Ideas For Easter Brunch
Okay, Easter at our house, because of the hugely adolescent male presence, is about getting up late, nuking Peeps and cracking very badly dyed hard boiled eggs on noggins before rolling out the door to Church. Once home, everyone disappears to their neutral corners to eat chocolate and get grumpy. Then a nap. And then a visit around the corner to Mom Mom’s house to watch the littlies (too young to be sarcastic and apathetic) scramble for eggs in her annual Easter Egg hunt. Mom Mom is the grandmother everyone should have - unlike me, the Nana everyone has nightmares about. Mom Mom makes thoughtful and bountiful baskets for each of her fourteen grandchildren and any almost-grandchildren she can collect for the day. Then, a dinner of all of the perfect family holiday food. The kids play or snooze while the middle generation tells stories of escapades that may or may not have become funny in the intervening years to us old people. Good times.
But if your family happens to be the kind of family that actually gets dressed up and eats in public, you might enjoy the following links:
Couponing to Prosperity Site has information on local Easter Egg Hunts
Reservations Recommended for the places below!
They advertise a VAST confectionary display! I’d go!
West Chester to become ALL BAR Town!
In a unique move today, West Chester Boro Council has declared that every business must begin to serve alcohol immediately. Law offices, women’s consignment shops and jewelry stores must all begin to serve frozen margaritas and mojitos, if they want to stay in business.
One council person, who did not want to be identified, remarked, “It just seemed unfair that a person coming to town had to stumble ten or twelve feet on our charming but uneven brick sidewalks, without being offered a libation.” Another, who also declined to be identified, said, ” Tensions between bar patrons and residents will just ease up if everyone has a few belts first, before talking issues or parking.” The additional revenue generated will also keep the local millage low while eliminating the need for the controversial ‘pour tax’ that has ignited so many sober, yet angry debates.
At present, only about 1/3 of the historically important buildings in town are devoted to alcohol service. The new ordinance will bring that up to 100 percent. You will be able to get single malt during your visit to the bank or a frosty pina colada in a ‘go cup’ while using the parking garage.
The only issue which remains to be decided is whether students who attend any classes at the University or just those within the boro limits would be offered beer and ale. “West Chester used to be a drinking town with a University Problem.” said one person on the street. “Think how much more fun Band Practice will be at the Stadium, now!”
Raisinet Flavored Kisses
An apology to the Boy Who Will Remain Nameless: You caught me by surprise. If I had known you were going to screw up your courage and do THAT at that very moment - deliver to me my very first kiss in the dark balcony of the Warner Theater on a Saturday afternoon - I would not have shoved almost a whole box of Raisinets into my mouth right before you planted one on me. I know. I was just as stunned as you when I gagged and coughed in surprise, and spewed chocolate and raisin chewed juice all over you, me and the balcony railing. Forty years later, I’m apologizing and hoping that, even though you never tried to kiss me again, you went on and got it right with the next girl.
I guess most people don’t consider March 24th, National Chocolate Covered Raisin Day, as a Day of Atonement in the strictest sense, but I have sort of felt bad about this. Whew! Apology delivered, I can go on and not have that flashback every time I open a box!
National Potato Chip Day in the Snack Belt of Pennsylvania: Birthday Cake, Non-Newtonian fluids and Quicksand
It’s a dark and stormy night at Girl Scout camp - I think probably Camp Indian Run on Fairview Road in Wallace Township. Between claps of thunder and flashes of lightening, an eerie clanking is coming from the direction of our food stuffs. We are all afraid to go out and see what is going on. In the bright morning light, we find that raccoons have rolled our Charles Chip cans down the hill to the creek and pried them open. Soggy potato chips are smacking against the rocks in the creek and you can see the weird almost human paw prints of the raccoons in the mud on the bank. It is a very very sad day in the woods.
Flash forward fifty years, and it’s National Potato Chip day here in the Snack Belt of Pennsylvania. Some Charles Chip cans must have survived raccoon attacks because a quick search on Ebay shows one recently sold for almost twenty bucks. And here, from Hershey, PA east to Philly, the variety of sweet and salty snacks produced is staggering. Lucky for us, the snack business is apparently recession proof, as most area companies involved in producing potato chips, pretzels and other snack foods posted a profit last year, and some reportedly could not keep up with the demand during our January and February storms.You can get information about tours through Herr’s, Utz fascinating factories at their websites, or check Sharon Hermes Silverman’s book Pennsylvania Snacks: A Guide to Food and Factory Tours found on Amazon. The Herr’s plant is having a birthday celebration on March 15 with cake for everyone. By the way, the Herr’s mascot is Chipper and the Wise Owl’s name was Peppy.
