Friday, July 27, 2007

Elvis Cake

Once upon a time, Sher, over at What Did You Eat? baked an intriguing cupcake called "Hunk of Burning Love". Inspired by Elvis, it was a banana cupcake with a chocolate bar center, covered with peanut butter frosting that she spiked with Cayenne pepper. I bookmarked the recipe right away and returned to it recently. Faced with some bananas that needed to be used at the cafe, and not wanting to make bread pudding in this heat, I made a variation of Sher's creation and came up with this two layer cake that I called the "Elvis".
Inside Elvis
I have a favorite butter cake recipe that I manipulate on a regular basis by adding this or that. You could even substitute a box cake mix and just add flavorings to suit your needs. There is no shame in using pre-made products. If it saves you time and money and you or your family enjoys it, go for it.

To this basic recipe I added mashed over-ripe bananas and a capful of banana flavoring and all of a sudden I had a rich and moist banana cake with not a lot of extra work.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup butter or shortening
1 cup milk
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
2 mashed bananas
1/2 tsp banana extract
2/3 cup mini chocolate chips, more for sprinkling on the finished cake

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a large bowl, cream sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, beating just to combine. finally, stir in vanilla, mashed bananas, and banana extract. Pour batter evenly between two greased 9 inch round cake pans. Sprinkle each cake with 1/3 cup of mini chocolate chips and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Frosting
2 sticks of butter, room temperature
1 cup of smooth peanut butter.
4 cups of powdered sugar
Up to 2 Tbs milk

In an electric mixer cream together the butter and peanut butter until smooth and fully incorporated. Add the powdered sugar a cup at a time and use milk to adjust the consistency to your liking. I left out the "burning" Cayenne pepper from Sher's cupcake recipe because I was making this for A Full Plate and wasn't sure how that would go over with kids and whatnot. But if I ever make this strictly for friend and family consumption, I would definitely add the pepper element to the frosting.
Peanut Butter Frosting
Build your cake and be generous with the frosting, it's delicious so you'll want a lot of it on top and in the middle of the cake.
Finished Elvis Cake
Sprinkle a few more mini chocolate chips on top and enjoy.

Thanks for the inspiration Sher! And Elvis too, I suppose.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bar Ferdinand

Wanting a few drinks and a little something sweet after a night at the Cafe, a few of us stopped by Bar Ferdinand for some of their excellent sangria.
bar ferdinand sangria
We don't mess around when it comes to drinks, so we started with a pitcher of red AND white sangria. I enjoyed the white a bit more than the red. It was full of cantaloupe, honeydew and strawberries. The red had more citrus fruit and a hint of cinnamon or clove.
Churros
The most appealing dessert on their menu was Churros con Chocolate. Fried Andalusian doughnut sticks served with a thick, rich, dark chocolate sauce for dipping.

Definitely visit Bar Ferdinand. The service is as good as a the sangria, and it's reasonably priced as well. You can check out their website by clicking on the link below or look at their menupages listing, here.

Bar Ferdinand
1030 N 2nd Street (Liberties Walk)
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215-923-1313
Bar Ferdinand in Philadelphia

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Last Saturday was a beautiful day. It also happened to be Bastille Day. Living within a block of historic Eastern State Penitentiary, I was one of many who gathered on Fairmount Avenue to witness the reenactment of Marie Antoinette's beheading.

Because we were at the back of a very large crowd I couldn't really see the reenactment at all. But I did get a far-away and shaky clip of costumed volunteers launching Twinkies by the shovel-full off of the top of Eastern State. Enjoy.
Bastille Day 2007 010
After all that fun, we decided to walk a few blocks to 17th and Green and check out St. Stephen's Green the newest addition to our neighborhood. We sat outside to enjoy the beautiful weather, but took a peek inside as well. I'd never visited the restaurant's former incarnation, Cuvee Notre Dame, so I don't know how much work was actually done, but St. Stephen's Green is attractive inside and out.
Bastille Day 2007 016
We wanted to try something off the menu, but weren't hungry enough for dinner, so we ordered a small plate of hummus. It's color suggested roasted red pepper, but no pepper flavor was detected. It was only offensive in that it was a mystery. I tasted garlic, cumin and more garlic, but not much else.
Bastille Day 2007 015
Drinks didn't fare much better. Those in our party who ordered beer were happy. Of the three of us who ordered mojitos, two were served margaritas with mint. The waitress was fantastic through all of this, and replaced the mojitos with fresh drinks.

