Thursday, October 18, 2007

Check it out

I'm moving over to Word Press on my own domain - hosted by some tall guy who just married his little sweetheart. (yah, I'm talkin 'bout my nephew).

There hasn't been much time for food blogging, so I'm merging the 2 entities. So if you're just into food, check me out, but you'll also see plenty about my journey to becoming...

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tater chips worth waiting for

Greatest apologies, for not posting in so long. As has been my excuse for months now, the pending adoption of our little CJ takes priority over my foodie tendencies.

But occasionally, I find myself in the wonderful world of longing for that hallow leg. The same was true in my last post, where I wish I could chow down on fish and chips more regularly.

Such was the case a couple of weekends ago where I attended a game night with a few friends. This is where former high school nerds gather for lots of junk food and spend hours playing their favorite nerdy computer or board game. This time, we loaded up the more complex than you realize and ever addictive Scorched Earth.

At this point in time, I must point out that not only did we play a 2-D dos based shareware game from the very early 90's, but the owner of this copy of the software was in fact licensed to use it. In fact, he paid his 10 bucks back in the day, and pulled out a complete owners manual to prove it. Yah. I'm not kidding.

Nor am I kidding about the fact that we conducted a semi-scientific potato chip taste test. You see, potato chips are one of my favorite food, but in these parts, we have so many choices that I'm not sure I've ever decided with 100% certainty which brand and style is my favorite. I'll come right out and tell you that before this event, I would have told you that Dieffenbach's rule the day with a nice thick crunchy texture, good tater flavor, and a hint of lard aftertaste.

In discussion with some of these friends about potato chips, some expressed an even stronger preference for lard cooked chips, and some told me they prefer other cooking oils. That got me really thinking about how fortunate we are to live in an area with such a variety. I mean, there's no excuse for not finding a favorite potato chip. So, inspired partly by a chowhound tour I read a few months back, I set out to help my fellow game-players to discover their favorites, and to see if we would all agree on any particular trends.

The results were surprising.

The 5 of us tried a total of 13 different brands/varieties. Although, most of you might be shocked to learn there are 13 brands available, let me tell you that I skipped a few brands just for the sake of keeping a budget on this event. Below is a picture of the chips included.

Before you say - "hey, you've got 2 Herr's and 2 Good's, what's the deal?" First of all, Blue and Red Goods are NOT the same, so there. Plus, Herr's just recently started their kettle cooked line, so we had to include that. The key brands I was hoping to include but ended up leaving out are Wise, Tom's, Zerbe's, Zapp's. We ended up with a pseudo-scientific scoring system, where each taster chose and ranked their top 3 with scores of 5-3-1 respectively. We also chose a chip we really hated, deducting 3 points for any chip in this category. That balanced out somewhat if one of highly rated a chip that someone else absolutely hated.

I'll chronicle the bullet points for you:

  • There were 2 clear losers, both receiving -6 points, being the most hated chip by at least 2 of us. These were Bickle's, and Martin's. The fact that Bickle's are lousy surprised no one. It's just about the only chip I won't eat if I see an open bag at a pot luck of cook-out. Martin's is a real shame because I believe they must have been better once upon a top. We all agreed they had a nasty after-taste, and missed the crunchy boat by being more chewy than anything else.
  • The famous Good's Red vs Blue debate never formulated. Neither chip received any voted one way or another.
  • Dieffenbach's did not make my top 3, and only made a top 3 for one of our tasters. Interesting.
  • The most unique chip made 2nd place - Kettle brand light lightly salted - which were a dark very potato-ie tasting chip. None of us could remember ever having it before. I wonder if it was just a fling, or if the love will have staying power?
  • Lay's were noted as a the favorite chip for one of our tasters, and the least favorite for another. These 2 gentleman have been friends for a very long time. I hope this does not create problems in their relationship because they are both above such pettiness.
  • We ate a heck of a lot of chips that night. Just tasting them all did not make us tired of the chips. We all went back after learning our likes and dislikes to see if they met our expectations. Then, we proceeded to gorge on gobs of our favorites between slices of pizza and wings.
  • 3 of the top 4 chips are cooked in "one or more of the following" - cottonseed and sunflower oil. The next 2 are cooked in lard. This proves that lard is good, but not best.
  • I accidentally grabbed the light version of Cape Cod chips, so I'll have to make amends at our next game night so we can properly taste those.
I guess you're wondering which one won? I won't keep you in suspense much longer, except to say this it was a clear-cut (pun intended) victory, with 2nd and 3rd place fairly close between Kettle brand and Kings.

Our winner was chosen as the number 1 chip by 3 of the 5 tasters, and the number 3 ranked chip by another. Even the 5th taster agreed it was pretty good. Winner of the nerdy game players club tater chip tasting event is:

Herr's Kettle Cooked!!!!!

What will happen when I finally buy the right version of Cape Cods? Will lard return to the scene with an attack from Zerbe's? Considering the decent performance of Gibbles, can a thinner, less crispy chip be a dark-horse in a future challenge? Is it possible for an tater chip not made in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to win such a event (Zapp's are you listening?)?

