Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Espresso Shortbread Cookies

 One of the most enjoyable activities I do during the holidays is making cookies.  What other time of the year do we have the excuse to make a ton of cookies.  It is a lovely hostess gift, the neighbors love them and you keep some dough tucked away in the freezer or frig to have fresh cookies when guests show up.  There is nothing like homemade treats during the holidays (or any other time of the year!)

One of the cookies I really like are a shortbread espresso cookie dipped in dark chocolate.  I love shortbread cookies and the combination of coffee, chocolate and vanilla is amazing to me.   This cookie goes quite well with champagne.  Champagne and dark chocolate have a natural affinity for each other.  This recipe is adapted from Chocolate-Dipped Espresso Shortbread from Fine Cooking:  Cookies, issue #23.  I added vanilla and feel the addition of vanilla really brings out the chocolate and espresso flavors in this cookie. 

These are tasty and super simple to make so lets get to it!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chritmas Tree Visitor

You know how it is fun to find a pine cone or if you are really lucky a birds nest in your Christmas tree.  Maybe not, but I do.  We get a live tree every year and I love finding a pine cone or a birds nest left over from summer.  This year there was really going to be a surprise.

I noticed one of our cats sitting next to the tree.

Then I noticed he wasn't drinking the pine flavored water they so love.

He was looking up into and circling the tree.

He is one of the young ones.  The old ones and the lazier one were asleep.

My name is Guthrie and this is what I usually do.

Guthrie finally got my attention and it is amazing how long that took because he was noisy and in quite a focused panic.  I was afraid he was going to climb the tree and that was not on my agenda.  I really like putting the tree up only once.

Here is what I found in our tree.
He is ridiculously cute.  Back in the college days, we used to have rats that come in our house through the power lines and would pilfer through my purse for cheerios (I had kids when I was in college just in case you thought maybe I never grew out of my cheerio stage!) and killed our Gerbil for his food.  No love lost and they were not cute.  This guy is totally cute.  Cute can really work magic even if you are a rodent.  That poops in the basement.  And eats the bird seed. And makes a mess.
 He is actually sitting in the tree cleaning himself like he has not a care in the world.

How did this story end?  He finally came down from the tree and started sprinted through the house at amazing speeds.  Guthrie is definitely after him first and then the other three rose from their slumber and joined the chase.  They were in serious competition with my son (wearing leather gloves and who is not 10 years old, some might say he is a grown man with a soft spot for animals) who is now involved in the chase.  The cats all caught him at least once but my son won.  He put him in an old aquarium and fed him cheese (what else?) and parsnips.  He going to keep him for a couple of days and let him go in the woods where he belongs.  I am sure he knows the way back to our house but I don't have the heart to kill him or allow the cats to torture him to death.

To be honest, we have found a few mice lately.  They aren't the ugly little rat type mice nor are they voles.  Voles are no fun, they are stinky and weird and they fight back.  These are the cute little mice that have numerous children stories written about them like When You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  Now we have never had problems with mice or little varmints because we have cats.  That is usually enough to keep them away.  We live next to the woods and our neighbors without cats tell us stories.  We were always like "We'll never have mice".  We are eating out words this year.  We have mice and there doesn't seem to be an end to them.  They sure are brave little rascals.

That is the end of my mouse story but sadly not the end of the mice.  I am sure there are more to come!

Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 10, 2010

Homemade Maple Sugar

 I have a bottle of grade B and grade A dark amber maple syrups.  So what does that really mean?  Well, let's figure this out.

All maple syrup in the U.S. is graded into 4 groups:
  • Grade A - Light Amber has a delicate maple flavor and is made from the first sap run of the season
  • Grade A - Medium Amber has a mild maple flavor and is the most popular for table use
  • Grade A - Dark Amber has a full-bodied maple flavor and is used for table use and cooking
  • Grade B -  has a hearty, robust maple flavor and is darker than Grade A - Dark Amber and is primarily used in cooking (also considered commercial grade)
So which one should you buy?  Whatever you can find or are you picky about it?  It is all a matter of taste and what it is going to be used for.  All of the Grade As are good as a table syrup like on pancakes or oatmeal.  The Grade A - Dark Amber and Grade B are best for cooking, but the Grade B imparts the most intense maple flavor.  Vermont standards are a bit different than the U.S. standards because they boil their syrups longer for a thicker consistency.  Canadian standards are basically the same as the U.S. but are named differently.

