Saturday, April 23, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Hey everyone! We've been quiet here recently because home renovations have completely taken over our lives. I was hoping to post some new home updates in this space, but as those of you who have had construction done in your living spaces know, things almost never go according to plan. And in recent weeks, we've almost completely lost use of our bathroom and kitchen, which is a minor tragedy in our household. With very little counter space, we've been coping by sticking to one-pot meals and/or fleeing for the weekends. This week, we did both with a theme that stayed with us from breakfast to dinner.
It's been a super cold and just pretty awful winter here in New England, and amidst the mess that is our house, bakerbiker and I were at our wit's end trying to figure out what to cook for dinner that didn't involve leaving the house to brave the snow, sleet, or whatever else seems to be out there all the time. And then we looked in the fridge and lo and behold: the perfect ingredients for stick-to-your ribs gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches were staring us in the face.
We've taste-tested many different grilled-cheese combos, and have really come to like a mix of melty cheeses rather than just one kind. For this meal, we used gruyere, manchego, and cheddar. We shredded even amounts of each, piled them between two slices of Fornax bread (which in our opinion is really the best for grilled cheese), and grilled them in three generous pats of butter.
And to make things interesting, we happened to have some homemade pickled green tomatoes in the fridge - a layer of that spread on top of the cheese adds a little zip that's really tasty. You can pickle or preserve your own green tomatoes - we really like Martha Stewart's green tomato chutney recipe - or, if you're in the Boston area, City Feed and Supply also sells their own version of pickled green tomatoes that are very good.
To make things just a little bit healthy, we tossed together some roasted beets and arugula with olive oil and salt for a salad on the side. At least SOMETHING is finally melting in our lives, even if it's not all the snow.
You all have heard me rave about Portland, Maine and its amazing food scene, so I won't rehash too much here again. But part II of our home renovation escape involved a trip to visit our dear friends in Portland. And just when we thought we had created the perfect grilled cheese, we discovered the brunch menu at Blue Spoon, an amazing little spot that offers grilled cheese (among many other tasty dishes) for breakfast!
This was not your everyday grilled cheese, served with taleggio cheese, which really is a wonder, apricot jam, and arugula. You can guess that we just had to try this sweeter version of heaven and it was AMAZING - sweet and salty and perfectly melty. The apricot/taleggio combo is really pure genius. I think we've permanently added a new grilled cheese to our repertoire.
Do you have grilled cheese ingredients that you like? Please share!
Green Tomato Chutney from Martha Stewart Living
Servings: 1 1/2 quarts
4 pounds green tomatoes (about 12 medium), diced
2 yellow bell peppers, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
2 Vidalia or other sweet onions, finely diced
1 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 cups packed light-brown sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 sticks cinnamon (each 3 inches long)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan. Set over high heat; bring to a boil, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-high, and simmer until mixture has thickened and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour.
Using a slotted spoon, remove cinnamon sticks. At this point, chutney can be cooled and served, or canned: Ladle chutney into clean canning jars, and wipe excess from rims; screw on lids.
Bring a large stock pot of water to a boil. Using canning tongs, gently place jars in boiling water, making sure the water covers the jars (if not, add additional water to cover). Let jars sit in gently simmering water for 10 minutes. Remove; let cool slightly. Check seal by pressing in center of lid. If it doesn't pop back, it is properly sealed. If it does, return jars to water for 10 more minutes. Let sealed jars cool completely.
Let pickled tomatoes stand until flavors have melded, at least 2 weeks. Store unopened jars in a cool, dark place up to 6 months. Once opened, jars will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Hi everyone! I know it's been a while since I've posted anything here, but not to worry! I've been hard at work on some new fun projects. When I was little, my grandmother used to sit in front of the TV for three hours every day to watch soap operas and knit. Funny enough, I've turned into my grandmother and that's exactly what I've been doing on these snowy weekends - watching my secret soap and knitting. I've got a bunch of projects going and one of my faves is this basketweave scarf that bakerbiker requested, made out of a supersoft, plush merino wool. I especially like the texture of this piece; it's not a hard stitch, but boy does it take concentration! I've made a few mistakes, but hopefully you can't see them.
I've also been practicing lacework on this skinny pink scarf. It's a bit meticulous in terms of having to remember when to do what, but it's been fun to learn how to create those deliberate holes. I'm thinking this will be a nice spring wardrobe addition.
I've been traveling a bit this fall, and knitting has come in handy on those boring airplane rides. I'll have a few more projects to share again soon, but am curious what you think. And when you catch me watching my soap and knitting, just think, it's a continuing family tradition!
Sunday, October 10, 2010
My recent travels took me to an unlikely place - Vegas. Now, I'm not much of a gambler, so finding fun things to do in Vegas was a bit of a challenge, since, you know, the main thing to do is gamble. But with a little help from some knowledgeable friends, we found plenty to do on and off the Strip.