It's only been a few weeks, but there is promise hidden in that tasty yet mysterious hummus.

St. Stephens Green
1701 Green Street
215-769-5000

Friday, July 20, 2007

Strawberry Coconut Cake

A few weeks ago, Cheryl over at Gruel Omelet posted an ice cream recipe featuring coconut and strawberries, both of which I love. I was inspired to bake a cake for A Full Plate that echoed her ice cream.
El Ranchito 002

Strawberry Coconut Cake

1 cup butter
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups milk
Up to one cup of coconut

Cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk. Add coconut and mix well. Pour batter into greased pans. I used two nine inch round cake pans.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until cake tests done. Cool.

Frosting

1 cup butter softened
1/2 cup coconut milk
4-5 cups powdered sugar

Beat butter at medium speed until creamy and smooth. Add coconut milk and powdered sugar one cup at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. (If you don't have coconut milk on hand you can use a two teaspoons of coconut extract and some regular milk.) Chill the frosting for about 20 minutes.

To assemble the cake, you'll need some strawberry jam or preserves. I used my favorite stratwberry jam from Trader Joe's.

Lay the bottom layer of cake on a plate. Spread 1/2 cup of the strawberry jam on the top of the cake. Lay the second layer of cake on top of the jam. Frost the cake with the chilled frosting, and sprinkle with coconut.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

El Ranchito

The moment I heard about El Ranchito, I wrote it on my list of restaurants to try in the city. Mexican may be my favorite genre of cuisine. I blame a childhood spent in southern California where I was spoiled by fresh fish tacos and insanely good burritos at Lalo's. And while arguments abound about the best taqueria in Philly, I was happy to hear of another establishment opening up in Fishtown at 2nd and Master.
El Ranchito 003
Alison and I were starving at a relatively early hour and headed to El Ranchito last Wednesday. We both agreed their chips were awesome. Clearly homemade, the chips were light but with a rich corn flavor. If you look closely at the photo you can can actually see the granules of salt sticking to the slightly oily chips. Fantastic.
El Ranchito 005
I'm a firm believer that a simple dish can make a restaurant. For Mexican places, that dish is guacamole. If they screw guacamole up, then why even bother? Unfortunately, on this day, El Ranchito was out of guacamole. Alison and I hypothesized it might have something to do with the outrageous price of avocados which is directly correlated to the wild fires out west this season. Hopefully by my next visit, the guacamole will be back. To substitute we ordered the bean dip which came out hot and sprinkled with cotija cheese. It had a slightly spicy kick, and maintained good textural contrast between the mushed up beans and some whole ones.
El Ranchito 007
Alison ordered the steak quesadilla which came with a little salad on the side, as well as lime wedges to squeeze over the whole dish.
El Ranchito 011
I ordered the Carnitas grilled burrito, which was stuffed with roasted pork, rice, cheese, and beans and covered with more cheese and sour cream. The carnitas was rocking. It was everything slow roasted pork is supposed to be, tender, moist and flavorful.

All this food, plus two sodas only set us back $13.98, a definite steal.

Their take-out menu is extensive and specifies they deliver as well. At the moment, however, they've yet to hire a delivery driver, so give them a few weeks before trying to enjoy a Mexican fiesta at home.

El Ranchito
2nd and Master
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Friday, July 13, 2007

SOHO Pizza

I'm not the kind of girl that spends a lot of time in Old City. It's not that it's far from where I live, it's mostly the tourists during the day and the people who wear too much cologne and perfume at night that keep me a good distance away. However, there are a few restaurants worthy of the venture, and I just found a tasty pizza place to add to the list.
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On the same day that Natalie and I attempted to have lunch at National Mechanics and found it closed,(They're open Tuesday-Sunday from 5pm to 2am and I will get there soon!) we wandered around and decided that what we really wanted was gelato (see yesterday's post) But before we could have dessert we had to have something that actually resembled lunch, so we grabbed a slice at SOHO Pizzeria & Bar.
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Natalie has a pretty Midwestern palate and is picky in other ways, so her pizza options were limited and she went with a slice of pepperoni. When asked her how many thumbs up she would award to SOHO pizza she answered, "90". So there you go. Ninety thumbs up. That's a pretty intense review.
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I ordered a slice of white pizza with broccoli and tomato. It was fantastic. Crispy crust, sturdy, and lots of flavor, which sometimes white pizza lacks. Crust is really key to pizza for me, and because of the brick oven implemented at SOHO, their crust is exactly what I like. Not soggy or droopy in the slightest.