Future events will include our champion pitted against a challenger chip. First up, the real Cape Cod chips! Are they up to the challenge?

Friday, July 6, 2007

Restaurant Review - Fairgrounds Farmer's Market

OK, technically not a restaurant review, but a farmer's market review. I think I've made a few references to this place before, and have once heard it described as a "foodtopia" and I really can't disagree.

I sortof discovered this place a couple of years ago, although it's been around for a while. Not really different than your typical farmer's market, except that there's not also a lot of cheap junk being hawked - no flea market to go with it.

They've got no less then 4 of each of the following - produce stands, meat markets, and delis. There's a fancy schmancy cheese place, a Greek market, seafood, a couple of soft pretzel stands, hot sauce stand, an awesome bakery, and an ice cream shop.

But, I'm here to talk about the "restaurants" - which in a place like this are really prepared food vendors, but still, we go there for dinner or lunch regularly, as we did tonight. I had jambalaya and crab corn chowder from Dixie Kitchen, and the Red Head had fish n chips from Adelphia Cafe. One of these days, I'll have the guts to take my camera in there and photo what we eat.

The crab corn chowder was fantastic. Creamy, but not heavy - a little bit cheesy, with a little bite to it. But full of lump crab meat and just the right amount of sweet corn. Really, it was one of the tastiest soups I've ever had, and easily the best seafood oriented soup I've had outside of a beach or bay town. This is something I'll order again for sure.

The jambalaya was good, but a bit of a disappointment considering Dixie Kitchen bills itself as a Cajun place. It had some flavor and spice, the rice was cooked nicely, but the chicken was a little dry and it really didn't have much andouille sausage. Probably not going to make it into my regular fairgrounds rotation.

The RH's fish n chips on the other hand were/are excellent. We've had these before, and will keep going back. It's not a beer batter, but whatever they use is light and fluffy, and when fried up, not greasy at all. They use haddock here, which seems to be more common than cod - which is my favorite choice. They could use some improvement on the fries, but really with 2 big piping hot pieces of fried fish for $5.95, who can complain? I really wish Adelphia would open more of these little shops.

I know not everyone reading this will find their way to the Reading Fairgrounds Farmer's Market, but I encourage anyone to patronize their local farmer's markets and co-ops. The produce and meat are always much fresher and often less expensive than the super market. There's always good food to be had and lot's of friendly vendors preparing it - true congregation of mom-and pop shops.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Weekend Chow - part 2 Day Trip Report

Note: This post delayed due to technical difficulties..

On to the rest of our weekend...

Before the Red Head left her job as a day care director, her staff scrounged up some moola and purchased her a night in a brand spanking new bed and breakfast. We also had a AMEX gift card (to use for chow) that I received as a result of spending other peoples money while traveling on business the past 10 years.

Speedwell Forge
is an amazing place - fully restored - mansion originally built in 1760. It's just a gorgeous building, with 2 separate restored buildings that were converted into guest rooms. We stayed in the Paymaster's Office, which was originally used for pretty much what you would think. It served as sort of a bank for the forge workers.
Browse their web site and you'll see pictures of the room. Here's the outside.

So we arrived around 3PM and were greeted by one of the most pleasant people you could ever meet. Dawn really has a passion for running her B&B. The house used to be her Grandmothers, so she puts a lot of love into what she's doing. She also makes a mean omelet, but I'll get to that.

After checking in, we headed up to Cornwall, to the Bluebird Inn. It's also an historic old building, with lots of charm and character. They've got a nice enclosed porch, which is where we decided to dine since it was so warm on Sunday. The Bluebird is clearly trying to hit some niche as a sophisticated English pub. I will admit that I got a little concerned when the menu bragged at how all their beers were served chilled to 30 degrees!!! Yikes, cold beer is fine most of the time, but not all beer is meant to be served at the same temperature, just ask Michael Jackson (the one with his original nose)

We both started with soup - crab bisque for the RH, and shrimp chowder for me. The bisque was quite good, though a little too thick, even for that style of soup. The chowder was a bit spicy, which is normally fine for me, but it kindof over-powered the tender shrimp, making it sortof a miscellaneous chowder. But still we both graded our soups in the B-range.

I ordered fish n chips, which were in this case very crispy breaded haddock. I generally prefer cod for my fish n chips, but haddock is acceptable. Strangely, it was not a beer batter, which is unfortunate because they were cooked perfectly. Ok, decent fish, but the fries were quite good. They had that slightly crispy, very potato-ee taste. Not greasy at all. Some of the best fries I've had in a while.
The wife had the Guinness tips pie topped with a puff pastry crust. If you know her at all this is sortof up her ally - she loves beef tips over noodles, puff pastry, and while she doesn't care for beer much, she usually loves cooking with it. The description says it's in "a rich Guinness demi glaze" and baked 'till "golden brown." Hmm. In actuality it wasn't all the rich like you would expect. It was decent beef, but the sauce just tasted like a generic thickened beef stock (not gravy) with half pint or Guinness poured in at the end. There was clearly no reduction or demiglaze to it at all. It had tons of alcohol still in it, and the flavor was just way too beery that you couldn't taste anything else. As for the golden brown puff pastry? More like a light blond soggy mess. I guess that description makes it sound worse than it really was, it wasn't horrible, but it wasn't what we were expecting.