According to the Official Potato Chip History Time Line chips were invented by a Native American Chef named George Crum in 1863 in Saratogo Springs, New York. They were a cheeky response to a customer complaint about the thickness of George’s fried potatoes, but instead of irking the complainer, they were such a hit that they became a staple of the restaurant, and later featured at George’s own eatery. In 1921, both Wise and Utz started producing chips in Pennsylvania, probably because a hand cranked, easy to operate potato cutter developed in 1920 made big quantities of chips easier to make.
Say hello to Mr. Potato Head, invented in 1949 and the first toy advertised on TV. Although Wikipedia states that the toy set consisted of a plastic potato with push in features, I only remember using a real potato.
I love potato chips because they are not only tasty and salty, but because the satisfying crunch of biting and chewing them seems to relieve stress. I can’t imagine certain sandwiches - small italian hoagie, tuna sandwich, or grilled cheese and tomato soup without them.
If you want to make them at home, nothing could be simpler:
Slice potatoes VERY THIN (channel George Crum) with a paring knife, a mandolin, or an old fashioned kraut cutter. Soak slices for an hour or so in cold water, to remove the starch, for a crisper chip. Drain and Dry carefully - you don’t want to introduce moisture into the hot oil! Heat oil to aprox. 390 degrees and fry just a few at a time. They will cook really fast and introducing too many at once lowers the temperature of the oil and chips will absorb more grease. When crispy and brown to your taste, drain on towels, either paper or well washed cotton. Store in a metal tin if you have one - they will last longer if they are not exposed to light or air. But who are we kidding? You are going to eat them all right away! If you are not a hot oil type you can use this recipe for Microwave Chips. I did not try them, because basically, I like the snap crackle pop of frying, but let me know how these work for you.
If you are in an experimenting sort of a mood, amaze your children and your friends with some FUN SCIENCE. Real quick, potato starch is a polymer. Polymers have really big molecules. When combined with water, potato starch makes a half liquic, half solid called a Non-Newtonian Fluid. Quicksand is a non-newtonian fluid, just FYI. See, if you strike it hard, it will resist the pressure of the strike and remain solid - if you had a pool filled with it, you could walk across it. But if you touch it lightly, those same molecules separate into a liquid and will allow penetration. Here is a really cool video (in Spanish, but it doesn’t matter, you will understand what is happening) that illustrates this. And if you are into potato crafts or you are wondering what you would do for plastic if the economy falls apart and we are living out of our gardens, this video teaches you how to make potato plastic AND explains why it works. Sort of a creepy voice, but easy to follow. There are a few products on the market now that are using this eco-friendly solution.
Studies show that people tend to eat sweet things while they work on their computers and choose salty when watching TV. I say work on your computer and watch TV and eat chocolate covered potato chips!
Cedars Cafe - A taste of home cooking for my friend, Elizabeth
The Cedars Cafe
309 Lancaster Ave.
Like so many things these days, this venture starts as a post on Facebook. My friend Elizabeth wants to know if anyone has been to the Cedars Cafe in Frazer. What kind of food? I inquire, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s been a couple of weeks since I lunched with girlfriends because of weather and work, and we quickly get willing companions for a Middle Eastern or Levantine Girls Lunch.
The Cedars Cafe is next to Staples in Frazer with lots of easy parking. Lee Ann, Lisa, Elizabeth (this could be easily the Girls Names that Have An “L” In Them Lunch) are coming at one, but I get there about half an hour early so I can scope the place out. I can choose any table in the house, according the pleasant waitperson. First thing I notice is that this restaurant smells REALLY good.
While I am waiting, I order the *Cedars Combo Appetizer (13.99): Classic Hummus, Baba Ghanouj, Grape Leaves, Falafel, Sanbousik, Spinach Pie and Kibbeh.
I know no one will notice if I eat one of those falafels before they get here. They don’t know how many were on the plate. And one of the grape leaves. And some of the hummus. Well, that showed, but these are ladies I am lunching with and they didn’t mention it when they arrived. It’s all delicious and exotic!