               US Grade                             =                     Canadian Grade
               Grade A Light Amber                                       #1 Extra Light
               Grade A Medium Amber                                           #1 Light
               Grade A Dark Amber                                            #1 Medium
               Grade B                                                                    #2 Amber
               Grade B                                                                       #3 Dark

I never really understood the grades until I moved up east.  I mostly thought about it in the flavor of the syrup that I wanted for pancakes or waffles.  In PA I find maple syrups in farmers markets, local markets, art shows, local businesses and of course the grocery store just to name a few.  One thing I have a hard time finding is maple sugar and when I do it is very expensive.  From $10.00 to $20.00 a pound seems expensive to me and is only a little over 2 cups.  The process of turning maple syrup into sugar is heating or boiling the syrup to 290 to 300 degrees just to the hard crack stage.  Then stirring it in a specialized machine or heavy duty mixer which gets more of the moisture out and creates crystals.  It is then sifted and/or grated to a crystal form like sugar.  The process of making maple sugar has to be carefully done and since it is reduced by removing water it has a more concentrated flavor than syrup.  It is possible to do this at home but candy/sugar making can test your kitchen skills getting it right and mixing the sugar crystals in a home mixer may be the last task it takes on.
So why not make maple sugar the same way you would make brown sugar in a pinch.  It is not the same as true maple sugar but it sure is tasty.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Turkey Stock, or Chicken!

So the Thanksgiving smorgasbord is done.  The cooking, the eating, the cleaning. The tension and stress. Now what is left?  A turkey carcass.  This is really the only thing left over from our Thanksgiving meal.  We do not reinvent left overs into some other turkey recipe or fried dressing balls (although these guys sound worth a try!).  We have a least two more meals of exactly the same thing we ate on Thanksgiving.  Does this mean we are not adventurous?  No, absolutely not.  It means we know all this food that we look forward to for a whole year won't be here for another year so we make it last as long as possible.

The one thing about a turkey carcass is once you think it is done, it is not. If you take a closer look, you will find a lot of tasty morsels all along the back, around the breast and thigh areas.  Very nice, close to the bone, succulent meat.  I found it and I had to hide it. 

Now do you throw the carcass away?  Absolutely not, not yet anyway, I can feel a broth coming on.  At this point if you don't have time or are just downright sick of turkey, toss the carcass in a large freezer bag and the leftover meat in a smaller bag and freeze them until you are ready for them.  I would definitely use them within a month or two.  In my case, within a couple of days!
My kitchen chicken.

Broth it is the cornerstone of any soup.  A soup or chowder is even better with a flavorful, homemade broth.  In this case, I am using turkey bones but chicken bones work perfectly and has more of a delicate, lighter flavor than turkey.  In all honesty, I like chicken stock the best.  Let's get to making a robust, flavorful stock.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 Memoirs

 Over the river and through the woods . . . actually it is Central Park!

Why memoirs?  These are notes to remind me of my 2010 T-Day experience.  You know-What went right and what went wrong!  Organization is key to get everything done.  A few helping hands is really, really nice.  Cooking techniques and recipes are something I am always working on.  I am a chronic meddler so I always have to change something up or bring a new, untried recipe to the table. (I can hear the groans as I write!)  I almost brought two this year, but then I thought am I seriously nuts.  Stay with what works!  My family looks forward to what is served on T-Day and that anticipation should not be messed with.  This is the only time of the year we have a whole roasted turkey, cornbread dressing, mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce and my Granny's homemade rolls.  If it works and they love it - don't mess with it.

I did not go over the top making too many dishes this year.  No soup for a first course or prepared appetizers.  All the dishes were made ahead of time including the Brussels sprouts.  This year was more relaxing than most.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Pumpkin Pie is a classic during the holiday season.  I like pecan pie.  Serious Yum.  I might have said that before.  Then mix some chocolate in that pie and that is more than just a serious yum.  We usually don't have these pies any other time of the year.  It is interesting that something we love so much yet we wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas to have them.  Maybe that is partly what makes them taste so good . . . the waiting and anticipation.  I know pecan pie for me is just not the same any other time of the year, for instance in the summertime.  It just doesn't seem right.

