Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Samantha Harris on BROADWAY?!?!?!

Yes, that blog title is correct- today we're screaming for a BAD reason. I'm sorry if reading this has ruined your day. I know it nearly ruined my night when I heard the news last night. I was prefectly happy watching the season finale of "Dancing with the Stars." It's a guilty pleasure, I admit. Samantha Harris co-hosts the show with Tom Bergeron. To say he hosts circles around her would be an understatement. She is beyond terrible. I can hardly bear to sit through her awkward interviews with the performers. It's as if she's not even paying attention to what's coming out of her mouth or theirs!

My friends Brance and Betsy refer to her as "a poor man's Catherine Zeta-Jones." I used to laugh at this and even used the nickname myself, but lately I feel like I'm insulting Catherine Zeta more than Samantha Harris when I say it. Those two should not even be in the same universe. Ok, ok, I'm getting to the real story here. As I was saying, I was perfectly content, sitting on the couch, watching the season finale of DWTS, when Tom announced that his co-host would soon be starring on Broadway as Roxie Hart in Chicago. I nearly fell off the couch. (For the full story, click on the title of this blog and you'll be directed to Of course the first thing I did was text both Brance and Betsy. Betsy responded immediately, "You have got to be kidding me. I seriously just threw up," followed by "What has the world come to?" and "I really cannot believe this. It's disturbing and I can't get the horrifying visual out of my mind!" It's no secret that the recent revival of Chicago on Broadway is not much more than a revolving door of B-list celebrities, but this is an all-time low. Remember when Lisa Rinna played Roxie? I thought that was about as bad as it could get, but apparently I was wrong. (Other less than fabulous choices for the production: Ashlee Simpson (Roxie Hart, West End), Brooke Shields (Roxie), Harry Hamlin (Billy Flynn), Usher (Billy), Joey Lawrence (Billy), David Hasselhoff (Billy), and Kelly Osbourne (Mama Morton).

So what is wrong with Broadway today? So many great shows closed this past January, putting hundreds of talented performers out of work and yet Chicago continues to run, even with "actors" like Samantha Harris in the lead role.

When Brance finally responded to my text, it had a different tone than I expected. He responded by saying, "If poor man's Catherine Zeta Jones can be on Broadway, then there's hope for us all." True. It was hard to tell if his text was meant to be sarcastic or hopeful. (He's a professional actor currently living in NYC.) My cynical self would like to think, "Why not just pull people off the street and cast them in Broadway shows? It would be a lot more interesting, but the standards wouldn't have to change at all! But then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Poor Man's Catherine Zeta will blow us all away with her spot-on portrayal of the infamous Roxie Hart. I won't hold my breath, though.

Lemon Squares

I mentioned yesterday that one of my earliest memories baking is a recipe for Lemon Squares. I used to make them ALL THE TIME. They were so delicious and tart- I could eat the entire pan myself.

I'm keeping it simple today and just giving you the recipe- no step-by-step pictorial today! Sorry! If you make these, let me know what you think of them. I've often thought of topping them with a meringue, or making them lime-flavored instead, or even a citrus blend with orange, lemon and lime. Delish!


For cookie base:
2 cups flour
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 cup butter, melted

For filling:
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup flour
5/8 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, combine ingredients for cookie base and then press into a 13 X 9 inch baking dish. Bake 15 minutes or until golden brown.

In a large bowl, combine, sugar, baking powder and flour. Stir in the eggs, and finally the lemon juice. Pour mixture over the prepared crust and return to the oven. Bake another 30 minutes, until the bars are set. Cool completely before slicing and eating! Also, these are delicious with a scoop of sherbet. Very refreshing!

