Archives for October 2012

Weekend Instagrams

This past weekend was all about hurricane preparedness.

Chester and I, of course, braved the local grocery store. But, there were other essentials to take care of, too. Like shopping for outfits for my upcoming 30th (!) birthday party.

We welcomed Frankenstorm with Pumpkin Spice Lattes.

Even Hello Kitty got ready for the elements.

 Follow me.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

I hope everyone spent the past couple of days battening down the hatches, because Hurricane Sandy is just about here. I’ve got all of the essentials, including batteries, peanut butter and wine. My office is closed until Wednesday and while I’m looking forward to this unexpected leisure time, I’m also nervous that something will happen to the electricity. The thought of not being able to access the Interwebs or use a blowdryer is just too much to bear.

Luckily, we made our annual trip to Linvilla Orchards last weekend, when the weather was just perfect. Linvilla is a 300-acre farm in Delaware County where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables throughout the year or stock up on gourmet foods and baked goods at the Farm Market. Of course, pumpkins and apples take center stage throughout the fall.

Sometimes we take the crazy lady out.

Linvilla has about 25 different kinds of apples on its 20 acres of orchards. Half a bushel will run you about $30. On the day we visited, we picked Golden Delicious, Joanna Gold, Winesap, and Red Delicious. And, by “we picked,” I mean that my mom, aunt and I pointed out the apples that we wanted and Chester fished them out of trees with the grabber.

Nothing beats an apple picked straight off the tree. They are juicier and more flavorful than any apple I’ve ever gotten from a supermarket.

I made my very first apple cobbler with some of our haul. It was so much easier than making a pie, because you can forgo making a crust in favor of a really simple batter that gets dropped over the top of the fruit and spreads while baking. I substituted brown sugar for plain old sugar in the topping for a richer flavor. Good vanilla ice cream melting over the top is a must.

Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to make a trip to Linvilla–or any orchard for that matter–until Frankenstorm blows on out of here. In the meantime, Happy Hurricaning, peeps! Stay safe and dry.

The Friday Five: Homemade Halloween Candy

It’s hard to believe that Halloween is next week. While I pretty much have the same antipathy I’ve always had for the holiday, I can get behind the idea of eating mass quantities of candy.

If you haven’t already stocked up on fun-sized candy bars for your neighborhood trick-or-treaters or decided how you are going to fashion a costume out of a trashbag so you can attempt to collect candy yourself, maybe you would consider a DIY Halloween this year:

  1. Candy Corn (via Serious Eats): I’m sure I could never get these to turn out as perfectly adorable as they look in the photo. Can someone with more patience than I have try it out and send me a batch? And while you’re at it, can you come up with a recipe for those little pumpkins that come with the Harvest Mix? Those things are the best.
  2. Twix (via Endless Simmer): The recipe suggests making your own caramel for these. That can be a little tricky and you might burn a finger or two, but it’s so much better than the pre-made stuff.
  3. Kit-Kat Bars (via the Daily Meal): These only require two ingredients and absolutely no baking, so they would be quick and easy to throw together for a Halloween party or other gathering.
  4. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (via Not Your Momma’s Cookie): I’ve made these before (can’t remember which recipe I used, but this one looks pretty similar) and they are just as addictive as the store bought variety. And, like the Kit-Kats, they also don’t require any baking!
  5. Snickers Bars (via Bon Appetit): These just look decadent. I would make a batch to keep in the freezer for emergencies.

I will once again be hitting the CVS the day after for discounted leftovers (if you ask me, the days after Halloween and Valentine’s Day are better than Black Friday). If you get there first, please save me one of the variety packs of Reese’s candies and let me cut in front of you in line. Thanks in advance

How do you feel about Halloween? Do you have any favorite treats?

On the Road: Hudson River Valley

View of the Hudson River Valley from the terrace of Kykuit

One of the drawbacks to spending most of my time in the city is that I don’t always fully appreciate the changing seasons.  I spend my days surrounded by concrete (I don’t even have a patch of grass in my backyard) and tall, glass buildings. It seems like the only time that I actually notice the trees around here is in the dead of winter, when they are totally naked. Somehow, I catch them at their most depressing and miss out the lush greens and soft pastels of the spring and the intense reds and oranges of the fall that make them look like they are engulfed in flames.