Now pumpkin pie is not really at the top of my list of things to make at any time including Thanksgiving. Usually someone is delegated this duty that really likes pumpkin pie.   I can make an OK pumpkin pie but personally I am not that crazy about it, it is probably just me and not the pie.  Although for me, it is a quest and I like a good challenge.  I am just like that.  It is the pie that is always leftover in my house (unless a certain relative brings canned mincemeat in a store bought crust that my husband feels obliged to have a piece so as not to have hurt feelings).  However if I make a pumpkin cheesecake that is a whole different event.  The one I made for this blog was intended to be frozen until T-day.  That didn't happen.  The cheesecake-ivores got loose and found it before I was even aware.  Like a flash it was gone.  I was stunned.  You think I am kidding.  Who the hell can eat a whole cheesecake and still get through the doorway.  To be fair, I am almost certain it wasn't just one person.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cranberry Chutney - 2 versions

Cranberry sauce and Thanksgiving.  I don't think you can have one without the other.
 Cranberry Chutney flavored with apple, orange and spices

This year I wanted to shake things up a bit because that is just what I do.  I always change up something. I don't really follow recipes so I get to cook how I am feeling which is nice and luckily no one complains!   Most dishes that I fix at Thanksgiving are fundamentally the same.  A brined bird, cornbread stuffing with sage, mushroom gravy, sweet potatoes with marshmellows on top (I think this dish is nasty sweet and I will not eat it but it is one of the first things finished!), homemade rolls, and a few veggie side dishes like brussels sprouts, creamed spinach or green beans. Oh yeah, and chocolate pecan pie=total and complete YUM.  There are flavor variations every year that differ.  Pecans or sausage in the cornbread dressing, mushroom gravy with sage or thyme, pecan pie flavored with vanilla or rum and this year the sweet potatoes are getting a do over (those Marshmellows might have to go!)

This year the cranberry sauce is going to be replaced with cranberry chutney.  I am not really sure how one is different from the other because one of these recipes is similar to cranberry sauce I have been making for years.  Maybe I have been making chutney all along. 

I have made two kinds. One is on the sweet, orange flavored type (a lot like the classic sauce I have been making for years) and one is more savory.  The savory one contains celery and onions but is still sweet and tangy.  The orange flavored one is my favorite, I think.  I reserve the right to change my mind!  It contains chopped fruit, orange liquor and spices.  They both sat in the refrigerator for a couple of days and the flavors improved quite a bit.  The savory one did not taste that great the day after I made it and I almost threw it away.  I am glad I didn't.  It still has crunchy celery after several days which I didn't expect and it taste fabulous.  It seems you taste the flavors separately when you taste either one of these recipes right after you make them.  After they have been in the frig for a couple of days the flavors just seem to come together as one.   

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Homemade Applesauce

Applesauce is something that you buy in a jar (especially if you have kids) and would never think of making it yourself.  Some of the jarred stuff is actually OK.  Applesauce is just, well apple sauce.  There is not a lot of pizazz to it.  It is simple and humble, unless you make your own.  It is not that hard.  Once you do, you will realize what a treat it really is.
Every Fall I make homemade apple sauce.  There is absolutely nothing like it.   It is fabulous.  I love it with granola and plain yogurt or with a slightly sweetened, cooked 10 grain cereal with plain yogurt.  It is the breakfast of champions (at least for this champion).  Or as a snack by itself.  Or a side dish at Thanksgiving.  Yes, that is right, a side dish!  It is so easy to make but it does take a few minutes of peeling.  Want to know my secret? Buy the biggest apples that you can find.  This way you peel fewer of them to get more sauce.  I like that!
Another tip is to buy different types of apples.  For example, this batch contains tart and/or sweet cooking apples like Granny Smith and Mutsu (these usually don't break down like the other apple varieties) along with Winesap and McIntosh, Ginger Gold and Fuji.  I am not that picky about the combination but I never use gala or red delicious.  And it is really awesome if you can find big apples.  I know I already said that but I wanted to drive the point home.  By combining the different varieties you will get applesauce with complex flavors instead of the garden variety, plain apple sauce from a store shelf.  It is totally worth it.  Have I convinced you yet?

You can make it chunky or smooth.  I like it chunky.

Spiced or plain.  I like mine with cinnamon.