I'm still waiting for a comment with your favorite lemony recipe. It can be as simple as homemade lemonade, or something complicated and fancy. It can be sweet or savory- whatever you like! Leave a comment!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lemon Cake

One of my earliest memories of cooking as a child is baking lemon squares. I used to make them all the time and I'm sure it drove my mom nuts. I'll bet she had other uses in mind for the eggs used in the recipe and I'll bet she had to purchase a lot more flour and sugar because of me and that silly recipe. I even remember once I put the pan in the oven and then promptly forgot all about it and left to go swimming. About an hour later my mom came and found me with a blackened pan of lemon squares. Come to think of it, I think that may have been the last time I made that recipe. Hmmm...
As you can see, I'm continuing yesterdays lemon theme, but today I am going to take you through my process of baking a fabulous lemon cake from the Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine. I'm pretty sure I receive that periodical as a "bonus" gift associated with my Martha Stewart Living subscription and let me tell you- I love it. I'm not gonna lie to you- I've always been a fan of Martha. Even back in her prison days, I pictured her (as I'm sure many people did) making coordinating bedsheets and window treatments for her cell, teaching the other inmates how to maximize their limited cell space, and giving the cafeteria cooks tips on how to make that meatloaf nice and moist. Anyway, this particular issue included a recipe for a "Cake 3 Ways." It's a standard vanilla cake recipe with 2 different variations- one chocolate and the other- you guessed it- LEMON! I think sometimes people are intimidated by Martha's recipes, so I'm going to walk you through this one step by step, complete with pictures. (Haha- I say that as if I'm some kind of Martha Stewart recipe expert. If only!)

You'll need:
For cake:
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 c. sugar
2 sticks butter
2 eggs plus 3 egg yolks (save whites for frosting)
1 T. lemon zest
2 T. lemon juice
1 c. buttermilk

For syrup:
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1/4 c. lemon juice

For frosting:
3 egg whites
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
2 T. fresh lemon juice
As always, begin by preheating your oven. This recipe calls for a 350 degree oven. Next, you've got to butter & flour your cake pans. I'm not gonna lie to you- I use the Pam butter & flour spray for ALL my cakes and it works like a dream, plus it's a lot cleaner to use.
Next, in a medium sized bowl, sift together 2 1/2 c. flour, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. baking powder and the zest of one lemon. In a separate bowl, cream 2 sticks of butter with 3/4 cup sugar. I always use my KitchenAid stand mixer whenever I'm baking because it makes life SO easy. (Side note: I purchased my KitchenAid for the bargain price of $50 from an ex-boss and it was the BEST kitchen purchase I have EVER made.) Back to the recipe- the key to "creaming" butter & sugar is making sure that the butter is at room temperature- not too cold, nor too melty. This makes for a nice "creamy" consistency. Like this:
Next, beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then alternate mixing in the flour mixture with 1 cup of buttermilk and 2 T. fresh lemon juice. Do not use the stuff from a bottle. Gross! Try not to overbeat the batter, and remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure the ingredients are all incorporated well. Next, evenly divide the batter between your two 8-inch cake pans. Spread the batter out evenly or you could get some wonky cakes. Nobody likes a wonky cake.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until cakes are set. Insert a toothpick into the center of the cake and if it comes out clean, the cake is done. While the cake is baking, you're going to make a simple syrup infused with lemons. In a small saucepan, boil 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water.
Take a fresh lemon and slice it nice and thin and then add it to the water/sugar mixture. Simmer for a solid 25 minutes. Here's what makes Martha so brilliant. Not only are you infusing the simply syrup with lemon flavor, but you are SIMULTANEOUSLY making candied lemon slices! Brilliant.
After simmering for 25 minutes, remove the lemon slices and place them on wax paper. Aren't they pretty? They're pretty tasty, too. After you are done admiring your work, stir the 1/4 c. lemon juice into the syrup. Believe it or not, you're almost done. Once the cakes are done, turn them out on a wire cooling rack and let them cool a bit. Then, pierce the tops with a toothpick a whole bunch of times. While the cakes are still warm, brush the lemon syrup on top of each cake. The holes allow the syrup to get down into the cake. Yum! Once the cakes are cooled completely, make the frosting. This is where things got tricky for me. I had never made a frosting like this and I was really nervous to do it. I followed Martha's instructions to the letter and at first the frosting looked perfect. It's like a beautiful glossy meringue. Then, several hours later, it appeared my meringue frosting had "deflated." I have NO IDEA what I did wrong. It could have been anything. I'll probably try this recipe again just to see if I can get it right. According to Martha, you take the water, egg whites and sugar and in a "heatproof bowl" heat them over a saucepan of boiling water. Double-boiler-style is my guess. Anyway, you are supposed to stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches 150 degrees. Then, beat the mixture until it forms stiff peaks. Mine looks pretty darn good, don't you think?
The picture really doesn't do it justice. I swear it looked EXACTLY like the picture in the magazine. Here it is on the first layer of the cake:

I have to admit, at this point, I was feeling pretty confident and sure of myself and this frosting. I finished assembling the cake and topped it with the candied lemon slices just like Martha did in her magazine. It sure is a pretty cake. I think I did a decent job making this cake and let me tell you- it was DELICIOUS. Even after the frosting deflated, it was still moist and refreshing and oh-so-lemon-y. It's a perfect cake for summer. Good job, Martha!
Now, if anyone can fill me in on what I did wrong with this frosting, I'd really appreciate it. Thanks! Enjoy!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Danielle's Pasta Salad

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Or pasta salad? Hmmm....
I haven't been eating much ice cream lately, but I have been thinking about all those foods that seem to conjure up summer-time memories: grilled chicken, burgers & hot dogs, lemonade, ice cream cones, Popsicles, crisp salads with fresh veggies, summer squash, tomatoes fresh from the vine- the list goes on and on. Summertime foods to me are usually just simple, fresh foods with minimal preparation- food that just tastes good on its own and refreshes and rejuvenates me. Lemons are a delicious, juicy fruit that I like to use in all sorts of ways, especially in the summertime. This week I'll be posting recipes that incorporate this tasty fruit.

My very good friend Danielle taught me a recipe for pasta salad years ago and I still make it every summer. It's the most refreshing pasta salad and it's also incredibly easy to make. It took me a while to write the recipe down, so it may have changed a bit since the first time I tasted it, but I wanted to share the recipe as it is in my recipe box right now. The lemon juice and zest, mixed with the spicy fresh ginger and the mellow garlic make an amazing combination. One of the other great things about this recipe is that you can change it to suit your taste- more ginger, less garlic, cheese or no cheese, add chicken or grilled tofu- whatever you like. Also, it's just as delicious when it's fresh as it is a day or two later cold out of the fridge.

You'll need:
1-2 T. fresh ginger, finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
1 box tri-color rotini pasta, OR whatever pasta you like
2-3 T. extra virgin olive oil
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Cooked peas OR broccoli OR asparagus OR your favorite veggie
Fresh green onion, chopped
Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

To Prepare:
In a large pot, cook pasta. Meanwhile, chop ginger & garlic. Place in a large bowl with lemon zest. Cook whatever veggies you plan to use. (I prefer blanching broccoli or asparagus so that it is still crisp.) Add cooked pasta and veggies to the bowl with the ginger, garlic & lemon zest. Pour 2-3 T. olive oil and the lemon juice on top and toss all ingredients together. Sprinkle the green onion and Parmesan cheese on top and serve immediately OR refrigerate and serve cold. Yum!

I promise this salad will NOT disappoint. Let me know if you try it. Also, let me know what your favorite lemon recipe is- I'd love to try it!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Rachel's Creperie and Cafe

Shop Name: Rachel's Creperie and Cafe

Location: Queen Street, Lancaster

Boo's Rating: 3 1/2 Screams

I've started to run out of ice cream establishments, so I'm expanding the blog to cover anything I feel like "screaming for," but I'll try to keep it food related. That being said, this blog entry will cover Rachel's Creperie and Cafe in downtown Lancaster. Ice cream? Nope. Crepes? Yup. Last weekend we had a serious heat wave- it was fantastic. I woke up early each day to the sun streaming in my face and I was out the door, dying to get some sunshine. I decided to have brunch at Rachel's since they have outdoor seating.