Elizabeth is half Lebanese, and is our guide through the menu. Tasting each thing on the combo plate, she tells us how her aunts made it slightly differently. The real test, she says, is going to be tabouli.
We chat about the family foods we each remember, the meals and conversations that took place in kitchens throughout our lives. I think about my German/American grandparents and how I don’t remember eating anything remotely German in their home or even hearing German spoken. Conversations about food lead us to conversations about Family and how each of us got here. Maybe it’s our age, but we are all suddenly interested in our roots. For more information on how you can trace your roots, try Ancestry.com. They have a great new show on Friday night at 8pm on NBC.
Lee Ann orders Chicken ShishTawook (11.99), which is marinated chicken cubes, onions, bell peppers, served with rice, classic hummus, tabouli, garlic bread and pita bread triangles. Elizabeth steals a chicken cube and says it’s moist and delicious. Lisa and I order Shawarma (7.50), a rolled pita sandwich filled with parsley, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and either chicken or marinated lamb and beef. The idea was that we would sort of share, but I am beginning to notice that my friends do NOT share, no matter what their intentions are, because I never got to try anyone else’s. We passed up the fries or house salad side in favor of the tabouli. Elizabeth orders the Kibbeh Platter (10.99) that is served with more hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouli and pita bread. The portions are reasonable, and only Lee Ann takes some home.
Tabouli or Tabbouleh (Arabic: تبولة; also tabouleh or tabouli) is a chopped salad of tomato, cucumber, parsley, bulgur, mint, onion, lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper. The Cedars Cafe tabouli is fresh fresh fresh, very lemony and light. The texture is like that of a salsa, with chunks bigger than a mince, but not huge. I would definitely go just for this.
Elizabeth’s Kibbeh Platter
We finished the meal by sharing Baklava (2.50) layers of phyllo, walnuts and orange blossom syrup and Namoura (2.50) which is a semolina cake drenched in orange blossom syrup (like honey). Lee Ann had a tiny cup of Turkish Coffee which we agreed would put lead in her pencil for the day.
The menu also includes kabobs, lots of vegetarian selections and options for family dining. We also had a coupon from The Clipper, so be on the look out for that.
What You Need To Know Before You Go:
Rating: YMMMY (out of a possible YMMMMMY)
Bring: Cash and credit/debit cards accepted.
Very satisfying meal with appetizer, drinks, and dessert plus twenty percent tip for around 20.00 each. We stretched this lunch out for three hours, so I don’t think the usual lunch would cost you more than 10.00 or so.
Family Friendly and Free WIFI
Casual Atmosphere, whatever you are wearing is fine.
Service was pleasant and efficient!
hummus: chick peas mashed with garlic, lemon, olive oil, spread on pita triangles
baba ghanouj: tahini (a condiment made with sesame seeds), egg plant, garlic, lemon, cucumbers, parsley and tomatoes.
grape leaves: also “Mikshee” according to Elizabeth, are stuffed with rice, possibly lamb or beef, spices like cinnamon and garlic
falafel: can be a pita sandwich filled with mashed chick pea and spices formed and fried as croquettes, or just the croquettes themselves, drizzled with tahini or garlic sauce.
sanbousik: half circle pastry stuffed with meat, rice, spices, also spelled saMbousik
kibbeh: bulgar, meat and spices formed into a football shaped ball and baked or fried. Here, they are baked. Served with tahini or garlic dipping sauce.
We’re Forever Blowing Bubbles!
It is a sunny Sunday afternoon in 1963. I am ten years old. Am I outside, playing? NO. I am sitting on a plastic covered sofa in my German Grandmother’s living room in Rockledge, PA watching Mr. Lawrence Welk and his bubble machine. My grandparents are deaf and shouting to each other (We took the train! We had ham For lunch!) so I don’t even know why it’s important that we have the TV on, but it is the way the visits go: Lawrence Welk, Gladiator Theater and then Roller Derby. My bare legs stick to the plastic, the rough edges of my Easter petticoat are biting into my skinny little girl waist, and my father - who insists on these visits - is snoring.
Why am I thinking about this, this morning? Well, because today it’s the 107th birthday of Mr. Lawrence Welk, The Bubble Master, King of Champagne Music and National Bubble Week is March 20th to March 26th. Before your interest bursts like a soapy bubble in sunlight because you can’t figure out why I would mention this at all in a food blog, consider the contribution of the humble bubble.