Sugar or not.  I like mine  slightly sweetened with dark brown sugar.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Green Tomato Chutney (or Green Apple)

I have been experimenting with chutneys lately.  It is an interesting endeavor because there are so many kinds and variations.  The word "chutney" is borrowed from the Hindi "chatni" that means "pasty sauce" or "strong, sweet relish"(sources vary on the meaning and I narrowed it down to these two).  They can be sweet or sour, spicy or mild, or any combination of these.  What I like about chutneys is that the flavor combinations are almost limitless so they are totally customizable to your own tastes.  That is a lovely thing.
Green tomatoes are hanging about at the farmers market so I grabbed a few.  I did a little research to find something different to do with them besides fry them or cook them with okra (my favorite food when I was growing up) which is not available this late in the season in this neck of the woods.  I found this recipe for apple chutney from Joy of Cooking where the green tomato is interchangeable with  apples as the main ingredient. Green tomatoes might be hard to find right now unless you are in the south then you can substitute green Granny Smith apples or a combination of the the two. I am in southern PA and am still finding green tomatoes which is nothing short than amazing.  What a long summer we have had this year!

Chutney is a condiment and here in the US of A it is usually served with a grilled meat like pork, chicken or turkey.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pumpkin Bread with dates and walnuts

It is that time of the year.  It is Autumn and it is pumpkin time.  My daughter and I roasted a pumpkin this year for soup my daughter made.  I thought I was going to break my knife trying to cut into it.  I have never had a pumpkin that was so hard that it was difficult to push a sharp knife into.  But I persevered.  It got roasted.
I know everyone in the blog world has been making pumpkin everything since September 1, but I can be kinda slow sometimes.  I don't really Christmas shop until December 1 or so because why do it before then  (and certainly not on black Friday when the turkey hangover is kicking in and can only be cured by more turkey). What fun is that?  I can't stand how commercialized Christmas has become anyway and I just want to try and keep it fun.  I might just crochet book marks for everyone this year!  I digress.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

One Cup Cookies

One cup cookies.  Sounds simple.  And it is.  Or rather they are.  Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies.  They were invented in America and are an undeniably American cookie.  They are not my favorite, not even in the top 5.  Shocking, I know.  I usually like a cookie with more bite and texture.  I like to add a little fiber and nutrition into the cookies when possible by adding a couple of tablespoons of wheat germ or oat bran.  No need to go overboard here because well . . . they are cookies.  And it would be nice if they tasted like cookies.  So this recipe for One Cup Cookies is what I consider my version of chocolate chip cookies because they have chocolate chips in them.  That simple minded approach can keep one blissfully happy. Yup.
I have to say I really love this cookie.  I am not sure if they are my favorite, but when I make them I can't stop eating them.  I made them over Halloween to keep everyone from eating too much leftover candy.  It sort of worked.  I cannot remember where this recipe came from but I am sure it was from a magazine or newspaper many years ago. In an early attempt to get organized, I actually took the time to type this recipe up along with a few others although I didn't think the source information was important at the time.  Yes, I have made these cookies a few times.  You may be asking why are they called One Cup Cookies?  Well, it is because the main measuring tool is a dry cup measure.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fall Reflections

 Fall in Northeastern PA.  Forgive the drab day, but oh, do the colors stand out!

We have had a bit of an Indian Summer and have had produce well into the Fall.  Warm or cool, Fall is here and what can you say about it that a picture can't say better. Really! For me, it is all about the colors and the transition period to the winter. The hardest part of the Fall is when the clocks are set back for Daylight Savings and we Fall Back to darkness at 4:30 pm. Yuk. I wish there were no changes and we would deal with the light changes naturally. But if I am a reasonable person and think about why this is done then maybe it is OK. The time change is participated in by many countries and extends the hours during the summertime by having the sun rise later and most are generally not sleeping at this time.  The more time to be productive by.  I have a teenager and a young adult in my household so this general rule does not apply to them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Favorite Wine Book: Windows on the World Complete Wine Course: 25th Anniversary Edition

Let's face it wine is not an easy topic.  When I started educating myself on wines, everyone drank Chardonnay.  Now the big white is Pinot Grigio.  It is easy to latch onto a trend and drink what everyone else is drinking because in all honesty, it can be quite reliable. My philosophy is take a risk because you are missing out on some of the truly fabulous wines out there if you don't.  I was really not a wine drinker when I started learning about wines but I have to admit it was a job requirement.  I never worried much about pretenses (and still don't), I just knew what I liked.  At the time, I was in Texas and the restaurant I worked at was interested in introducing and educating its clientele on the local Texas wines.  Come to think of it, this was probably my first introduction to buying local.  Texas produces some pretty darn good wines but they are hard to find outside of the state.

