Friday, September 7, 2012

Beanwood Cafe: Tapas Night

Let me begin by saying--yes, I'm still in America. And no, I'm not supposed to be. I've come to find out visas are a complicated thing. And time consuming. And costly. But that's all I'm going to say just in case the visa people find me on the internet and decide to take away my freshly received visa because I'm bad-mouthing visas. I digress.

Secondly, I now know why I was meant to stay in the good ol' US of A for another week. And it wasn't because my original flight was headed for disaster and God decided to spare me. Nope. It was so I could experience Tapas Night.

Many people from this area are very familiar with Bordentown's Farnsworth Avenue with its storefronts, restaurants, and the occasional street fair. I know for us, among many, it's a common destination on the weekend, especially when seeking out a lively meal. Farnsworth offers versatility when it comes to dining--there's Toscano's for the cozy, romantic, and satisfying dinner, Marcello's for its deck seating and live, upbeat music, Farnsworth House for an excellent tap selection, Oliver's for quaint, quiet fare, Under the Moon (which I also had my first experience with this week--Go! Go!) for quirky atmosphere and fun food. And those are just the options off the top of my head.

One place that is often overlooked is the unassuming Beanwood Cafe. It wasn't until an impromptu stop for coffee one evening a few weeks ago that I realized they even serve food. Not only did I learn that they serve food, but I also learned that they have al fresco dining on an outdoor patio behind the shop.

And they make a damn good cup of coffee. Mom claims it's the best soy latte she's had, and that's coming from a weekly-ritual-soy latte-consuming connoisseur.

It was while passing through that evening that the owner took the time to explain to us a little about their BYOB Tapas Night, which they've been hosting every Friday evening for about a year. And lucky for me, this whole visa debacle left me an extra Friday on the books.

I feel obliged to share this experience with you. As what I assume is my last food post from the States, you need to know this place exists.

Let's begin.

Yes, that's right, you get one of each.

Our meal began with a simple combination of a fried plantain and guacamole. The guacamole wasn't highly seasoned, which allowed the freshness of the avocado to shine. The plantain was perfectly fried, which after having to fry them at work, I've realized it actually takes some technique. 

Next was their take on gazpacho. Most versions I've seen usually have some texture, while this soup was completely smooth. The flavor was spot-on with the right balance of fresh veggies, a pop of tang, and a touch of sweetness. Their house-made bread was also pleasantly sweet. 

"Pain de maiz" was up next. The dish came to us quite plain: no condiment, no garnish, just a churro-looking version of cornbread. After one bite, however, you quickly realize none of that is necessary (okay, maybe just a bit of hot sauce on the side. What can I say-the hotter, the better). This cornbread was buttery, moist, and agreeably one of the most popular dishes among the tapas-goers. 

This was the ceviche. We weren't sure what protein was going to be served, but it turned out to be shrimp. The consumme was a beautiful balance of tomato and mango, bringing all of the additional ingredients together in great flavor harmony. Drink up! 

Here we have plantains two ways, a variation of a Cubano sandwich, and a bite of chorizo and fior di sardegna cheese. Do you see that teeny tiny little dab of sauce on top of the flattened plantain? That had to be the most flavorful part of the entire meal. It was garlicky and wonderful, and honestly you probably wouldn't want to eat any more than they give you (especially if you're on a date). This dish offered a variety of textures and temperatures. The plantains were so different, both done very well. The sandwich used that slightly sweet house-made bread, a great accompaniment to the salty ham. And the sausage and cheese bite was everything you'd want in a perfectly presented little package. 

This was a little mid-meal break of fresh fruit and balsamic reduction. The picture doesn't really do justice to this strawberry carving, but it looked surprisingly like a rose. Fruit design might be a little outdated elsewhere, but this attention to detail was charming. The balsamic reduction was just that--thick, sweet, and vinegary. 

Next was a stuffed piquillo, a version of a Spanish tortilla or omelet, and their house-recipe rice. No worries to those who aren't a fan of spice--this stuffed pepper focused on sweet rather than heat. Think Grandma's stuffed peppers with a little Latin flare. If you look closely, you can see the omelet is layered with potatoes. We all agreed this was seasoned quite nicely. The rice was sticky, but not gummy, and had a nice background of green olives. And I don't even particularly like green olives. It would have been just as enjoyable given in a smaller portion, but you can never have too much of a good thing, right? (Just ask Mastoris)

Let me just say that I do not enjoy tres leches cake. I've tried. And tried again. I've even written about a tres leches experience in the past, and I wasn't enthused. Next, let me also say that right before we were served this course the owner came over to chat. It seems this cake is near and dear to her heart, one that she makes her own sweetened condensed milk for, and a recipe that devoted tapas nighters will not let her take off the menu. That being said, I will be dreaming of this cake until I'm home bound a year from now. It's the kind of dish that stays with you, one you come to cherish the longer you are apart. It is sweet. On the verge of too sweet, but instead it just seems indulgent. My suggestion to you is to grab one of the two waitstaff and put in your order for coffee, or espresso, or a soy latte, before this final course comes. That, my friends, is perfection. 

