Saturday, July 31, 2010

Foodie Family Road Trip: Hershey Chocolate World

On a recent trip to visit family in Upstate New York, I took the boys on a side trip to Hershey, PA. Even though I grew up a few short hours from Hershey Park, I'd never been. I suspected that the amusement park itself would be too much--for the boys, me, and the budget. But then I read about Hershey Chocolate World and decided it was just our speed.

Hershey Chocolate World is located just outside the gates of the amusement park, about a 10-minute drive off I-81, through some pretty dairy farm country. Parking was free for the first three hours and they opened at 9am. The timing was perfect for us, as we had just eaten breakfast and checked out of the hotel, and it wasn't that far out of our way. Admission to Chocolate World is also free, although if your kids are old enough to know better Hershey's has plenty of temptations inside to lighten your pocket book. My almost-five-year-old was blissfully ignorant of the other paid attractions and was more than satisfied to do the free 'factory' tour twice--so long as he got the free mini-Hershey bar at the end and was able to pick out a treat from the gift shop. My one-year-old was also wide-eyed by the tour, with its Disney-ish theatrical style; animatronic, singing cows; and amusement-park ride car. Also like Disney, they dump you out in the gift shop. :-)

If you're looking for a real factory tour, you'll be disappointed, but little ones will love it. I bet teenagers will get a kick out of it too, although they might not tell their friends. Also available besides the free tour: a 3-D adventure, Make-Your-Own Chocolate Bar experience ($15 a pop and they charge every member of your party), and a Trolley tour. All looked like fun for another day, especially for older kids.

My only complaint was that they made us leave our stroller outside, and since I was on my own, it made it more difficult to get around. Note to the world at large: If you see a woman lugging a baby and a preschooler through a chocolate factory, hold the d--n door! Also, full disclosure: I believe very strongly that the only good Hershey bar is one served with roasted marshmallows and graham crackers, but the tour does make you feel good about supporting dairy farmers. Also, the animatronic cows seemed happy. I do have a soft spot for York Peppermint Patties and their dark chocolate bars with the nuts and berries. Both boys will apparently eat anything that starts with an H and ends with -ershey.

I see many more stops at Chocolate World in our future. Maybe next time we're up that way we'll give the museum a shot (A shuttle will take you to the museum from the Chocolate World parking lot) or Hershey gardens. Lots of fun photo ops; smelled great; low cost; and we were back on the road in time to miss the morning commuter traffic. See you next year, Chocolate World!

Foodie Read: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

To pass the time on a l-o-o-n-g road trip recently (Read: driving four days, two kids, just me.), I checked out my first e-audio book from the library. How cool is this? If you haven't already, go to your library's on-line site and see if they have a digital media section or--gasp!--talk to your librarian. I downloaded 'Lemon Cake' to my computer and then uploaded it to my iPod for the trip with only minimal help from my techie husband. Very easy and FREE. Can't beat it. And if I'm way behind on the times here, sorry. They must not have advertised it on NOGGIN. :-)

So, what's the book about? I can't tell you yet. Because I can't stop myself from talking about the cover. The first thing I thought when I saw the cover was, "Hey, wait, that's a chocolate frosted yellow cake. Who in their right mind would frost a lemon cake with chocolate frosting? Seems like a waste of perfectly good lemon cake...and chocolate frosting." Actually, the mom in this book does make such a cake for her daughter, Rose, for her ninth birthday. And when Rose tastes the cake she is awakened to an uncanny ability to taste her mother's emotions through her food. The book, set in Los Angeles, follows Rose's development as she learns to live with and finally embrace and use her strange ability. She eventually discovers, however, that she's not the only member of her family with special skills.

The charm of 'Lemon Cake' is not necessarily the exciting plot or sparkling prose. I confess to being a scanner, and I hit the FF button a couple of times during the first half of this e-book. (Life is short; don't waste it reading bad prose or dull story lines.) But as Rose grew, I became more interested in her life, her brother's strange disappearances, and her ever-so-slightly deepening relationship with her dad. Of course at one point I wondered if she only ate the food of very depressed, angry, annoying people. Apparently not many happy cooks or chefs or, for that matter, people in L.A. But by the final chapters, when my iPod died and I was still two hours from home, I found myself rifling desperately through the suitcase in the trunk looking for my charger. I even unplugged the kids' movie and listened to the whining and ranting for the last 30 minutes just so I could find out how it would end. And that, my friend, is the best compliment I can give a book.