I should make a note here that I don't claim to be a legit food critic. I just happen to really enjoy food. Correction: I love food. Even weird food. I'll try just about anything once. Crepes are a particular favorite food of mine because I grew up eating them. My family is French and I remember both my mom and my memere making crepes when I was a kid. I had high expectations for Rachel's. The menu was pretty extensive when you consider that the main item is crepes. The have breakfast crepes that are kind of like omelets, except it's a crepe that surrounds the fillings. The have sweet crepes, savory crepes, veggie crepes, dessert crepes- pretty much any crepe you can imagine. On this particular day, they also had a roasted red pepper soup with Gouda, so I decided it would be soup & sweet crepes for me. I ordered the soup, an iced coffee and the "Tavern on the Green" crepes. The Tavern on the Green crepes are a pretty special combination, if you ask me. In my house growing up, crepes came with butter, real maple syrup, and maybe a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Simple. The Tavern on the Green crepes had fresh strawberries, brown sugar and sour cream. The combination was divine! Unfortunately, it needed to be, because the crepes were not. The crepes at Rachel's were, in my humble opinion, bland and dry. Crepes should be egg-y, and moist and so tender you can slice through them with your fork- no knife required. The texture of Rachel's' crepes wasn't quite right- they were too tough, and it was hard to cut them. In addition, the flavor wasn't anything to write home about. Maybe I'm spoiled- my mom and memere always made perfect crepes. I'm not saying I won't go to Rachel's again- the soup was outstanding, the coffee perfectly brewed and even though the actual crepes weren't amazing, the Tavern on the Green combo was spectacular. I gave Rachel 3 1/2 screams. (Not bad considering what a crepes snob I am!)

And even though mom will probably kill me for doing this, I'm going to post the family crepe recipe:

Gelineau Family Crepes:
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 well-beaten eggs
2/3 c. milk
1 Tbl. melted shortening

Mix all ingredients well. (A buzz in the blended works.) To prepare: Pour enough batter into a HOT greased pan to just barely cover the bottom. Tilt the pan to cover with batter. Work quickly, turn when just set and cook the other side. Don't over cook. Roll out of the pan and place on a warm dish or in the oven set on warm. Use up all the batter and serve with maple syrup and butter. Note: This batter is best made the night before. At minimum, refrigerate one hour before cooking.

Another great crepes recipe I've found is of course from Martha Stewart. Her recipe is almost a tutorial in how to prepare perfect crepes, so I'll include it as well. (Although, mom says it's sacrilege for me to prepare any recipe other than the family one, so you'll have to make these and tell me how they are.)

Martha Stewart Basic Crepes Recipe:
1 3/4 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. coarse salt
2 cups whole milk (room temp), plus more if needed
3 large eggs, room temp
5 Tbl. unsalted butter, melted, plus more for skillet

Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Whisk milk and eggs in a medium bowl. Pour milk mixture into flour mixture and whisk to combine. Whisk in butter. Strain mixture into medium bowl and refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 1 day). Batter should be consistency of heavy cream. Add more milk if needed.
Heat an 8 or 12 inch non-stick skillet over medium heat and brush with butter. Ladle or pour 3 Tbl. of batter (for small crepes) or 1/3 cup batter (for large crepes) into pan, turning and tilting skillet to coat bottom evenly with batter. Cook until top of crepe appears set, bottom is firm and golden brown in spots, and center is lifted by pockets of air, about 1 minute.
Run a spatula around edge of crepe to loosen. Slip spatula under crepe, and gently flip in one swift gesture. (If it doesn't land quite right, that's okay; use spatula to unfold, or rearrange it.) Cook until bottom is firm and golden brown in spots, about 45 seconds. Transfer to a plate and cover. (The first one will not be your finest.) Repeat with remaining batter, brushing pan lightly with butter as needed (every 2 or 3 crepes). Serve immediately.

If you're intimidated by the idea of making crepes yourself, then head over to Rachel's and enjoy the fruits of their labor. (And may I suggest the Tavern on the Green crepes?)