Tasting menus are fun because you all get to experience the same dishes at the same time to appraise and discuss. It's like the book clubs of dining. I highly recommend Beanwood for Friday night date nights or social gatherings. Hell, go by yourself. The menu changes weekly, so there's no opportunity for boredom. Even as the weather gets colder, the indoor seating is just as warm and charming. The owner will be sure to stop by your table and see how you're doing, giving you that "welcome to my home" feeling. She mentioned that they try to use local, organic ingredients whenever possible. That's something I can certainly stand behind. They also will be happy to accommodate any food allergies or sensitivities, especially if you call and give them a head's up so they can prepare. 

Well done, indeed. 

Now, how much would you think a meal like this would cost? $50 a piece? $45? Not here! With this special offer you only need to pay two easy payments of...

Kidding. No financing is necessary. What I'm not kidding about is the actual price of this meal: $30 a person. Come on, folks, can you beat that? 

I just ask that you keep them in mind the next time you're faced with an open Friday evening. You have my word, they will not disappoint. And if they do, you're out of luck because I will be hiding in another country. But they won't, so go. I will apologize for one thing, and that's because you now have to wait an entire week before you can experience it for yourself. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Strawberry and Vanilla Trifle

I started this blog about a year ago, with the intention of documenting my recipes (so I stop forgetting them), and to be able to easily pass them along. The past year has probably been the biggest whirlwind of change in my life, but at the very least it's kept things interesting. From a slew of jobs and opportunities, friends and family moving about, and with my own move approaching, life looks quite different than it did a mere 12 months ago.

I haven't been doing much recipe testing lately, or posting about it (clearly) because, quite frankly, working in a kitchen all day doesn't leave much time to....cook. Not that I've stopped baking and cooking at home, but it certainly has slowed quite a bit. However, my last day of work has come and gone with the weekend, and though I won't be posting many recipes these next couple weeks, I do want to get in the habit of writing again. My plan is to shift the focus of this blog from recipes and food to a way to keep my nearest and dearest updated on what my life is like in cheery ol' England. Perhaps that will have a lot to do with recipes and food. I have no clue.

I literally have no idea what my days will be like in two weeks. With how intimidating and weird that is, it's also one of the most exciting aspects of this move. Either way, it's comforting to know I can share all my experiences and discoveries with you along the way.

We had a little get-together over the weekend to send me off, full of all sorts of British goodies. One of the things I contributed was a strawberry and vanilla trifle. I've had a few requests for this recipe, so here it is! I apologize for the unorganized and last minute picture!

Strawberry and Vanilla Trifle


2 Tbsp butter, softened
1/6 cup oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, and grease/flour a 9" cake pan. Cream butter and sugar, slowly adding oil. Mix well, occasionally scraping sides of the bowl. Add eggs one at a time, then add vanilla. Mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Add baking powder, baking soda, salt, and half of the flour. Mix in buttermilk, then add the rest of the flour. Mix until combined and most lumps have dissolved. Pour batter in pan and bake for 25-30 min, until toothpick inserted in center comes out almost completely clean. Cool cake completely.

2 cups milk
1 cup half and half or heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat milk, half and half, and vanilla over medium-high heat. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar until they're thickened, lighter in color, and sugar is dissolved. When milk mixture comes to a simmer, take off heat. While continuously whisking egg yolk mixture, slowly add 1 cup of the milk to the eggs to temper. Whisk well to combine. Add one more cup of milk mixture to eggs while whisking. Place sieve over saucepan and strain egg mixture back into the remaining milk. Place saucepan over medium heat and continuously stir mixture until custard is slightly thickened, about 5-7 minutes (it should be able to coat the back of a wooden spoon and leave a trail when running a finger over the spoon). Pour into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and press onto the surface of the custard, and chill completely in the refrigerator, 3-4 hours. Note: Custard will be slightly looser than a typical custard, ideal for the cake to absorb.