This is one of the reasons that taking a fall road trip has become a tradition for Chester and me (besides the fact that we get a bit antsy if we don’t have some kind of adventure to kill the time between our big once-a-year vacations). We pick places that are short on travel time and that are long on small town charm, scenic views and color.

Last year, we visited New Hampshire and this year we made the even shorter trip to the Hudson River Valley, about 25 miles outside of New York City. We were a little early for the peak of the fall foliage season, but there was still plenty of gorgeous color to take in and lots to see and do.

Our first stop was the Village of Sleepy Hollow. The Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane might be the first residents that come to mind when you hear the name of the town, but four generations of the Rockefeller family lived there, too. The family’s  estate, Kykuit,  is comprised of 40 rooms and sprawling gardens and is home to an impressive art collection featuring works by Picasso, Calder, Warhol and other notable 20th century artists. Access to Kykuit is only available as part of a guided tour. There are numerous options to choose from, depending on how much time you have to spend there and/or what you are most interested in seeing.

 

Our next stop was Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, burial place of Washington Irving, Andrew Carnegie and several members of the Rockefeller family. We took a guided tour of this site as well, which I would highly recommend (If you are not a scaredy cat like me, there is a night time tour option). Our guide was very knowledgeable about the history of the cemetery and the artists and sculptors who created the mausoleums and headstones. A bit of trivia: Parts of the original Dark Shadows film were shot on the grounds of the cemetery (as well as the nearby Lyndhurst mansion) so you’ll be able to see Barnabas Collins’ family tomb. These were the little details that I probably would have missed if I had been wandering around on my own.

 

Our second day started out with a stop at an orchard, were we devoured an embarrassing number of cider donuts. Chester’s expression was not at all exaggerated for this photo opportunity. He really was that excited about the donuts.

 

I also took a ridiculous number of photos of pumpkins. The little ones are my favorite.

 

Then it was on to West Point. Like Kykuit, it is only accessible as part of a guided tour. I’m not really a huge military aficionado (as opposed to my husband, who has whiled away many a Sunday afternoon watching the Military Channel), but I found the tour really interesting in terms of understanding the history of the institution and its role in educating our military leaders. Surprisingly, there is also some really beautiful architecture on the campus, including the gothic Cadet Chapel, which houses the largest pipe organ in the world with some 23,000 individual pipes. And, we had the perfect clear day to fully appreciate the “Million Dollar View” of the Hudson River near the cadets’ parade grounds.

 

Our final stop was Bear Mountain State Park. We didn’t see any bears, just another spectacular view.  It was such a calm and peaceful spot. I on the rocks for so long that I got quite a case of windburn. I couldn’t help it though. The sun was just beginning to go down and everything was bathed in a beautiful shade of gold.

In terms of restaurant options, simple comfort foods seemed to be the name of the game throughout the area. But, that’s pretty much the kind of thing that you want to eat when you sit down at the end of a crisp fall day, right?  If you go at this time of year, keep in mind that the towns in the area are pretty small and that fall is a busy tourist season. As a result, there may be wait times of at 45 minutes to an hour during peak dining  periods. I wouldn’t say that we had anything particularly memorable or spectacular, but I can vouch for solid food at the following places:

 

Lubins-n-Links: Although this tiny shop features an extensive hot dog menu, its specialty is the lubin. Created by the owner, a lubin features beef that is slow-cooked until it’s so tender that it falls apart. There are endless options for flavor combinations and a variety of homemade toppings to choose from, including chili, cheese sauce, and onion relish.

Horsefeathers: A cozy, upscale pub with an extensive menu. I was pretty happy with my butternut squash soup and apple and cranberry chicken salad. Chester ordered steak, which was cooked to a perfect medium rare.

Thyme: We stopped here for brunch on the way to West Point. The menu was basic, consisting of a few egg dishes, salads and French toast, but well executed. And, we had the whole place to ourselves, which was nice.

Have you been on any fabulous trips so far this fall? What are your favorite places to take in all of the best parts of this season?

Weekend Instagrams

It was Family and Alumni Weekend, so I had to spend Friday night and all of Saturday at work. After many years of working on 50th Reunions, I’ve decided that I’ve earned the right to be the most annoying senior citizen this world has ever seen.