All in all, I'd have to give the Bluebird a B or B minus (saved from a C by the fries). They have a huge menu, so I'd go back if someone I knew wanted to, but it's not worth going out of your way, and was a bit of a let down.

We had no desert plan, but I must mention at this point that I had been craving these cream filled made by Harting's Country Made bakery. I could not find them for the past few weeks, so we though maybe for a treat we'd find some the next day.

Before heading back to the room, we scooted down toward Lancaster and hunted down Bruster's Ice Cream Shop. This is a make it on location chain that's starting to infiltrate Pennsylvania. Maybe I should replace infiltrate with infect. It was so bad that I really can't figure out how it succeeds at all, and I can't imagine how in the world it's expanding in a state that makes some of the best ice cream in the world. I feel bad for the folks who live wherever it originated, because they have no idea what ice cream tastes like. The people working there were nice enough, and they have some nifty flavors - perhaps too many gimmicky choices, but the ice cream is just terrible. Oh well.
UPDATE: I cant' believe this. I looked up the web site and discovered the place actually originated in Pennsylvania!!! I decided not to edit what I wrote because it still reflects what I believe. How could we let ourselves go like this!!!!

Considering our ice cream disappointment, we became obsessed (that's a theme with me lately) with finding those Harting's cream filled donuts. We stopped at two different grocery stores on the way back to the B&B with no luck. Let me tell you, no grocery store donut was going to be "good enough" after our ice cream fiasco. But they were not to be found that night :(

For breakfast, Dawn serves 3 courses. We started with homemade granola, which isn't one of my typical choices, but this was really good. Moving on, she brought us a dish of fresh berries (Rasp, Black, Blue) with real yogurt - yummm. We finished with a light and fluffy omelet with crispy red potato home fries. Quite delicious, with good company from another couple who were finishing up their meal and our host, who really made us feel comfortable.

We spend the rest of the day taking a nice drive around Lancaster County, walked around Lititz, where after about 45 minutes, I realized that I still had the key to the paymaster's office!!! So we finished up our walk and headed back to drop it off, making a convenience store stop still hunting for the donuts. When I dropped off the key, M hung out in the driveway and booted up my laptop - we were determined to get some of those donuts!!! We knew the place was in Bowmansville, which was more or less on the way home, but were not sure exactly where. Low and behold, it's right on the main drag. And we were off to grab the donuts.

They have a little tiny shop attached to the front of the bakery, with big windows looking into the actual baking area. The first thing you see are the creme filled donuts - exactly what I was looking for. They also have chocolate filled, fruit filled, and many others. Also various sticky buns and creme cheese buns and I could go on and on. I was surprised to see bread products, including fresh made hamburger buns - one of which I just consumed and used to eat a leftover Chipolte Orange Turkey Burger that I pulled out of the freezer.

As for the creme filled donuts. Just go buy some, I really can't describe how awesome they are.

Weekend Chow - part 1 Homemade Cheese Steaks

The red-head and I had a nifty chow weekend, and I thought I might summarize.

On Saturday, we had home-made cheese steaks. I was so into it that I was planning to blog about the whole thing. But in full disclosure, the most interesting part turned out to be another baking failure.

To me a good cheese steak should be thinly sliced tender ribeye, or maybe top round, grilled onions, provolone cheese, no sauce, on a nice crusty Italian roll. Many of my favorite steak shops get their rolls from Conshohocken Bakery or one of the other regional shops. There's one in Reading called ATV that's popular, but way over-rated. We had decent meat, some local grocery stores sell real sliced steak meat in addition to that psuedo-meat they call Steak-um. I've tried slicing our own, but don't really have the equipment to get it as thin as I'd like.
But back to the rolls, this is where I attempted to become more homemade. None of our cookbooks had anything resembling the crusty roll necessary for a good cheese steak, so I consulted the web, and came up with this recipe.

It looks exactly like what I need. But, I must add a disclaimer that it took me 2 batches of this to realize what I was doing wrong. The recipe itself is delicious from a taste pov, but is really incomplete. They author tells you to simply mix the ingredients together and then form balls of dough. He gives rising times, which although assumed to be approximate, aren't even close. My first batch may have been affected by old yeast - which may have been the problem with our focaccia bread. It wasn't expired, but it's close. So I used a fresh jar, and also used warmer water, didsolving said yeast in that water as I do for my pizza dough before adding the dry ingredients. My second batch rose about 3 times as much as the first, but still not anywhere near the volume needed for a cheese steak. Not knowing a lot about baking, I just kinda figured they would continue to rise in the oven to the size needed. Nope.
I talked it over with the RH and after thinking about it, and after doing some research, I believe it was simply a matter of letting them rise as long as they needed - 2 or 3 hours if needed.

The first batch made fantastic breadsticks.