Cut cooled cake into 1/2" cubes. In a trifle dish or a large, deep bowl (preferably clear), layer cake, custard, and sliced strawberries (or any desired fruit), repeating the layers until dish is full, finishing the dessert with fruit on top. Refrigerate for a few hours (overnight is best) to set.

This weekend was surely a reminder of how much love and support I have all around me. I'm so blessed to have such kind and caring people in my life. Thanks to all who helped my family and I every step of the way, whether in person or in spirit. If you couldn't tell, I appreciated it with every ounce I have in me! Much love to you all :)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Strawberry and Lemon Mint Pie

Hi, friends. How have you been? Hope everyone had a great July 4th! The great thing about having the holiday on a Wednesday is that the weekends both before and after can be used as excuses to celebrate more than usual. I'll drink to that. I'll drink to America. I'm pretty fond of this country.

These past few weeks sure have been hot ones...I wish I had some fancy ice pop recipes for the occasion, but I'm not that prepared. Pinterest has monopolized the fancy ice pop department anyway. I do have a fresh and summery pie recipe, however. And it's especially good served with a chill from the fridge. More on that later.

So it's been a bit since I last posted. Can you blame a girl for opting to go to the beach instead of sit in front of a computer? Here's what's happened in the meantime:

I've made a few wedding cakes for the sweetest brides in the world.

Photo credit: Christina Batesko

I'm still at my "new" job, though I'm no longer the new girl...I don't think. And it's still as awesome as day one. They put a lot of trust in me and my abilities, and I haven't had an employer that has done that before. It's given me the opportunity to learn a lot and face new challenges every day. I feel very blessed.

I'm on Phase II of P90X. I don't remember what it was like to walk up stairs pain-free, so I guess that means it's working. Maybe one day I'll post embarrassing progress pictures. Though I don't see too much progress. I'm definitely muscley-er, and I think if I stuck to the plain-chicken-steamed-greens diet that they suggest, it might be more noticeable. I don't generally eat unhealthy, but sometimes I get home late and just want some Cinnamon Burst Cheerios. Is that really so bad, Tony Horton? He seems to think so. I digress. 

After talking about it for a few years, we finally got chickens. They aren't the brightest creatures, that's for sure. But now I can bake with fresh eggs...for a little while at least. Which brings me to my final point.

I bought my ticket to England! Only two months left. I can't believe it. And now that all my wedding cake orders are completed and I've settled into my new job, it's finally hit me. Well only partially, because right now I'm nothing but excited, but nervousness needs to set in sometime! I'm trying to fit in some quality time with everyone before I go, and trying to soak up some sweet Jersey sun.

So, summer pie. Here's a recipe for a Strawberry and Lemon Mint Pie I came up with a few weeks ago. There's nothing like sweet berries in the summer, and fresh mint growing in the garden is a lovely addition to almost anything. I'll even chop some up to put in my yogurt to make it extra exciting. Because plain Greek yogurt can only reach a certain level of excitement on its own, ya know? The pie had a nice balance of bright flavors, and wasn't overly sweet. It definitely has summer written all over it. I suggest keeping the pie in the fridge and serving it cold.

Strawberry and Lemon Mint Pie

Your favorite pie dough recipe or store brand, enough for the bottom crust (you can find my recipe here)
1 1/2 pints strawberries, thick sliced
Juice and zest of one lemon (reserve 1 tsp of zest)
8 mint leaves, julienned
3 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup sugar

Place a sheet pan in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Combine strawberries, lemon juice and zest, and mint in a bowl. Sprinkle on flour and sugar, and toss until evenly distributed. Pour into unbaked pie shell and top with lemon crumb topping (recipe to follow). Place pie on top of sheet pan and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Serve chilled.

Lemon Crumb Topping

3 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until texture resembles wet sand.

Speaking of pie, here's one that's oozing American pride to commemorate the first round of our nation's birthday. Now it's on to America Weekend Part II. I don't know if this amount of patriotism can be topped for round two, but I sure am going to's the American way.

Enjoy another beautiful (and hot!) weekend!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Golden Birthdays and British Food

Last week I was able to experience something I had been waiting for my entire life. Which is a whole 23 years. Because last week on the 23rd, I turned 23. My Golden Birthday! For some reason as a kid I was convinced that something magical was bound to happen when turning the age of the date your birthday falls on. Like you'd win the lottery. Or you actually got the pony you asked for. Except it was a unicorn. Or your dream job would fall into your lap. Well, I don't have any unicorns to vouch for my Golden Birthday Theory. And I'll surely still be working to earn my money. But I'll be doing it while cooking in a fabulously beautiful, creative and award-winning restaurant. The restaurant where I took cooking classes a few months ago offered me a job! Oh, how life is funny sometimes. I'm sad to leave my last job. I've made so many great friends there and have learned so much, but this is an opportunity that cannot be passed up! So, as I'm adjusting (yet again. I feel in a perpetual state of adjustment) and settling into a new routine, I'm grateful for every second I'm standing in that kitchen. I'm beyond blessed to be where I am. God is good!

