Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chocolate for Dinner

We received a dinner invitation from friends who are local innkeepers at The Smithton Inn in Ephrata. The theme was chocolate. Well, I thought, I’ll just whip up a batch of double chocolate macadamia cookies. Would that be enough for dinner? I certainly could survive for one night on chocolate and wine, but I’m married to a salad lover.

So I thought back to a wonderful dinner I had at Carrs (a great restaurant in downtown Lancaster) – it was part of our Chocolate Tour. Tim had served a unique white chocolate dressing on the salad. I know what you’re thinking – my brain also struggled to marry the tastes, but it was delicious.

And so I set out looking for recipes on the internet. I found plenty, but several called for ingredients that I didn’t have – chocolate extract, walnut oil, raspberry vinegar......and so the search went on. I came upon Recipe Zaar’s Chocolate Balsamic Salad Dressing.

Recipe Zaar is one of my favorite sites and allows you to adjust the measurements from metric to US and increase the amounts.

Three ingredients meant that the one hour I had to dress, make a salad, greet guests at the inn, and drive to the party should be plenty of time.

I changed the salad to include the ingredients I had on hand: red leaf and romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, shaved asiago cheese, toasted almonds and vanilla poached pears. To be honest, I think greens with a little more bite would complement the dressing better, but I had to work with what was in my pantry.

It’s best to serve this dressing slightly warm – a lesson I learned on a cold night when it began to congeal! A slight reheat did the trick. You also shouldn’t refrigerate this dressing.

Everyone loved it, and the salad was a nice complement to the mole chicken and Cincinnati chili that were also on the menu. Oh, yes, I took the cookies too – just in case the other three desserts wouldn’t be enough – after all, you just can’t have too much chocolate for dinner.

So the next time you are looking for something unusual, try my newest salad and dressing combination. Sorry I don't have any pictures of the salad....we ate it!

Chocolate Balsamic Dressing (Serves 14)

1 1/3 cups Balsamic Vinegar
10 5/8 ounces sugar
3 squares dark chocolate

Melt over low heat and stir occasionally. Serve warm.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Best Way to Buy a Quilt in Lancaster County

First, you’ll need a pair of boots and a plastic bag. Better take along a warm coat and I would definitely wear jeans. Go soon – this opportunity is only available in February, March and early April. Take cash, or, if you live in Pennsylvania, a check. Be prepared to walk a bit -there is never enough parking.

Next, you’ll head to the nearest Mud Sale. If you aren’t familiar with that term, it has everything to do with the boots and plastic bag. A sale, in Lancaster County terms, means “auction”. The Mud Sales held every spring are fundraisers for our local fire companies. All types of things are sold at them, from antiques to quilts. (See our blog from January, 2009 “Do They Really Sell Mud? to learn more about them.)
On Saturday, we set off for Honeybrook – the first of the Mud Sales. While it was actually just over the border in Chester County, there were enough Amish there that we felt as though we were in Lancaster! There were kids in charge of a wagon to help people with their purchases, Amish men bidding on horses and tools, and Amish women inside the quilt building. That’s what we’ll be talking about today.
The quilts are all made locally, and are either donated or on consignment for the Fire Company. The proceeds from this day’s auction will help fund the fire company – and as everyone knows, fires are a very real threat to farmers. Amish and Mennonites make up a significant percentage of the force – especially in Terre Hill.

Women work most of the winter (or longer) to produce the quilts for the sales. You’ll see every size, color, and pattern. If you are not too picky, and if you don’t mind not looking them over closely before hand, you can get a tremendous buy.

Be warned – the bidding is swift, there are hundreds of quilts, and there’s no time to put the auctioneer on “pause”. Set a price limit for yourself and know the colors that you can use. There will be a sheet available with all the quilts listed – they usually also put down the dimensions that will work for the different bed sizes.

Now the fun begins as the auctioneer starts his cadence, “Do I hear two hundred, two, two, two hundred”? Although every auctioneer has his own unique call, Bruce thinks they all sound a bit like a Native American war chant. Give your ears a chance to adjust and soon you’ll be able to follow the bids. You’ll probably learn several of the patterns, and you’ll experience Amish kids running in and out. While we were there, an Amish girl was fascinated with blowing her soap bubbles and another boy was busy eating a long tube of candy.
A good auctioneer will also announce if the quilt is signed, or if there are any “spots” on it. Once you purchase your quilt, allow about 20 minutes for them to process your bill and wrap the quilt. Surprisingly, some of the fire companies are now accepting credit cards, but I wouldn’t count on it, so unless you have a PA check, bring some cash.