The second batch made fantastic plump breadsticks. I was pretty frustrated by that point, so I ended up driving over to a local pizza shop to grab a couple of Conshy rolls. No big deal I guess, we've still got the breadsticks, and we still had awesome cheese steaks. We overcooked the meat a little bit this time, but still yummy!!!

Monday, June 11, 2007

"A Solid Double"

That's what my old boss used to say when we finally wrapped up a project where a number of issues still linger. The kind of thing where we got the sign offs we needed, but not without a major struggle and not without a huge list of remaining issues.

And that's what describes our latest new recipe. It's a fantastic new idea, and will likely form the basis of a lot of other ideas. One of my favorite foodie bloggers, Cookin' Kate recently raved about this fantastic Chipotle Orange Turkey Burger with Lime Cream.

The recipe looks pretty complicated, and there are 2 sauces, burgers, and bread to make, but it's not as hard as it looks. Everything Kate describes is spot on - the glaze is sweet, tangy, and spicy. I really need to use more chipotle peppers, they have incredible flavor. With a garden full hot peppers, I just might make my own. Adding milk and breadcrumbs presumably keep the burgers moist without falling apart - though we did have a little bit of trouble with some crumbling. Still, the glaze really helps the burgers get nice and caramelized.

Then there's the bread. Now, the Red-head makes some fine biscuits, yeast rolls, and some other baked goods. But neither of us have been into baking bread, let alone focaccia. I really don't know for sure what went wrong - it just didn't rise once we rolled it out. Here's what happened...

Now, I can never be accused of never showing a screw up. It smelled great - but came out pretty much like a thick cracker. Oh well, at least we had some buns in the freezer.

The kicker though was the lime sauce. Oh boy, is this stuff good. A nice citrus cool creamy touch that cuts nicely with the zingy burgers. We've got some leftover in the fridge, and I see it coming out as part of a grilled chicken salad, as a dip for veggies or pretzels, or maybe shrimp tacos. But it was darn near perfect with this turkey burger.

Quick note - we added a bit more sauce after snapping this picture, it was that good.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


Geez, I've been a bad food blogger. But believe me, we've been busy! I've been following along with most of my favorite foodies, but have not taken the time to comment or post much here. Hopefully, things will start to settle down back into wait mode on the adoption and I'll have time to do some fun blogging. I've got a couple of ideas for restaurant reviews, and some pics of less than perfect attempts at cooking something new.

Buy, for this post, I'm still keeping it simple. Last night I had an excellent reuben at the 5th Street Diner, while the wife had herself an awesome burger. Both of these are sandwiches that I just love. In fact, I really love sandwiches. There's nothing like taking 2 slices of bread and just filling it with whatever comes to mind. I mean, who first thought to combine corned beef, saurkraut, and thousand island dressing? Yah, I love burgers and really like ruebens.
Of course, it doesn't get any more simple than an all-American cheeseburger? Maybe with grilled onions and pickles? Heck, who says it has to be that basic all the time? How 'bout some flair like maybe with avecado, cajun spice, or even a Thai inspired turkey burger?

Here's something that took a few tries to get the hang of. Mini-burgers - a little bit of a fad right now in restaurants. They're fun to make, and tasty.
Behind them you'll see some jalapeno poppers. I didn't think they turned out so well, couldn't quite get the filling to not leak all into the oil.

Some sammiches I love...

Monte Cristo - of course, I love French Toast, so this makes sense.
Cheesesteaks - onions, no sauce please!
Sausage peppers and onions - a farmers market favorite.
BLTs - I like mine with honey mustard - try it some time.
Gyros - this a new favorite. The best I've had are from a stand at the Ephrata Fair.
Italian hoagies - something I used to make dozens of a day working in high school. Crusty roll, oil and vinager, provolone, ham, hard salami, capicola, shredded lettuce, tomato, onion.
Tuna melt - not too much mayo, best on an English muffin with a fresh slice of tomato.
Tomato sammiches - best sliced still sun-warm from the garden on plain white bread, mayo, salt and pepper.
Sloppy Joes - don't ever tell me you like Manwich - ick!

And last but not least - I love turkey sandwiches. Love them. I make them all kinds of ways - with stuffing on them, warm with gravy, turkey salad on a croissant, grilled with Swiss cheese,
and lately, just simple sliced turkey with the red-head's homemade cranberry sauce. I love Thanksgiving and the 5 days after!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


I realize I have not posted on this blog for a while. A quick peak over at my adoption blog will give you some idea how busy we've been lately!

So, for our anniversary today, I finally got a chance to smoke some baby back ribs. At the types of restaurants where ribs are a popular option, they are usually my 3rd or 4th choice. I order them sometimes, but usually go for something else. The red head loves them, as do a few of my best friends, so I often end up with a shared rib anyway. (OK, pathetic attempt at a very subtle joke).

Quick credit (can't bring myself to say props) to the blog My Husband Cooks for the rib rub recipe (scroll down and you'll see it). Instead of the glaze they use, I left it dry for the smoking, then dipped in Sweet Baby Ray's and Monty Smith's. Yah, I've made some pretty good BBQ sauce on my own before, but just didn't have the gumption this time.