So I had to reward myself somehow (note to University City Ben and Jerry’s: Please provide better spoons. Yours are way too flimsy for this dense ice cream):

On Sunday, I was free for more fall fun! This time, at Linvilla Orchards in Media, PA. What do they do with all of the unsold pumpkins at the end of the season?

It was a beautiful day for apple picking. Most of them seemed to either have been picked or had fallen off the trees themselves, so I’m thinking that we’re nearly past the peak of apple season. We still managed to score a ton.

Happy Monday!

The Friday Five: Comfort Foods

Writing about the Dandelion earlier this week got me thinking even more about comfort food. There are just certain dishes that are just so satisfying after a long, cold day or that bring back warm memories of childhood.

My favorite comfort food continues to be a big bowl of pastina—the little star shaped pasta—topped with a bit of salt, lots of butter and milk. My grandmother and mom used to make it for me and my brother all the time when we were little. I’m still convinced that it’s the cure for anything that ails you, whether it’s a bad day to a nasty cold.

It seems that we have had a little bit of a backslide into warmer weather, but I’m still pulling together recipes for when the cold weather decides to stick around for awhile:

  1. Caprese Grilled Cheese (via Alaska From Scratch): I love jazzed up versions of grilled cheese. A simple cup of tomato soup on the side is a must!
  2. Four-Cheese Macaroni and Cheese (via Saveur): Squeezing the silver foil packet of Velveeta for boxed mac-and-cheese is one of my earliest kitchen memories. This from scratch version actually calls for a bit of Velveeta mixed in with the fancier cheese.
  3. Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf (via Fine Cooking): Enough said. Please see number 2 for the perfect side dish.
  4. Turkey Sausage-Gnocchi Soup (via Cooking Light): This was one of my favorite recipe finds from last year. The gnocchi makes this soup pretty filling so it can be served as a main dish.
  5. Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts (via Bon Appetit): This is easily my favorite brownie recipe ever. I’ve made them a few times and they are so dense and rich that they will stick to the roof of your mouth. For best results, serve warm with a glass of milk or a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over the top.

 

What are your go-to comfort foods?

Restaurant Review: The Dandelion

As soon as the weather starts to turn a bit cooler, I start craving comfort foods of all kinds. Mac-and-cheese and meatloaf. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream. It’s a good thing that cold weather clothing can hide some of the side effects from consuming this kind of food.

Jones has traditionally been my go-to place for my comfort food fix, but I recently discovered The Dandelion, Stephen Starr’s take on the traditional British pub. I’ve now been there three times in recent weeks. It’s pretty much my new favorite.

The restaurant occupies two former houses in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood and evokes the feeling of stepping back in time to the Victoria era. The various rooms throughout the restaurant are decorated with dark wood paneling, rich fabrics and leather furniture. Whimsical knick-knacks and vintage photos line the walls and none of the vintage dishes go together. It makes you want to stay for awhile.

The attention to all of these details carries over to the seasonally inspired menus, prepared by British-born chef Robert Aikens. On my most recent visit, our server explained the complicated filtration system that the restaurant installed to make their own flat and “fizzy” waters and noted that all of the sourdough and multigrain breads are made down the street at Parc. Bread service at Dandelion gets extra points from me as well, since it is complimented by a slab of creamy, unsalted butter and a salt shaker so you can add as much or as little of the stuff as you want. It’s the little things.

So far, I have only visited the Dandelion in the late summer/early fall, so you might find different dishes on the menu at other times of the year. The menu is fairly large and most of the traditional favorites, like beans on toast, rabbit pie and fish and chips, seem to be constants.

One of my favorite items from the starter menu is the house-made ricotta. Actually, it might be my favorite item anywhere at the moment. It’s whipped to a light, creamy consistency, topped with olive oil, a bit of salt, and fresh herbs. There’s a little bit of vinegar mixed in as well, for a bit of unexpected acidity. It’s served at room temperature, which makes it perfect for spreading on the accompanying toasted sourdough bread. I can also vouch for cheese board, which is comprised of three cheeses (selections vary) and all of the trimmings, including honey, savory biscuits, quince paste and grape chutney. If you are looking for a lighter option before you indulge in a hearty entrée, the Dandelion salad with mixed greens, cucumber, avocado and dandelion leaves is a good option. I didn’t realize that dandelions are actually edible—the greens have a bite that’s similar to arugula. Who knew that weeds could be tasty?