Our two slices and two drinks set us back about 6 bucks total. The restaurant is narrow, with one large table in the back and 4 or 5 bar-height tables along the length of the restaurant. On a purely personal note, the man who was making the pizzas was gorgeous and he was singing along to a Counting Crows song when we walked in. It was almost like I was in pizza heaven and I hadn't even eaten anything yet! But really, I didn't let my drooling get in the way of an objective pizza tasting. It's no Toccanellis, but this place is good.

SOHO Pizzeria & Bar
218 Market St
Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215) 625-3955
Soho Pizza in Philadelphia

Mentioned in the Inquirer

Monday's Philadelphia Inquirer did a nice piece on MPIP - the interdisciplinary mapping project I work on at Temple University. Follow the link to check it out.

Monday's Inquirer Article on MPIP

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bon Bon Artisan Gelato

My good friend Natalie was in town this past weekend. We spent most of our time in Washington D.C. because Natalie is a history buff and had NEVER been there! But Monday after our train ride home, we ventured down to Old City in the 95 degree humidity and stood in lines to see some historical stuff Benjamin Franklin touched. We tried to hit National Mechanics for lunch, but unfortunately they're closed on Mondays. Instead we settled for a slice of pizza and some of the best gelato I've had in the city.
food
We arrived at Bon Bon Artisan Gelato and were greeted by a friendly and extremely attractive man.
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Bon Bon Artisan Gelato offers a variety of traditional flavors as well as some modern twists.
food (13)
I was having trouble deciding what to order, so I asked the cutie behind the counter which was his favorite. He suggested the Stracciatella, sweet cream with chocolate swirled throughout.
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Natalie went with the chocolate flavor and enjoyed it thoroughly. We took out tiny cups filled with luscious gelato outside and sat under a conveinently supplied umbrella to gaurd against the sun.

If you're down by Penn's landing or doing touristy things with visiting friends, stop by Bon Bon Artisan Gelato and take a sweet break from the heat.

Bon Bon Artisan Gelato
229 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Blueberry Bars

Once upon a time Alison told me one of her favorite sweet treats was a layered bar dessert her mother used to make for family get togethers. Based on just a little information I tried to re-create this dessert for her without a recipe and the results were disastrous. So bad in fact, that instead of just eating it, we threw it away!

party food (6)

Thankfully, I eventually got the actual recipe from Alison's mom. And not too long ago I whipped up the delicious bars, pictured above, for our Spring party.

Blueberry Bars

Crust:

2 cups of flour
2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup chopped pecans

In an electric mixer, combine the flour and butter and mix until all the butter has formed into flour coated crumbs. Add the pecans and stir to combine. Press the crumb and nut mixture into the bottom of a buttered 9 X 13 glass dish. Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes or until very light blond in color. Cool to room temperature.

Filling:

1 8oz package of Cream Cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla paste
3 cups powdered sugar
9 oz Cool Whip, thawed

In an electric mixer, combine the softened cream cheese, vanilla paste and sugar. When smooth, fold in the Cool Whip by hand. Spoon the filling mixture over the cooled shortbread crust and spread evenly with a spatula.

Topping:
2 18oz Cans of Blueberry Pie Filling

Gently spoon the pie filling over the Filling layer, and smooth to form a nice even layer.
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Place the finished dish in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Serve cold, and cut into rather small bars.

I thought it odd at first that the crust portion of the recipe called for no sugar. I worried about this during the whole process. Did I write the recipe down wrong?? It turns out that the filling and topping are such a sweet combination, they perfectly compliment the unsweetened shortbread crust.