I pretty much used the same technique as I do for pulled pork, but only for about 4 hours. They turned out great - sweet, smoky, and tender.

Here they are plated with some tasty potato skins. These were created from a combination or recipes I found on the web, most closely matching this one. They're crispy, potato-ee, and cheesy. I've learned with a little research that the big secret to good tater skins are in how much potato one removes. Most restaurants are lazy, and don't bother removing much of the potato. Then they become just baked potatoes with cheese and bacon. Far from being real potato skins. Here the are plated with the ribs.

Happy Anniversary! And Happy 1-month birthday, Carmen!

Thursday, May 3, 2007


I'm not Pennsylvania Dutch, although a lot of people thing I am. I guess people figure I am due to the combination of where I live and that my last name looks kinda Germanish. I really enjoy certain PA Dutch specialties - like broasted chicken, dried corn, and ham loaf.

But there's always been one that I've never had an opportunity. Luckily, there's one particular friend of mine who grew up on eating it regularly.

What am talking about?
Beef tongue. Yup, you read that correctly, tongue from a cow. As anyone who's heard of scrapple knows, the PA Dutch don't waste anything, so they of course they have found ways to prepare the tongue.

So when our grossed out wives were out of town, I had the honor of having my buddy's mom prepare pot roasted beef tongue. I'm using links to pictured this time because I know it's not the prettiest thing to look at, certainly not as universally appetizing as Moravian sugar cake. I didn't arrive until it was almost ready, but my hosts were kind enough to snap some photos along the way.

Here's how it looks all packaged up.
At $2.99 lb, this one came in at just over 3 lbs from Shady Maple

OK, not so scary looking eh? Looks kinda like a pork loin.
Apparently, it only takes some unwrapping for it to look just like a tongue again.

Again, being the ever thoughtful hosts, they thought it a good idea to take a nice shot of it all stretched out and beautiful.
You can see how nice and pink it was, and has the USDA stamp of approval!!! Would it meet my approval? Keep reading to find out.

How does one cook a beef tongue? I'm sure it varies, but my friends cook it up just like a pot roast - a very big and dense pot roast. Here it is as it begins the cooking process - in a pot - with some herbs. Not sure what they are or if there was any other unusual pre-cooking prep, hopefully one of my hosts will let us know in a comment.

The cook time was about 3.5 hours, which sounded pretty standard. I arrived just about as it was done, and I can tell you it did not stink like I expected it to. For some reason, I expected it to smell different, maybe like organ meat sometimes can smell, or perhaps have a gamey odor. Not at all, it smelled like pot roast cooking.

As you'll see in the rest of the pics, that's exactly what it was - a nice pot roast. Here's what it looked like being prepped for the table. The tongue has a skin that must be removed - this part took a bit of labor from my buddy's dear mother. According to her, this one came off pretty easily. Once it a while it's a little tuff.
One more comment on this picture. I found it to be a rather interesting juxtaposition that a Borg was watching the process. The red-head thought he looked to be smiling slightly in anticipation. Or should I say - they were smiling. After eating this tongue, I've been assimilated into PA Dutch culture. Think about it. I guess there's more depth to that joke for some people, so don't worry if you don't get it. As you might guess, my friend is a Trekker.

Anyway, here's a shot of the tongue being sliced. Thisone didn't show up to well, but it should re-enforce how much this dish really is like roast beef.

Finally, we sat down at the table, with a few simple side dishes. Actually, the macaroni salad was great. This being my fist experience with tongue, mimicked the experts and ate mine the same way. I'm guessing this is kinda like any other special meal, with each household having their favorite method. We made sandwiches out of ours. A couple of sliced of tongue, a drizzle of vinegar, and some ketchup between two sliced of home-made bread.

It really was delicious. An excellent meal clearly planned and prepared with care and detail. I had seconds.

Before I describe what it tastes like, here are just a few thoughts on possible prep and serving alternatives. Starting from the final plating working backwards.

I don't normally eat ketchup on roast beef, so in the long run, I probably would go with a different condiment for a tongue sandwich - perhaps a mild mustard? The vinegar was a nice compliment though.
In the final prep, not sure what else I would do, looks like the skin was way too tuff to eat, and probably would not taste very good. It was sliced at the perfect thickness, particularly given how tender it was. The chef had a pretty steady carving hand as well.

As for the actual preparation: One thing I might try, would be to stick a little closer to my household's pot roast method - perhaps using the drippings to make a gravy or sauce of some sort. This would obviously alter the final plating and sides to include mashed taters and the gravy. I think a thin gravy would have tasted great on that nice tender meat.
We talked about the possibility of smoking it, but I think it would just fall apart after 12 hours in the smoker. What do you all think? Smoking is often used to make tuff meats tender - beef tongue doesn't need that.
I saw a few web sites where the tongue was pealed and sliced about 1/4 inch raw, then lightly breaded and pan-fried like a cutlet. I bet that's awfully good. If anyone out there has had this, I'd love to hear your method.