So, chocolate iced lemon cake...really? Any one? Am I alone in this?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kettle's Buffalo Bleu Potato Chips Make Easy Appetizer

I love the homemade potato chips Sullivan's Restaurant in downtown Raleigh serves with a real blue cheese dressing on top. They are to die for. And what good New Yorker worth her salt doesn't love spicy Buffalo wings? So when I saw Kettle's new Buffalo Bleu Potato Chips at Harris Teeter recently, I saw an opportunity to make a yummy appetizer that combines some of my favorite flavors. Next time you have a party, take a bag of Kettle's Buffalo Bleu chips (a spicy BBQ chip will do nicely too if you can't find them) and pour them out on a microwave-safe plate or serving tray. Top with blue cheese crumbles, zap in the microwave until just warmed and maybe a little melty in places, 30 seconds or less, and serve. Yummy. Might be good drizzled with some ranch dressing too, but that's the southern transplant in me talking. Enjoy!

Sunday Brunch

Mixed Greens in a Raspberry-Orange Vinaigrette with Blue Cheese, Potato Frittata, and Creamy Lemonade Pie with Fresh Whipped Cream and Raspberries.

This meal reflects the weather we had this weekend: alternately hot and humid, and dark and stormy. The potato strata was a perfect comfort food for a rainy day while the raspberry blue cheese salad and creamy lemonade pie kept it from feeling too heavy with all the heat we've had. For short cuts, use store-bought raspberry dressing, graham cracker crust and whipped cream. But if you have the time and want the full effect, I've included the recipes for each. After all, it's the weekend. I start with the recipe for the pie, since it needs to be made several hours ahead of time. Making the pie the night before is even better.

Creamy Lemonade Pie with Fresh Whipped Cream and Raspberries

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 Tb sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

1-5 oz can of evaporated milk
1-3.4 oz package of instant lemon pudding mix
2-8 oz packages of reduced fat cream cheese (Let sit out at room temp for a while before mixing.)
3/4 cup lemonade concentrate

1 cup whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup powdered sugar

1.) For the crust, mix the ingredients in a bowl then pour into a pie plate, pressing to the bottom and up the sides. Bake 350' for 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2.) For the filling, mix evaporated milk and lemon pudding mix, two minutes. Beat in cream cheese until no lumps exist. Slowly add in lemonade concentrate. When the crust is cool, pour the filling into the crust and place in the fridge to set several hours or overnight.
3.) For the topping, chill a bowl and whisk in the freezer until ready. Pour in contents and beat on high until stiff peaks form, about five minutes.
4.) When ready to serve, dollop fresh whipped cream and fresh berries on top of each slice.

Potato Fritatta
2 potatoes (Yukon gold are nice for this. I had reds on hand this weekend.)
2 shallots
1/2 cup low fat milk
6 eggs
1/2 cup reduced fat cheddar cheese
salt and pepper
1 Tb olive oil
chives (I had green onion on hand but chives are much better if you have them.)

1.) Thinly slice the potatoes and shallots.
2.) Heat 1 Tb olive oil in a pan and lightly fry the potatoes in batches until tender, not too brown. Fry shallots quickly, 1 min or so, until tender. Set aside warm.
3.) In a bowl, mix eggs, milk, cheese and a dash of salt and pepper.
4.) Add in warm potatoes and shallots and let sit several minutes.
5.) Pour bowl into a new oiled and heated, large cast iron or other oven-proof frying pan.
6.) Cook on stove top until puffed and only jiggly on top.
7.) Place in the oven at 350' for 15 mins or until browned on top, puffed and not jiggly at all.
8.) Top with chopped chives and serve hot.

Mixed Greens in Raspberry-Orange Vinaigrette with Blue Cheese

1 clamshell package of mixed greens (I love the herb mix.)
roasted, salted sesame seeds
crumbled blue cheese (Chevre is also very good with this. I had blue on hand.)
fresh raspberries

Raspberry- Orange Vinaigrette:
1 Tb raspberry jam
2 Tb fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp orange juice concentrate
3 Tb olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1.) To make the vinaigrette, whisk the jam into the lemon juice, adding the orange juice concentrate when smooth. Whisk in the olive oil and flavor with salt and pepper. You won't need a lot of salt if you use salted sunflower seeds.
2.) When ready to serve, toss the greens in a bowl with the vinaigrette until lightly coated. Portion out into four bowls and top with crumbled blue cheese, a sprinkling of sunflower seeds and several fresh raspberries.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Manicotti with Crepes

My original motivation for learning how to make crepes was more savory than sweet. Rich's favorite meal is manicotti, and yes, he loves his mama's best. I've come to terms with the fact that her macaroni and cheese is like heaven, and she's had the corner on manicotti for years. But I think I may have finally developed an upper hand with these crepe manicotti. Now, if I could just master her marinara. ;-) Seriously, my mother-in-law is a great cook, but these are awesome and make enough for three meals for a family of four (assuming one large crepe per person). I include directions for freezing and reheating at the end.