First notable stop for dinner: Lotus of Siam, also known to some as the best Thai restaurant in the country. This is a no-frills restaurant located in a strip mall WAY off the strip, but well worth it. Many of the dishes here were ones you might have tried in your local Thai restaurant, but the flavors were so much richer and bolder than the bland takeout that I have in my neighborhood. The green curry with shrimp and drunken noodles were my favorite by far.
Next stop, right in our hotel, was Sage. We started with some old-school drinks at the bar - I had an excellent Aviation and bakerbiker tried a Manhattan. We then moved on to the dining room, where the chef specializes in locally-inspired, inventive dishes. We went with the prix-fixe, since we wanted to try lots of different things. My very favorite of the evening: slow-poached farm egg with smoked potato, shaved black truffles, and country bread. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner rolled into one! Main dishes were also excellent - I had a tender potato-crusted Arctic char with fennel, apple, and horseradish. Definitely a flavor profile you don't see every day. The one dull spot of the meal was dessert. Mine was perfect and totally unique -- lemon-thyme semifreddo with roasted grapes, sugar cookies, and orange honey. But bakerbiker's meal came with a somewhat boring chocolate torte. Overall, though, would totally recommend a stop for a meal here. They have happy hour during the week as well, and it's a bargain with half price drinks and an affordable bar menu.
To burn off those calories, the next day, we drove out to Red Rock Canyon about 45 minutes away, and spent the day hiking. I have been to the southwest exactly one other time, so the landscape is really different and striking for me. I've never been to the Grand Canyon, so for those of you have, this is probably nothing. But I was still in love with the colors and shapes.
For an evening out on the town, we splurged and went to a Cirque du Soleil. There are actually seven or eight Cirque shows going on in Vegas simultaneously at any given time. After A LOT of research, we settled on "O," which was a good choice for me. It was a mix of diving, synchronized swimming, and acrobatics. The set is basically a stage equipped with a pool that opens out underneath it. There was a plot, but it didn't take over, and you could focus on the artistic parts, which were really impressive.
To top off the weekend, we hit Bouchon for brunch. The food was upscale Euro-American brunch fare. I had a very good garden omelet, plus a cup of homemade yogurt and granola, with fruit and honey. Portions were huge and tasty and kept us both full until dinner.
Which leads me to dinner, which was really the highlight meal of the trip. We drove off the strip to Rosemary's, a tiny spot in a strip mall (lots of unexpected gems in strip malls on this trip). Things I especially enjoyed: prosciutto-wrapped figs with basil pesto, crab cake "fritters" with shaved fennel, and a gorgeous piece of halibut on sauteed spinach, with crunchy leeks and chive butter. You can guess from the descriptions, but the flavor combos were really different - I would never have even thought about putting basil with figs! The wait staff was awesome, and the owner even called me a few days later to find out how my meal was.
Overall, the city itself was a bit much for me - so much excess. But we were still able to find some fun stuff to do - and no gambling!
Sunday, September 19, 2010
It's hard to boil down an amazing experience into just a few words. And that's one of the reasons I haven't written anything about our two week vacation to Spain and Portugal this past summer. But if I have to sum it up, I'd have two words for you: Jamón Ibérico. I had heard a lot about this cured ham, made from Black Iberian pigs that are fed natural diets of acorns and grass, but I hadn't ever actually tried it before going to Spain. That's for two reasons. First of all, I'm still pretty squeamish about eating meat, especially when it comes from *cute* animals. And even though I do have a sometimes weakness for bacon, I consider pigs to be super cute. And second, Jamón Ibérico only recently came to be available in the US (it was illegal until 2007) and even so, if you want it, be ready to shell out upwards of $200/pound.
I really wanted to enjoy the experience of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine; and in Spain, jámon is basically part of every meal. So before we left, I made a decision to embrace that and eat what was recommended wherever we went. And lo and behold, one of the first things that appeared in front of me when we landed in Spain were some super-thin, smoky slices of Jamón Ibérico. And I loved every melt-in-your-mouth, salty bite. Jamón Ibérico works well on its own, but is also very tasty with some slices of Manchego and a nice crusty bread. Pair it with a red wine or sherry and you've got a great little lunch. I wouldn't recommend running out and spending $200 on your jamón and cheese sandwich, but there are lots of related cured ham alternatives, like Jamón Serrano, which is cheaper and very similar in flavor.
Other highlights of our trip. As soon as we touched down in Madrid, we headed to a local cafe for a breakfast of tortilla española, a simple, but rich Spanish omelette, made with cream and potatoes. In Sevilla, every restaurant was guaranteed to have a juicer handy so you could order fresh-squeezed orange juice made from those famous Seville oranges.