Flat soda, english muffins with no nooks and crannies, and rice krispies that don’t snap, crackle or pop -no bubbles! How would you know water was boiling? No whipped creme? Birthday parties with no cake and certainly no balloons. Anniversaries with out the chemistry of either your relationship or your favorite fermented beverage. To make anything special, palatable or even more understandable, we always blow a little air into it.
Bubbles that appear in food as part of the preparation process are the result of chemical reactions. Cakes that rise need a combination of raising agents like baking soda, baking powder and cream of tartar. When you combine them and add them to a flour and egg mixture, you get a batter capable of suspending the CO2 as bubbles. Heating expands the bubbles and the cake rises. If this combination is off in percentages, then you get a flat cake, either from the inability of the batter to support the bubbles and the cake will never rise, or the bubbles will get too big, burst and the cake will fall. Once you have that carefully beaten cake batter in the pan, you must smack it on the counter sharply to break up bubbles that are too big, or your cake will raise unevenly. The precision and care required to produce a good cake is, In my humble opinion, why people who bake well are math type of personalities while people like me who refuse to measure anything are better off sticking to crock pot stewing.
In bread prepared with yeast, the bubbles that form to make the dough raise are caused by the yeast organisms digesting the sugars in the dough and belching out carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide causes ‘bubbles’ or small spaces that stretch the dough and these spaces are supported by the flour and fats used in the recipe. Soft breads use a fat that is soft at room temperature, english muffins use a fat that is hard and that causes the shiny, stiff spaces that become the nooks and crannies.
Rice Krispies? That snap, crackle and pop that you hear is caused by thousands of little bubbles being dissolved when they hit the liquid milk which causes pressure. Where did the bubbles come from, in the first place? The rice is popped like pop corn (also essentially a structure of bubbles stuck together) at a very high temperature. Sometimes you can see little bubbles forming in the milk as the gas that formed the bubbles escapes. What is that gas? I could not find an answer to that.
A recent trend in very fancy restaurants is to add a foam to a dish. Similar to a traditional whipped cream, a gas of some sort is introduced into a liquid by whipping or ‘frothing’. This liquid can be sweet or savory, but if you don’t get it to the table quickly, it looks like snot on your plate. Not sure this is going to catch on, and it might just be an excuse to introduce big canisters of N2O or laughing gas into restaurant kitchens which tend to be time driven, very tense places.
Let’s not forget our own contribution to food related bubbles. The flatus and belching we experience after eating foods like beans or drinking too much soda or fermented beverages like beer are mostly nitrogen, carbon dioxide and hydrogen that collect in our plumbing and then escape from our bodies by resonating against soft tissue relieving us and alarming others. In my own mostly male biological family, farting is considered a sport like horse racing, and quality explosions are given names like “Double Cheek Rhapsody” or “The Ecstasy” and brought up at meal time for years. Who can forget this famous scene in Blazing Saddles? As we say around here, a belch is just a fart turned upside down.
It would be a sad, sad world if there Beano gas or bubbles! So celebrate, blow some!
Seeing A Ghost: The Hottest Pepper of Them All
The Ghost Pepper
Ghost pepper sauce is made with the now trendy Bhut Jolokia pepper grown in the northeast part of India, and is rated at one million scovilles, the scale that is used to judge hotness. In 1912, before Paris Hilton, before the ubiquitous use of the word HOT to describe almost anything mildly interesting, Wilbur Lincoln Scoville, a chemist, developed this scale to give a numeric valuation to the heat given off by capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers.
The Bhut Jolokia is so hot, the Defense Department is reportedly interested in it as a way to control riots. SO hot, that as you eat it, your soul is cooked out of your body, leaking out your pores as a vaporous gas, hence the name. If you want it, you have to talk to Ananta Saikia, the only one who exports it and you are going to have to talk loudly, because to process it, Ananta and his employees have to suit up in safety gear.
I like hotness, but dislike injury to my soft, fleshy parts so I don’t know whether I am up to trying it should I find it. I just sort of want to know if it’s lurking out there somewhere, and in what. The Bistro on Bridge in Phoenixville has wings called “The 10,000 Ghost” which is made with them. If you have tried them, I would love to hear A. WHY? and B. What it was like. Feel free to scribble notes on a pad - I’m guessing you can’t talk!