Certainly this is not the only way to buy a quilt made in Lancaster County….there are dozens of stores, all with knowledgeable salespeople who will help you.
There are farms where you can purchase right from the quilter (just look for hand-made signs). And, on March 24- 27, the American Quilters Society is having its annual convention at the Lancaster County Convention Center. Any quilter worth her stitches will no doubt be there, as Lancaster County is Quilt Country.
So, yes, it’s not the only way to purchase a quilt, but it sure is the most fun!

Here’s a list of upcoming Mud Sales which will be selling quilts. They are all within a short drive of the Artist's Inn in Terre Hill:

February 27 - Strasburg Spring Consignment & Mud Sale
8 a.m., Strasburg Fire Company #1, 203 Franklin St., Strasburg. 717-687-7232 or Strasburg Fire Co

March 6 -Bart Township Annual Auction/Mud Sale
8:30 a.m., Bart Twp. Fire Company, 11 Furnace Rd., Quarryville. 717-786-3348 or Bart Twp. Fire Co.
Antiques, quilts, furniture, new & used equipment, small goods, hay & straw, livestock, buggies, tools, crafts and food.

March 13 -Gordonville Spring Mud Sale & Auction
8:30 a.m., Gordonville Fire Company, Old Leacock Rd., Gordonville. 717-768-3869 or Gordonville Fire Co.
The largest firemen's auction/sale on the East Coast, featuring 500-600 Amish quilts, antiques, collectibles, new & used furniture, tools, farm equipment, horses, mules, buggies, lawn & garden, barns, utility sheds & trailers, construction equipment.

March 20 - Airville Volunteer Fire Company Sale
7 a.m., Coffee and Doughnuts, Airville Fire Company, 3576 Delta Road, 717-862-3806
Crafts, antiques, plants, quilts, farm equipment, saddles, carriage, buggies, furniture, garden equipment.

March 20 - Penryn Fire Company 3rd Annual Mud Sale
8:30 a.m., Penryn Fire Company #1, 1441 N. Penryn Rd., Penryn. 717-665-4167 or Penryn Fire Co.

Woodcrafts, furniture, antiques, quilts, crafts, farm equipment, food and more.

March 27 - Gap Annual Spring Mud Sale/Auction
8 a.m., Gap Fire Company, 802 Pequea Ave., Gap. 717-442-8100
Horse-drawn carriages, buggies, wagons, new & used furniture, quilts, crafts, dry goods, groceries and more.

April 3 - Wakefield Annual Spring Mud Sale
8 a.m., Robert Fulton Fire Company, 2271 Robert Fulton Hwy., Peach Bottom. 717-548-2483
Quilts, crafts, horses, lumber & building supplies, shrubbery, miscellaneous items and lots of homemade food.

April 10 -Rawlinsville Annual Mud Sale
8 a.m., Rawlinsville Fire Company, 33 Martic Heights Dr., Holtwood. 717-284-3023
Quilts, horses, crafts, building materials, lawn equipment, new and used furniture.

June 25 -Bird-in-Hand Mud Sale
8 a.m., Along Rt. 340 (Old Philadlephia Pike) across from Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant, 717-392-0112
Antiques, harness and tack, specialty items, quilts, crafts, carriages, buggies, wagons and food.

June 26 - Refton Fire Company Sale
7 a.m. breakfast, Refton Fire Company, 99 Church Street, 717-786-9462
Hardware, shop tools, plants, furniture, antiques, crafts, hay and straw, quilts, horses, food and more.

August 28 -Kinzers Fire Company Mud Sale
7 a.m. breakfast, Kinzers Fire Company, 3521 Lincoln Highway East, 717-442-4121
Plants, groceries, antiques, furniture, lumber, tack, sheds and gazebos, equipment, buggies, quilts, horses.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Birchrunville Store Cafe - A Foodies Kind of Restaurant

We are Foodies. We love to explore new restaurants and keep current with old favorites and recommend them to our guests at the bed and breakfast. And so we set off last Wednesday with good friends to enjoy a warm dinner out on a cold winter night.

We discovered the Birchrunville Store Café five years ago and it has become one of our absolute favorites. It is hidden away on a country road, deep in Chester County – but you will swear you’ve arrived in the French countryside. It’s actually only two turns and about 40 minutes from our inn in Lancaster County and well worth the drive. The restaurant is set in an old general store, its green paint well weathered, and inside window sills filled with corks from many happy diners. The front of the building is also home to the local post office. A stream behind the restaurant provides a backdrop for the lucky few who get to dine on the patio.