I especially liked all the bright colors of Sevilla, and these candied limes really captured it for me. I didn't get to try them, but they were gorgeous in the café window.
In Jerez de la Frontera, where sherry is made, we headed to a sherry house to learn about sherry-making (and tasting!). In Cadiz, we tried fried seafood, which is a specialty of the region - check out the gorgeous shrimp cakes.
Portugal had its own list of delicacies, ranging from the famous egg custards made in the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon (seen below). And of course grilled sardines, a Portuguese specialty.
You certainly don't need to run all the way to Europe anymore to get many of these little delicacies. In the Boston area, there's a lovely little Spanish market called Las Ventas, which has everything you need to make your own Spanish tapas at home; or you can get a bocadillo (traditional Spanish sandwich) to go. Formaggio Kitchen also has many of the ingredients you'll need to bring a little bit of Spain and Portugal home. I for one can't wait to go back.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
I know it's been a while since I've posted anything - I've got a backlog of travel posts a mile long. More on that to come. But in the meantime, I know I've written about peaches before, but I can't seem to get enough. We've been getting some small but super fragrant peaches in our CSA and I was supposed to be saving them for brandied peaches, which I've written about before. But earlier this week, they were sitting right next to the berries staring longingly at me, begging to be turned into a cobbler. Some of you out there have had this cobbler recipe in one form or another before. I just can't seem to stop making it, and it's been a tried and true recipe for a few years. You can throw just about any summer fruit into this recipe and it's super tasty. I've made it with just one type berry or a mix. You might need to play around with the sugar proportions a bit, depending on whether you're using sour or sweet fruit. But the basic recipe, with touches of fresh lemon zest, cornmeal, and buttermilk, still works well. Serve with ice cream or fresh whipped cream for a summer dessert you'll want on hand all year long.
For the filling (make and cook filling first):
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. corn starch
a dash of cinnamon
a pinch of salt
6 c. of fruit (if you're using peaches, you'll want to slice into bite-size pieces and remove the skins)
1 1/2 t. minced lemon zest
1 T. fresh lemon juice
To make the filling:
Heat oven to 375 degrees with rack in the lower middle position. Mix dry ingredients of the filling. Then stir in fruit and lemon juice. Bake in a 9x9 baking dish for about 25 minutes.
For the biscuits (make while filling is baking):
1 c. flour
2 T. cornmeal
1/4 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
3 T. melted butter
1/3 c. buttermilk
1/2 t. vanilla
To make the biscuits:
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients in a second bowl. Just before the filling comes out of the oven, fold wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Form dough into eight equal-sized portions.
For topping (make while filling is baking):
1/8 t. cinnamon
2 t. sugar
To make the topping:
Mix 2 tsp. sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
For final assembly (after berries come out of oven):
Take berries out of the oven. Reset oven to 425 degrees. Put eight dough portions of dough on top of hot berries. Sprinkle each round with cinnamon sugar. Bake until biscuits are golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
I'm not much of a dessert person - I often find sweet things a bit too cloying. Sweet drinks, sweet foods - if there's too much sugar, I start longing for fries. But there are times when a dessert knocks it out of the park for me. For instance, I love desserts with berries and biscuits and cream.
My personal favorite tends towards the strawberry-rhubarb combo, since it's somehow tart and sweet at the same time. I also love different textures in my desserts and when I'm out at a restaurant, I usually want to try something I don't know how to make at home. That's why I've always been intrigued by panna cotta. It's light-tasting and not too sweet. It's super-smooth and it seems like you can do anything with it. Lavender panna cotta? Sure! Why not? Espresso? Sage? Basil? Go for it! And it always seemed so hard to make. But when I recently saw a panna cotta recipe from a favorite blogger La Tartine Gourmande, it looked gorgeous and so darn easy. It only had about 8 ingredients and a few easy steps, so I thought what the heck, I'll try it. Well, I have to say that it didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. The flavor was actually pretty good, but the texture was off. I don't think it set quite right and even though on top, it looked like it had, when you dug in, it was a little grainy. So I guess I'll have to keep trying. In the meantime, though, the topping we made to go with it was actually really good, so here's the recipe. It would go well on ice cream or yogurt and, in theory, panna cotta. So if you've got a good recipe or tips on how to make a successful panna cotta, I'm all ears. In the meantime, I'll be sticking to ordering it at restaurants.
4-5 stalks rhubarb, chopped into 1/4 in. pieces
1 1/2 quarts strawberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch
Simmer first four ingredients together on the stove until fruit is tender. Let sit on stove to cool and thicken. Spoon compote onto ice cream or yogurt and top with crystallized ginger to taste.