This new job doesn't change where I'm headed in a few months, though! So my birthday lunch with my family was celebrated at a British restaurant, The British Chip Shop. I wanted to enjoy some true English food before being surrounded by it all the time having no idea what it is. After this meal, however, I've only gotten more excited for what's to come.

Here's what we devoured:

Welsh rarebit. Or what I like to call beer battered French toast covered in cheese. These Brits are onto something.

A sandwich with chicken, Swiss cheese, wholegrain mustard and sliced apple.

My Ploughman's lunch. If this is how meals are over there, I'm set! A little bit of everything.

Chicken and mushroom pie. 

Fish and chips! And they make an excellent version.

Fish and chips in sandwich form. Can't go wrong with that!

I walked over to look at this pastry display at least seven times. I am in heavennnnn.

I ordered an Eccles cake, cherry shortbread, vanilla bean shortbread, and a "spot of tea!" Eccles is the town I'll be living in, and this pastry is their claim to fame. It's surprisingly similar to the Currant Cakes I posted a few weeks ago. They had so many shortbread flavors to choose from, though these two were amazing. And I now refuse to pour tea of anything other than tea pots this adorable. 

Mom Mum got lavender and ginger shortbread, which were also excellent. 

Needless to say, I left the restaurant pretty stuffed excited for what's to come. All this talk about how undesirable the food is over there is just plain riffraff. I'm not sure how anyone can say beer-infused cheesy French toast is undesirable. And then I started P90X the following day. It seemed fitting.

Happy June, everyone! Hope you've been able to get the grill going and spend some quality time outdoors. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blueberry Muffins and Spring Cocktails

I hope everyone got to celebrate the mothers in their lives yesterday! It was such a beautiful weekend. I saw a lot of moms doing yard work (eh hem, where you at on that one, dads?). Mother's day here was celebrated by a homemade brunch and dinner, and the building of a chicken coop. Hopefully that made up for the tattoo I got the day before. Moms aren't usually thrilled when their children come home with tattoos. Poor timing on my part. Lucky for me, I have the nicest mom in the world.

My dad and brothers took care of brunch while Mom and I went to church and enjoyed a run together. They did an amazing job! Spinach quiche, potatoes, bacon, fruit salad, even homemade ketchup. I was able to squeeze in making some blueberry muffins before church, since they're Mom's favorite. And she contributed some chocolate chip banana bread (made the day before so it doesn't count as making her work on Mother's day). Dinner was a winner too! Rib-eye steaks with crab, asparagus, fried onions, and roasted garlic and chive mashed potatoes. We decided that only two meals need to be served every day if they're like that. As in large. And fattening.

A celebratory day isn't complete without some celebratory cocktails around here. A few years ago Dad came up with a Chive Blossom Martini. It's such a pretty and refreshing cocktail for spring, especially if you have chives growing around that you can pick right from the ground. We also made Hummingbirds, a drink that's ordered quite a bit at the bar where I work. It's floral and bubbly, and slightly sweet. It's made with St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and if you haven't tried it yet, you should! Or just buy a bottle of it to display somewhere in your home. It's really fancy. 

Blueberry Streusel Muffins

6 Tbsp butter, softened
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
2 cups blueberries 
1 Tbsp turbinado sugar

Streusel Topping
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter, softened
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin tin with liners (makes about 9 jumbo muffins or 12 standard-sized muffins). Cream butter, oil and sugar in mixer. Mix in eggs one at a time until combined, then add vanilla. Add one cup of flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix in milk until just combined, then add the remaining flour. Gently fold in blueberries. Prepare streusel topping: mix all ingredients together with fork, pastry blender or hands until all ingredients are incorporated and texture is crumbly. Divide batter among muffin tins, top with streusel topping, sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean when inserted in center (20-25 minutes for standard size, 25-30 minutes for large).

Chive Blossom Martini

3 oz. gin
0.5 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur 
3 oz. club soda
2-3 chives, chopped into one-inch pieces
1/2 tsp. sugar
Chive stem and blossom, for garnish

In a shaker, muddle chives and sugar with a splash of water. Fill shaker with ice. Add gin and St. Germain. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a chive stem (as a straw! How clever!) and blossom. 