As far as entrées go, you can’t go wrong with the fish and chips. A generous portion of cod is dipped in beer batter and fried in beef fat. Yes, beef fat. I remember reading somewhere that it takes several hours to render the fat into a liquid suitable for achieving the golden brown, slightly chewy coating that makes this version of fish and chips the best I’ve ever had outside of the UK. Other dishes I would recommend include the salmon, which is simply dressed with a lemon, sage and pine nut brown butter sauce, and the roasted sea scallops, topped with smoky bacon and a slightly sweet sherry vinaigrette.

There are of course options other than seafood. Chester declared that the pork belly with cider vinegar glaze was the best version of the dish he’s ever had, mostly because of its healthy layer of fat and top layer of crispy skin. My aunt gave high marks to the lamb shepherd’s pie (kudos to the kitchen for accommodating her request to leave the cheese out!).

Be sure to save room for dessert, because sticky toffee pudding is on the menu. Even if you share the dish with someone, you likely won’t be able to finish it. The combination of dense cake, warm toffee sauce and date ice cream melting over the whole thing in sickeningly sweet in all the right ways. There are other things on the dessert menu, too, but the toffee pudding is really the only thing you need to know about.

The only drawback to the Dandelion experience is that the same dishes you would find in a regular old pub are much pricier here. But, since I’m not really a big drinker (which is pretty much the reason to go to a pub, right?), I don’t mind spending a little extra for top-notch food, service and atmosphere. For the most part, prices seemed appropriate when considering the fairly generous portion sizes for most dishes and are in line with other restaurants in the neighborhood.

Dandelion is open for lunch, dinner, weekend brunch and afternoon tea. On Sundays and Bank Holidays, the restaurants serves a traditional beef roast with Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and vegetables. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a chilly afternoon during the fall and winter months ahead.

Weekend Instagrams

Over the weekend, Chester and I took a little trip to the Hudson River Valley. Here are a few glimpses of our trip, according to my iPhone.

 

Pumpkins and gourds, of all colors, shapes and sizes

The changing leaves, seen here at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

The Headless Horseman himself

Happiness is a cider donut

The closest I’ve ever gotten to a butterfly.

What fall festivities did you get up to?

 

The Friday Five: Baking Gadgetry

It’s a good thing that I don’t have a lot of storage space in my house or it would resemble the stock room at Bed, Bath and Beyond. I’ve professed my love of gadgets before and seem to gravitate towards items that only have one purpose (see also: mini donut maker that I bought a year ago and still haven’t taken out of the box and Zoku Quick Pop Maker). Alton Brown would not be pleased.

As we settle into the prime baking season, there are a few things that I’m seriously considering adding to my collection, whether they have multiple uses or not:

Via Chef’s Catalog

Layer Cake Slicing Kit: I love cakes that are layered with lots of frosting, but I wouldn’t be able to slice the layers evenly to save my life.

Via Chicago Metallic

Batter Dispenser: Last time I made cupcakes, I had a red velvet mess all over the counter when I tried to fill the tray using a cookie scoop.

Via Chicago Metallic

Dessert Bar Pan: These would end up looking so much prettier than when I cut the bars myself (A similar issue to number one, above. Maybe I need to go to a knife skills class?).

Via Williams-Sonoma

Pocket Pie Molds: These are just adorable and could be used for sweet or savory pies.

Via Chicago Metallic

Stuff it Up Pan: I first came across this pan being used in a stuffed pepper recipe, but it would be great for fancy little individual cakes, as well.

What’s are your baking gadget must-haves?

Weekend Instagrams

Friday night dinner at Zahav. I love their hummus all the little salads that they give you as a first course (except for the beets, that is. Blech.).

Up early on Saturday morning to make baked apple cider donuts. They were a hit.

Family dinner at the Dandelion. I’ve been there twice in the last two weeks. It’s my new favorite.

Rainy Sunday mornings mean I look liked I escaped from the Blue Man group. Also, I finally found skinny jeans that are actually flattering so I can wear them tucked into my boots like all the cool kids do. This makes me ridiculously happy.