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