Crepe Manicotti (makes 12 large crepes)
1 cup flour
3 eggs
2 cups milk
1 TB melted butter or canola oil

2 lbs ricotta
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1 TB Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp ground pepper

Sauce and mozzarella topping: 1 jar of sauce will be enough for one dish of four manicotti (I froze the rest). Also, about 1 cup of shredded mozzarella will top it off.

Preheat oven to 350'.
1.) In a blender, mix all crepe ingredients except butter/oil until smooth.
2.) Heat non-stick pan and melt butter or heat oil on medium heat.
3.) Pour out enough of the crepe batter into the pan to fill 2/3 of the pan and then swirl the batter to the outer edges of the pan in a circular motion until the batter sets.
4.) Cook until the crepe starts to pull away from the edges of the pan and curl inward, about 1-2 mins.
5.) Flip the crepe and cook another minute on the other side, then slide off onto a plate.
6.) Repeat, stacking the crepes as you go, until you have around a dozen crepes.
7.) In a separate bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the cheese filling.
8.) Spread 1/3 cup of the cheese filling on the edge of each crepe and roll up.

9.) Place all but four crepes seam-side down on a tray lined with parchment paper and place in freezer for several hours.
10.) Pour enough marinara to cover the bottom of a 9" pan and place the four reserved, large manicotti crepes on top. Top with more marinara and 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese.
11.) Cover pan with oiled foil and place in oven. Bake 20 mins until bubbly. Remove foil and bake until browned, another 10 mins. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.
12.) Frozen crepes: When the remaining 9 crepes are frozen, wrap them individually in foil and place in a freezer bag. To reheat later, follow steps 10-11, baking the crepes frozen and adding 10-15 minutes for baking them while covered with foil.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

P.S. On the crepes

Sweet crepes like the chocolate ones are also really yummy from the fridge the next day spread with raspberry jelly...and maybe a little of the chocolate sauce. And, if no one is looking, dipped into the leftover whipped cream. Just a thought.

Crepe Expectations

I've never made a crepe before this week, but I sense a wee addiction coming on. They are super easy to make, look fancy and can be made in endless variations. I tried sweet and savory crepes, full fat (read whole milk and six--yes six!--eggs) and light. If you can make a pancake, and if you have a non-stick pan on hand of any size, then you can make crepes. This chocolate banana variation was a big hit. If you're not a banana fan, these would be gorgeous with fresh berries too. The chocolate crepes are reduced fat. I can't speak for the whipped cream or chocolate sauce but both are easy to find in low-fat versions.

Like pancakes, crepes are easiest to make, and easiest to clean up after, when you use a blender. Simply place dry ingredients in first, then wet ingredients, and blend until smooth. Sift the flour, powdered sugar and cocoa together, if you can, to avoid lumps. If you want to save time, you can use Reddy Whip cream, but nothing beats fresh whipped cream for taste, and it's ready in under five minutes. This recipe makes six large crepes when using a 10-inch skillet.

Crazy Monkey Crepes
(Chocolate Crepes with Bananas, Pecans and Fresh Whipped Cream)

* Crepes
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. unsweetened dutch cocoa powder
3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups skim milk
2 large egg whites
1 whole egg
1 tsp. canola oil

*Filling and topping
4 large bananas, sliced
mini chocolate chips
chocolate syrup or hot fudge sauce
chopped pecans
powdered sugar for dusting

*Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

1.) Blend all crepe ingredients together until no lumps are left.
2.) Chill your mixing bowl and paddle or whisk for the whipping cream in freezer.
3.) Lightly oil 10" non-stick pan. No need to repeat this between batches. Place pan on medium to medium-high heat.
4.) Pour out enough batter to cover 2/3 of the pan bottom and swirl around until batter forms a skin and is no longer "liquid."
5.) When crepe sets and edges begin to pull away from the pan, use a plastic spatula or your fingers to flip it. Cook on other side another minute then slide off onto a plate to cool.
6.) Continue cooking crepes and sliding them off onto a plate. They'll stack without sticking. Set crepes aside.
7.) Pour chilled whipping cream into chilled bowl. Beat on low.
8.) Add sugar and vanilla and beat on high, 4-5 minutes or until stiff peaks form. Set aside in fridge.
9.) Slice bananas and lay 6-7 slices along one edge of a crepe. Drizzle with chocolate sauce and sprinkle with mini-chocolate chips.
10.) Roll up and place the crepe seam-side down on a plate. Drizzle with more chocolate and top with a dollop of the fresh whipped cream. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and chopped pecans and dust with powdered sugar. Repeat. Serve.
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