The bottom line on beef tongue is this... It tastes like roast beef because it is roast beef. No, that's an over-simplified statement. It's like an extremely tender roast beef. Easily more tender than any roast I've ever had. If I had not been told what I was eating, I would have asked how they got it so tender without being stringy - which roast beef tends to be, even at it's best. If you think about it, that makes sense. The tongue is a muscle, just like any other cut of meat. So it's not going to taste like liver or kidneys or sweetbreads or any of the other unusual parts that are eaten by the semi-adventurous.

It probably helped a great deal for me to enjoy beef tongue that this preparation turned out so well. My hosts were clearly eager for me to try it and seemed pleased that I really liked it. Thanks again to them. Hopefully, this post will persuade a few people out there to try something that might otherwise put them off. My advice? Find someone who knows what they are doing and follow their lead!

Monday, April 23, 2007

30 Hour Famine

Ever wonder what it's like to go to bed hungry? I'm sure most of us have gone to be hungry before.

Ever wonder what it's like to wake up hungry, spend the day hungry, and then go to bed another night without having eaten? I bet fewer of us have experienced this.

Ever wonder what it's like walk 3 miles to retrieve clean(ish) water, then carry that water back to your home?

This weekend, the red-head and I participated in the 30 Hour Famine, along with our youth, as well as youth and leaders from another congregation.

We stopped eating on Friday at 1PM, ate only 2 saltines and a cup of juice every 3 hours, and as much water as we wanted. We did not eat again until Saturday evening at 7PM, thanks to some members who cooked up a big breakfast for us.


The whole point was to raise money for World Vision - an organization that fights hunger around the world by providing food, medicine, and education. They provide relief for war refuges, drought victims, and aids patients. They attack the root causes of hunger as well, by educating people about water and food safety, methods for irrigation, and good farming techniques. They provide relief where governments cannot, and they rely on fund-raisers like the 30 Hour Famine to do so.

Youth (and their advisers like us) collected donations, support, and prayers from friends and family. Then we gathered together for the famine where we played games, watched movies, and prayed. We also carried buckets of water over a mile, just a fraction of the effort many people must endure just for clean water, let alone food.
After this, we canvassed the neighborhood seeking food donations for the Water Street Rescue Mission.
In just 30 minutes, 8 of us collected 11 full bags of canned goods.

In all, we raised a total of $1,704.13!!!
This will provide enough food to feed an entire family for a year,
or 58 hungry children for a month,
or dig 17 wells deep enough to serve 300 people with clean water,
or buy 45 fishing kits so people can catch their own food.

You get the idea. $1700 bucks goes a long way in helping those who need a boost.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Worlds BEST Moravian Sugar Cake

World's best what? you say? Ever had sugar cake?
You probably have in some form or another.

Do you like sugar cake? I bet if you stop and think about it you'd probably say, "eh, it's alright once in a while." Moravian sugar cake? Some of you who are or know Moravians may have had this version.

What's a Moravian? This is no history or religion blog, but I'll give you a brief run down. The Moravian Church was founded in (fittingly) Moravia - a province now part of the Czech Republic in 1457 - which makes us the oldest Protestant Church in the world. Under persecution, the early faithful fled Moravia and settled in what is now Germany, eventually sending missionaries around the world, including America. OK, long story short - Moravians are known for missions, music, and food.

I can guarantee very few of you have ever had anything like really good Moravian Sugar Cake. Any my wife makes the absolute best. The best examples are moist, flavorful, buttery, not too sweet. It easily makes my list of all time anywhere favorite foods. It takes a bit of time and a number of steps to prepare. As you'll see.

The day before making the sugar cake, the red-head peeled, boiled, and mashed some red-skin taters. She reserved the potato water to use in the batter. Here's what all the ingredients looked like all measured out. Tater water, mashed taters, flour, sugar, butter and margarine (weird huh?), brown sugar (not pictured), eggs, salt, yeast.

Next, the wet ingredients - along with the yeast are creamed together - with the sugar and salt.

Switch to the dough hook. The flour is gradually added and kneaded until it pulls away from the bowl in a nice gooey dough.

Then the dough is left to rise for, um, well, about as long as you want. In our case, we left the dough before leaving for church and came home to it having pretty much tripled or quadrupled in size.

Then, the R-H split the dough in half in to 2 pans for a second rising, where it tripled again. Most expert bakers like the R-H will tell you that it's these multiple risings that develop flavor and and texture. I'll agree.

Now to the final prep for baking. Butter is spread all over the top of the dough, followed by brown sugar. But, we're not done with the butter at all! Holes are poked into the dough where little pats of butter added. Yum.

Here's what the heavenly goodness looks like after it comes out of the oven.

And after it's half eaten.

Oh, you really have no idea how good this is, you really don't. It's buttery, and creamy, and a little bit tangy, with a crunchy sweet (but not too sweet topping). A few of my co-workers may remember the couple of times I've brought it in. And a few friends have had it on special occasions - such as the case today for a birthday.

The house will smell awesome for the next 3 days.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Chili Freaks

And boy - do I mean freaks.
As you know, I love chili and I love to make chili. I've even included a few posts on here about the subject.