If you want to grow them, you can get seeds from a number of sources on the internet. Just google. You will apparently need a security fence. HEY! Maybe this will keep the deer out.
BYOT - Bring Your Own Tomato
When I was a kid, you only ate tomatoes and strawberries during the local season.
Strawberries were only available for two weeks in June, because they were poor travelers and the growing season here in Chester County was very short and unpredictable. Because of improved transportation,hybridization and maybe some irradiation, you can get strawberries as big as your fist any time of year.
Tomatoes were a different story. You could get them in the market all year long, but winter tomatoes were pale pink with the texture of frozen jello. They lacked the acid bite of a good, fresh Jersey or Brandywine, and most people just opted out of tomato eating until summer. Tomato cravings didn’t go away though, and my Dad and others would compete for having the first fresh tomato of the season, using water towers and slanted glass fashioned into makeshift greenhouses. Each family had a secret weapon like tea made from manure and seeds saved from early producers the year before. The first tomato would arrive, finish up ripening on the sunny window sill in the kitchen and then get divvied up to the entire appreciative family. Three weeks later, there would be so many tomatoes the kids in the neighborhood would be hurling them at each other in mock battles or using them as ‘tomato balls’, hitting them with zuchini bats. Good times.
The last couple of years, winter tomato quality improved dramatically and you could buy them ‘on the stem’ at any grocery and they were almost as good as local. But expensive. This morning I heard on the news that tomato prices skyrocketed overnight, up almost sixty percent, because of bad weather in Florida. When lunching out for a while, you might have to request a tomato on your hamburger or pay a premium. If you get one, relish it. If you don’t like tomatoes (I can’t imagine, but there are people who pick them off their food like they are dead fish and move them to the side where they can’t touch anything else) give your waitperson a heads up so they don’t end up wasted.
Has anyone been charged extra yet?
I don’t have an oven or stove at home right now. The story behind this situation is very long and will end soon, so I won’t bore you with it here. There is no boiling of water, cooking under the broiler or baking going on at my house. However, this has meant that I have discovered some unique uses for some standard kitchen appliances, should you ever find yourself, like me, with a entire collection of gourmet copper cookware and nothing to heat its bottom.
What fuels this drive to discover new ways to cook is that my food urges are so powerful, they demand to be, er, fed. Like waking up in the morning needing Eggs Benedict. Or coming home from work tired and grumpy and knowing what you want more than anything is a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup. Successfully managing to placate these cravings only makes the monster more demanding.
First of all, anything that heats up enough to burn you, will cook food. Before I found my famous four dollar George Foreman Grille at the East Earl Goodwill, I often made grilled sandwiches with my iron. Simply wrap your sandwich stuff in a piece of foil and press it with an iron set on HIGH - or SCORCHED LINEN. It takes about five minutes to make a nice, toasty taste treat.
Someone once told me that their father used to wrap potatoes in foil and attach them to the manifold of his car on his one hour commute, and when he got to work, they were baked. I have not tried this, simply because I don’t know what a manifold is and I worry I would do this and the potato would get sucked into the air cleaner and then I would have some explaining to do.
Let your imagination take over here, though, and consider what you might do with your curling iron and curly fries, or rice noodles….
This week, I made spaghetti with meat sauce. I browned the hamburger in the George Foreman and that worked so well, I may never brown hamburger any other way. I just took it out of the package and dumped it just as it was on to the plates in the grill. Closed the lid. In less than eight minutes I had browned, drained hamburger which I broke up in chunks, covered with sauce and brought up to temperature in the microwave. I poured it over pasta I brought home and froze from a restaurant meal. It was delish and ready really quickly.
How do you make Eggs Benedict with no stove or oven? I made poached eggs in the microwave by bringing water almost up to boiling in a microwave safe bowl, cracking the eggs in and covering the bowl with a plate and letting it sit for ten minutes. They were perfect. I cooked a freezer bisquit in a stand alone roaster I bought for cooking Thanksgiving Turkeys (this took four minutes less than the oven time on the package). I cooked the bacon in the George Foreman taking less than five minutes. The hollandaise was reheated in the microwave from a frozen state. VOILA! It looks pretty good in that picture, right? The fruit salad is peaches, mangos, strawberries, a little honey and coconut.
Other than calling for takeout, how have you cooked food during a time when your oven or stove wasn’t working?