Butterscotch and cashews
Chocolate and peanut butter
Mascarpone Cheese and raspberry jam

The chocolate selection at Jonathan Best is staggering; you'll be sure to find one that suits your taste for this simple dessert.

Set these up as a buffet and have guests make their own; kids, especially, will love it.

Invent your own fillings; what's your favorite flavor combo?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Flank Steak Recipes for the Shore

Keri and I seem to be using the term "quick and easy" way too frequently in our recipe posts - but then again it is Summertime.  The lazy hazy days of Summer are upon us so marinading, grilling and flank steak are the order of the day...

Flank steak is a wonder cut of meat, as any of the knowledgeable butchers at Reading Terminal Market will testify.  It's inexpensive - for it comes from the underside or belly of the cow - and very tasty when cooked properly, but it's oh too easy to spoil if you take your eyes of the grill for a moment.  Much to my chagrin,  I found this out the first time I let my husband cook a flank steak (he likes all his meat well done, horror of horrors).  Irrespective of how interesting the marinade is, this slender cut of meat benefits from being cooked medium rare - cook it for any longer and it tastes like shoe leather. 

Your best bet is about 2-3 minutes per side, then leave the steak to rest for a minute or two.

Some 9 million people visit Wildwood per year.  Wouldn't you rather be here than slaving over a hot stove?
We're fans of the Down Home Diner's barbecue sauce, but couldn't resist trying to copy a whisky-based grilling sauce we enjoyed at our recent Kentucky Derby party.  You only need a couple of teaspoons of whisky to infuse the bbq sauce with a memorable kick.  We marinaded the flank steak overnight, grilled, then sliced thinly and assembled a tostado.  Only wish I'd remembered to take the photo...if you prefer fajitas, then try this recipe for courtesy of the FoodNetwork.

Flank Steak is also delicious eaten cold next day in a jumbo sandwich. 

Try a ciabatta roll laden with meat, fave salad veggies and get this, an acceptable substitute for wasabi mayonnaise; wasabi paste or powder is not always readily available in stores at the shore - so I improvised.

1 tablespoon mayo
1/2 teaspoon horseradish sauce
1/2 teaspoon mustard of your choice (sweet, mild, decide how hot you want to make your sandwich.)

Ker-pow.  You're good to go.

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 4th Menu Ideas: What are our fave Chefs Serving?

Apologies to the original thirteen colonies...only had room for six lines of strawberries!

"It started in the thirteen colonies..." sang my teen son spontaneously when I showed him my invention...  Inspired by the flags and bunting going up around towns and cities the length and breadth of the U.S., I crafted a July 4th cake.  I used a rectangular slab of butter cake, repeated Keri's heavenly whipped cream recipe comprising heavy cream, mascarpone, vanilla essence and icing sugar (almost a dessert unto itself!) and got creative with local Jersey blueberries and strawbs.

July 4th is far and away one of our favorite holidays as everyone goes crazy with the red, white and blue decorations.  Aside from Thanksgiving, it's also the time when people throw open their doors and welcome friends and family to celebrate the holiday through food.  Chefs and amateur enthusiasts make a bee line for the grill, with the emphasis being on fast and easy food that maximizes the time in the sunshine or on the beach.

We asked some of our favorite local chefs what they'll be serving on this quintessentially American celebration, and here's what they said:

Michael Santoro, Exec Chief at Talula's Garden will be grilling ribs for his crowd.  He favors a charcoal/spit arrangement and uses a Memphis-style preparation--a dry rub on the ribs and a vinegar mop.

Chef Bill Beck of Beck's Cajun Cafe is planning a barbecued brisket.  He'll coat the entire brisket with his signature spice blend Devil Dust, and let the meat sit for a day.  After bringing it to room temperature, Bill grills the brisket slowly over indirect heat  at about 220 degrees for several hours.  When the meat is fork tender, it's done.  Don't have a huge crowd or long hours to prep this?  Cheat with a flank steak.  It still needs a slow cook, but not nearly as long as the thick, bulky brisket.

Chef Jack McDavid hasn't committed to a particular dish, but we know it will involve his justifiably famous signature barbecue sauce.

Chef Wallace McIlhenny
Chef Wallace McIlhenny is offering his guests a grilled pork tenderloin topped with peach salsa (below).  We're guessing he'll coat the pork with salt, pepper, and garlic, then wrap it in cellophane for a few hours.  To grill it, we'd bring the meat to room temp, sear it on a hot grill, then lower the temperature or move the meat to the side of the grill on indirect heat for even, thorough cooking.  The pork should be  turned frequently til cooked through--depending on its size, 20-30 minutes.  It should reach an internal temperature of 140 when done.  Let it sit for 5 minutes before slicing to lock in juices.  Slice on a slight diagonal and serve with peach salsa.

For the salsa:
6 peaches, peeled and diced
1 jalapeno, diced fine (include seeds and stem if you want extra heat)
2Tbs red onion, diced
2Tbs lime juice
1Tbs chopped basil
1Tbs chopped mint
1Tbs grated ginger
1Tbs sugar
A little salt and pepper
A  splash of EVOO
Mix all ingredients together and let stand one hour.   For some extra seasonal flair and color, you can also add 1/2 cup pitted chopped cherries.

As for me, I'll be serving Mexican pulled pork.  Ok, it's not exactly traditional American, but it's delicious, economical, simple to prepare, and crowd pleasing.
Mise in place for the Mexican Pulled Pork

Use the same preparation recommended for our Southern pulled pork, but substitute a generous coating of cumin, garlic powder, salt, and ground chipotle or ancho pepper for the seasonings.  Toss a few dried chilis into the pan.  For the braising liquid, squeeze a couple of limes over the meat and add a 1/2 bottle of beer.  After pulling, serve pork in warmed corn or flour tortillas with your choice of salsas if desired.  A simple green salad is really all you need to accompany this, but rice and beans pairs well with this dish.   For a real wow-zer, try this creamy cilantro lime slaw as a side.   (I often substitute red cabbage for the green--the color is beautiful and it really 'pops' on the table.)  I might try Chef McIlhenny's peach salsa with this dish....hmmmm sounds intriguing.
Cilantro-lime slaw.

Your guests will be impressed, I promise.

Happy Fourth of July!