This small, intimate café is a place to fall in love-or fall in love again - either with someone, with the food, or with both. The glow of dozens of candles, the ring of wine glasses as they meet in a toast, and the warm oranges and reds of the French (or Italian) countryside wait for you inside. There’s a black and white whirl of a very pleasant (but not at all snooty) wait staff that delights in explaining the menu and describing the specials. And it seems there are usually more specials than one can remember. The only tough part is the decisions on what to order.

My appetizer of goat cheese soufflé with a warm truffle center balanced the plate perfectly between the cream and color of the soufflé and the crisp bite and bright green of the arugula salad.

As you can see, Bruce’s appetizer of smoked salmon, avocado, jumbo lump crabmeat napoleon with Japanese seaweed salad was a work of art, and Rich’s Romaine Salad wrapped in Parma prosciutto was just as impressive.

The main courses were wonderful too, but the more wine we drank, the fewer pictures I took. But everything, from the veal tenderloin with chanterelle mushrooms to the black angus strip steak, the quail and the rack of lamb were all delicious. You can see the descriptions and full menu on their website.

We were thrilled when we convinced the Chef and Owner, Francis Trzeciak, to make a rare appearance before our camera – many thanks to Jennifer, our waitress, for making this photo possible! Having grown up in France and then spending time in Italy, the chef has brought the best of both worlds to this little corner of America.
So, the next time you plan to visit The Artist’s Inn, we recommend that you ask us to reserve a table for you at Birchrunville Store Café – but don’t wait too long. They are open just four days a week and only for dinner. Saturdays are already booked through the end of May. Hey, that sounds like a good excuse to visit us on a weeknight and take advantage of our March coupon of 25% off any stay Sunday through Thursday nights. In case you missed our newsletter, you can sign up on our website. If you’d like to take advantage of our coupon, just mention it at the time of booking.

The Cafe suggests that you bring your favorite wine and they will happily pour for you, but leave your credit cards at home – this is a cash only restaurant.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It’s Snowing – Time to Head to the Kitchen!

I don’t know why, but something about a big winter storm makes me want to cocoon where it’s safe and warm. Something deep inside tells me that I need not only to stay safe, but to produce nourishment to weather the coming storm. And so I always seem to end up in the kitchen.

It’s been a long tradition that my mom would make cookies or cake (preferably chocolate) on a snow day from school.
I grew up in a Cleveland suburb, and you would think that we had plenty of snow days – not so! But the few we had seemed better than a gift at Christmas.

Years later I worked in downtown Cleveland. There were times when the wind came off Lake Erie so strong that you had to grab onto the ropes on the sides of buildings so that you didn’t fall – especially on icy days. Of course, we were young and would never wear hats or boots – we had to look good!

During one blizzard, my good friend and roommate, Paula, and I managed to get home after a long bus ride. We both headed to the kitchen where, typical twenty-somethings, we had just enough provisions to make one chocolate cake. And we proceeded to eat the entire thing for dinner.

Of course, as I grew older I became much more sensible. I now pull up my hood when I feel any little chill. I now own all sorts of sensible boots. And, being sensible, I first make some kind of soup or stew....then I make something with chocolate.

Some traditions are destined for eternity.

Here’s a great recipe to keep you busy during the next storm. Our snow is just starting and they are predicting 12 – 18 inches. WOOHOO.

I think that half the fun of a big snow is the anticipation. You can almost smell the snow in the air....or maybe that’s chocolate.....

This is a recipe we submitted from The Artist's Inn for Cinnamon Mornings and Chocolate Dreams by Pamela Lanier. Printed in 2003, it is probably still available from Lanier Publishing.

Chocolate Melt-Away Cookies

The thinner you can roll the dough, the better these cookies will taste.

3/4 cup soft butter
2 1/3 cup unbleached flour
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 6 oz. package (1 cup) semisweet chocolate pieces – preferably Wilbur
Powdered sugar

In a large mixer bowl, beat butter. Add half of the flour, sugar, eggs, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and almond extract. Beat thoroughly. Beat in remaining flour. Divide dough in half. Cover, chill 1 hour or until firm. On a lightly floured surface roll half of the dough 1/8 inch thick. Keep remaining dough in fridge until ready to use. Cut into shapes with 1 ½ to 2” cookie cutter - stars, rounds, hearts. Place on ungreased cookie sheets (or use silpats). With small cookie cutter, cut out centers from half of the unbaked cookies. Bake in a 375 degree oven about 7 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very light brown. Cool. Repeat with remaining dough. Melt chocolate pieces in a microwave at half power for about two minutes. Spread chocolate on bottom of each cookie. Top with cookie half that has the center cut out of it. The chocolate will show through. When cool, dust with powdered sugar. Makes about 40 cookies.