From St. Germain

2 parts brut champagne or dry sparkling white wine
1 part St. Germain
2 parts club soda
Lemon twist, for garnish

Pour all ingredients over ice in a Collins glass. Top with a lemon twist. Drink. Then make another one.

Monday, May 7, 2012

James Beard Awards 2012

I was just in the same room as Wolfgang Puck. And Grant Achatz. And Christina Tosi. Not to mention the many, many, many other amazing chefs and food writers, like Frank Stitt, who I just had the absolute pleasure of working with for the afternoon. And I just spoke with Alton Brown (okay, so maybe he just looked at us and said "excuse me" as he squeezed by, but he did it in such a friendly way! And made eye contact!). Duff Goldman hung around us for a while too, but he seemed a little stressed so we pretended he wasn't there.

I was given the invaluable opportunity to help set up at the James Beard Foundation Awards by an amazingly generous and wonderful family friend, Jon. All the thanks to you, Jon! I'm still beside myself.

Jon with the Chesterfield Floral Co. did all the flowers for Chef Stitt's table, and he so kindly let me tag along and lend a hand. He absolutely outdid himself on the arrangements, and the table was beautiful. It got so much attention!

This year was the 25th anniversary, so the nominated chefs all prepared dishes that were inspired by an aspect of one of James Beard's cookbooks. Chef Stitt was serving a crawfish and Gulf shrimp salad, there was a "picnic by the sea" (we're still unsure what that means...), port-soaked prunes with orange creme, a cake by Charm City Cakes, and straight tequila served in champagne glasses, just to name a few. This is the kind of party I want to attend.

From what we saw in the time we were there, the event was going to be an extravagant one, with a red carpet and the whole bit. I'm so grateful I was able to play even the tiniest little role in it all. I'm quite speechless, so I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking!

The venue: Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center

The venue

An arrangement on our table--and people looking in awe from behind!

More arrangements, and Chef Stitt in the background

Chef's menu item for the evening 

Our table with Chef

Our neighboring tables

Pastry chefs hard at work 

Tequila table!

Cakes hidden away in boxes

The lovely and handsome Jon as we're trying to capture Duff in action. And apparently as we're creeping on Duff, some staffers were creeping on us!

Thanks again, Jon and Ted. This day has made quite a few of this little gal's dreams come true! 

Broad Street Run Recap

Happy Monday, all! I hope you had a great, relaxing weekend. I had a great weekend, but I wouldn't call it relaxing--yesterday was the Independence Blue Cross Broad Street Run in Philly. I've mentioned before that my dad and I have been "training" for a few months for this day. Unfortunately, my dad got hurt playing basketball last week and couldn't run with me, but a friend of ours took his place and I couldn't ask for a better stand-in running buddy.

Before the race!

To be honest, I really have no interest in doing races. I like to keep running fun and not stressful, since I use it to make life's other stressful things not stressful. So if running is stressful and other things are stressful, it just sounds like I'm one step on the treadmill away from an emotional meltdown. And when my dad, who convinced me to do this race, was no longer running, and our friend from the gym, who convinced my dad to sign up, didn't originally get to register, I was baffled how I ended up being the only one doing it. Though I'm very glad I did.

Training was a lot of fun. Not many people get to run for hours with their dads, and I'm so blessed that I'm able to spend time with both my parents doing something we all love. I would never be as motivated or determined if it weren't for them. And the race itself was definitely an experience! 40,000 runners all crammed into one starting area. Even spread out among the 10 miles of Broad Street, there was a sea of people that just didn't end. It was incredible. When all is said and done, it seems like we ran twice the distance from weaving back and forth between people--something we surely didn't factor into our training. But there's nothing like having thousands of people cheering the entire time you're running. Who wouldn't be motivated by that?!

And we're off!

The sea of people going all the way down Broad Street. Amazing!

My last minute running partner, Flo, and I have never actually run together before, which is a little tricky going into a race. We had no idea what each other's paces were like, but we ended up being a great match. We finished the race in 83 minutes, and for never having done a race like this before, I was very happy with my time.

We finished!!

All in all, it was a great experience.  And if I wasn't moving to England, I'd absolutely run again next year. Maybe in the future! Also, if anyone out there has a hard time staying away from carbs, alls you have to do is eat a whole bunch of them in one sitting (perhaps a giant roll, some cous cous and toast for lunch?), and then you never want to touch them again. Just a tip! Have a wonderful day!