Well, about a year ago, my Nephew was planning to get married on St. Georges Island, Florida. Unfortunately, his lovely bride had an family emergency and all of those plans got re-arranged (don't worry, they're married, they just didn't have a ceremony on the beach).

My sister, the red-head, and I decided to keep our plane tickets and motel reservations and take the trip anyway. It's a beautiful area, with awesome beaches, wilderness swamps, and quaint small towns, such Apalachicola. Really quite worth a week's vacation on it's own. But, we only had a couple days, but one of them coincided with the annual Charity Chili Cook-off.

Not sure how many of you've ever been to anything like this, but it's a unique experience. There were parrot heads there, a radio station, food vendors, etc. We got to sample several chilis (for a buck each!!!), and got a little insight as to how some contestants assembled their concoctions. I saw a lot of canned chicken broth, a lot of red powder, quite a bit of beer and other booz, and a fair amount of hot sauce. The chicken broth is what surprised me most. I really don't use it that much because I think it makes chili taste like chili soup, which is very different than what I'm trying to achieve. I have experimented with beer and will continue to search for other forms of liquid in order to back off on the "tomato-i-ness" of my own recipe. Although some folks like it that way.

At any rate, the cookoff web site has a lot of pictures that give you a good feeling for what it was like there. We took a few of them ourselves. I cut off these chubby gentleman's heads because I don't know them, but they had OK chili (a little bland) and a cool name. Can you tell which dude is the team captain?

These guys easily won for most creative booth. I did not try their chili, but it looks like they've won a number of awards over the years. We're pretty sure this was a real coffin hollowed out with cooking equipment mounted inside. It certainly was an impressive setup.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Peanut Butter Eggs

Happy Early Easter everyone!

After my review of Speckled Hen I was thinking about doing a post about all time favorites. The kind of post that would include not just favorite foods but favorite actual dishes. Not just favorite food, but the actual best version of that food. One thing that will be sure to make the list will be our church's chocolate covered peanut butter eggs. Some of the wonderful ladies of the congregation make these just before lent to be sold at the same time as our fastnachts. They also make coconut eggs, but I'm just not as into that. I really love chocolate peanut butter combo. Obviously, I love Reese's, but my favorite is Watchamacallit.

Anyway, the mixture is pretty much just peanut butter and cream cheese. They ladies carefully measure and roll out each egg and allow them to set a bit.

Then the mixture is dipped in a slightly dark chocolate mixture. I think the real secret here is the Wilbur Chocolate - made in nearby Lititz.

Then the eggs are cooled, trimmed - yup trimmed to perfection, then packed for sale. I can't even express how good these are. If I had to list my top five foods anywhere anytime - these would make the cut.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Just a quick and tasty update to my post about Thai Chicken Coconut Milk Soup. I'm sure you recall how much I raved about it.

It was so good that we decided to make it again - this time we had the gumption to spruce it up even more. So the red-head dropped some dumplings into it at the end and it tasted even better.

She took your basic dumpling recipe (flour, baking powder, salt, milk), but used coconut milk instead of regular, then also added some diced jalapenos. Holy wow, those were quite simply the tastiest dumplings ever - and really complimented a light-ish soup, making it a moderately hearty meal. This got us to thinking, dumplings really could be modified to match any soup. Could Chili and dumplings be in our future?

Here are some pics of this updated yumminess...

Monday, March 12, 2007

Restaurant review - Speckled Hen Cottage Pub and Alehouse

If you live in the Berks County, PA area, you really should be eating at the Speckled Hen once in a while.

Owned by Judy Henry - the same Judy of Judy's on Cherry (also a fine place to eat for special occasions, or if you've got gobs of cash sitting around). It's an old English style pub, inside an 18th century log house in downtown Reading. They've got a quaint little bar - with cozy tables and a rotating beer menu.

All of this in a totally smoke free environment, unless you count the fireplaces.

There really isn't a bad meal to be had at this place. They've got the best shepherd's pie you'll ever eat, excellent burgers, and really the only authentic beer battered fish 'n chips in the county that I've ever had.

We went there a couple of weekends ago with friends. The red-head started with "The Wedge" which means basically 1/4 of an iceberg lettuce head covered with blue cheese dressing and bacon crumbles. I would say that they have just about the best blue cheese dressing around as well. Notice I'm saying "best" alot? For dinner, she had those fish n chips.

One of our companions started with a bowl of their cheddar-ale soup, as did I. We both agreed it was a little salty, but was perfectly smooth and balanced between the beer and cheese - not at all heavy or gloppy. That same companion had the afore mentioned shepherds pie and if I remember correctly, described it as the best she'd ever had, and surprisingly filling.

The 2 fellows in the group, including me, dined on the bangers and mashed, which has quite simply become one of my favorite meals anywhere, all time. The web site describes it as "A traditional pub dish of English style sausages, topped with onion gravy & served over mashed potatoes." Yah, and those sausages are always cooked perfectly - crispy on the outside and moist on the inside - very different than local PA Dutch sausage. I don't use this phrase often, but he onion gravy is to die for, while the mashed taters are just superb.

On other visits we've had the buffalo shrimp, which is delicious, the scotch egg, which is interesting, but only worth trying once, and the ploughman's cheese plate, which is throws a few unusual cheeses at you - but you've got to be in the mood for that. Desert is not really their cup of tea.

I implore you to give this place a try. Don't be scared to venture into the city, there are a number of excellent restaurants there. Speckled Hen has a big garage that's free most evenings right across the street. There are other restaurants in the area, and it's only a couple of blocks from the Sovereign Center.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Tamales for CJ - Part 5 - The payoff!!!

OK, these were pretty darn tasty. After steaming for about 90 minutes, we were ready to open up and chow down.

The masa fluffed up nicely and the pork was nice and tender, but really needed to be in smaller pieces, or shredded. The sauce was delicious, but I'd make it a little more spicy if it were up to just me. The filling in general didn't exactly come together very well. We both liked the capers and olives, but would probably dice the olives and add even more capers. Perhaps mixing them in with some of the sauce.

Check it out - plated with green rice - made in the rice cooker with tomatillo sauce instead of water. Recipe Zaar puts this in their Guatemala category, which makes sense - I've seen a lot of tomatillos uses in Central American recipes.

Tamales for CJ - Part 4 - Filling and Steaming

Once the masa was ready, we filled each with sauce, pork, olives, capers, and peppers. This is where the preparation got really difficult.
There seem to be 2 keys to making the actual tamales.
1) Having the correct amount of masa along with the various filling ingredients.
2) Keeping the husks pliable enough that they are foldable without cracking.

We had a little trouble with #1 and a lot of trouble with #2. I'm going to have to research finding good husks and making them pliable. Perhaps I should find some banana or plantain leaves.

As for the filling problems - as I said the masa was great, but I would not use cubed pork again. Once you start folding things up, the pork didn't seem to roll with it, often causing a mess. We'll probably use shredded or thinly sliced meat next time.

Anyway - here's the tamale ready for rolling.

They were very difficult and time consuming to assemble, and I'm starting to have second thought about whether we can make them for a huge group. We'll see. About half of them rolled up nicely (albeit with some struggle). The other half rolled up well enough to go into the steamer. There's another problem we had. We used our bamboo steamer, not really the best shape for tamales. We'd be better off using a more vertical contraption, so they could be rolled with one open end standing up.

Tamales for CJ - Part 3 - the Masa

Next - we mixed the Masa - this was the part where we really had trouble determining the proper consistancy. It wasn't that complicated, just seemed critical to get it right. We mixed Masa mix with water, broth, corn oil and salt until it was the consistency of peanut butter. Actually, it kinds looked like pale peanut butter. Later on, you'll see we must have gotten the consistency just right.

The mix was then spread accross about 2/3 of each corn husk.

Tamales for CJ - Part 2 - Sauce and Masa

Tamales are actually a lot of fun. Lot's of different flavors building, with some ingredients you might not expect.

Once we prepped all our ingredients, the next step was to make the sauce. We simmered some tomatoes and red pepper, all while toasting the chilies, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and cinnamon stick. The simmering tomatoes weren't all that interesting, so here's the toasting.

The next step was to puree the tomato/pepper mixture with the toasted seeds/chilies/cinnamon.

Then, we warmed the sauce and melted in a little lard. This made it nice and smooth, similar to sauces where butter is added at the end. The finished product was somewhat different than anything I've had. It flavor of the seeds came trough nicely. It tasted great, but I'm sure it would have been even better during prime tomato season. I'm thinking it might be worth using canned tomatoes, and certainly a little more heat.

Tamale practice for CJ - Part 1

Tamales are right up there with my favorite foods, and I've always wanted to make them. So, now that we've got a little Guatemalan baby on the way, we are also looking for ways to incorporate her birth culture into our lives. Considering how much we love to cook, food might be the best method for us. So, now, two reasons to learn how to make Tamales and other Latin American cuisine. We'll be making a slightly modified version of this recipe.

Tamale making can be time consuming, particularly if you're making them for a party, or holiday. It's tradition in Guatemala to make tamal colorado (red tamales) and tamal negra (black) at Christmas time in huge batches for the whole family. The biggest difference in Central American tamales that I've seen so far would be the use of plantain or banana leaves instead of the more common corn husks. We'll be using corn husks anyway. The recipes I've found also tend to use more solid chunks of meat before the steaming rather than pre-cooked and shredded. We'll be using solid lean pork shoulder.

Here's a snapshot of the gathered ingredients - you'll see capers, olives, and a cinnamon stick as well. The dried chilies are supposed to be ancho and quajillo. We found some close approximations as far as heat level goes.

And the first step - soaking the corn husks for 2 hours while we make the other ingredients

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Funny Stuff

Wow - it occurred to me that I have not posted here in a while - been pretty busy. I hope to throw up some more restaurant reviews soon, as well as some discussion about cooking equipment. But, here are some of my favorite food related funnies that I collected in recent years.