I live in the state of Pennsylvania now and they do have wineries around here but they can't really compete with the west coast wines or, in my opinion, Texas wines. There are a couple of OK wines.   Pennsylvania just doesn't have the right growing conditions and usually produce fruity, sweet wines that I am just not that fond of.  PA also has some archaic liquor laws so generally you can't have wine shipped into the state. This was a difficult concept to swallow when I was standing in the middle of Napa Valley surrounded by incredible wines that I could only buy there or would be difficult to find in the keystone state.
This is a wall of champagne bottles that is going through its second fermentation.  These bottles will eventually go through the process of remuage which is turning the bottles a quarter turn to collect the sediment from the spent yeast. This process at Schramsberg is still actually done by hand and prepares the bottles for the riddling process.  These two processes are responsible for the clear champagnes that we drink today.
 As in this bottle.  Cool, huh?!  This is before the riddle process which is when the sediment is trapped in the neck of the bottle and eventually disposed of before the final corking.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spiced Apple Cidertini

I finally bought a bottle of Calvados.  I have always bypassed it because it was a bit expensive and I didn't think I had enough uses for it. That thinking has changed.  I am the type of person to have bought liquor in the dark ages and still have it.  It takes a while going through liquor when you use 1/4 cup or less a year.  Liquor has a tremendous shelf life so it is not a problem, or is it?  Beware when your kids become teenagers. Strange things seem to happen in the liquor cabinet.  The traditional pumpkin pie flavored with Southern Comfort suddenly doesn't taste quite like it used to, sort of bland and lacking that Southern Comfort flavor.  Maybe a bit diluted. That is a story for another day.

Back to the bottle of Calvados.  Calvadoes is a French apple brandy that is used in drink and food recipes. I am also sure that a warmed brandy snifter would be a perfect vessel for this apple brandy as an after dinner drink or a digestif.   For now, I want an apple cider martini.  It is the season and it just seems right.  I love spiced or mulled apple cider based drinks and I just happen to have a jug of apple cider. I have had a few apple martinis but some were too sweet and appley, kind of like apple bubble gum.  So for the past couple of weeks I was determined to come up with something I liked and that friends and family would enjoy.  So guess who became taste testers.  That is right, family and friends. They were more than happy to help out with this task.  This is what we all agreed upon . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sun Dried Tomato-Basil-Parmesan Scones

It was time to start dinner and on the menu was meatloaf and only because I had one in the freezer.  So nice and easy, as long as you remember to unthaw it in time.  I am not much for defrosting in the microwave because that can just get weird.  I might use the microwave to defrost something to get whatever it is started thawing, but that is it.  The microwave can be wicked. I will always have a microwave, but for me it has its limitations.

The other reason I wanted to make meatloaf is that I had made a spicy ketchup and I wanted to see how it was as the topping for the meatloaf.   It was really delicious but I think it still needs some tweeking.  I usually bake my meatloaf with tomato paste mixed with chili sauce instead of ketchup like most meatloaf lovers do.  Regular, store bought ketchup is too sweet for my taste and I like the tangy, savory flavor of tomato paste.  And for that extra special touch, about 15 minutes before it is done I cover it with sharp cheddar and continue cooking until the cheese has melted and has lovely, crunchy edges.  Yum, there is nothing like baked cheese.

Meatloaf aside, savory scones are what I am really about today.  Sun Dried Tomato-Basil-Parmesan Scones.  I had a lot of fun making these.  I am a big scone lover but until now I have only made sweet ones and I wanted a bread to go with the meatloaf that I was cooking.  I have had this savory version swooshing around in my head for a couple of days now and I need to make them or the universe will be out of balance.  (Don't recipes swoosh around in your head!).  Let's face it, I will just be annoyed with myself if I don't make them and they sound so darn good.  So, here goes!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fresh Apple Bread

This apple bread recipe is a spin off of the Fresh Peach Bread in a previous post with a few changes made.  Cinnamon was added, along with apple butter.  Brown sugar replaces some of the white sugar and I used apples instead of peaches.  We got lucky one day and ran across a basket of fabulous Honeycrisps that were seconds and half price.  They were almost perfect apples, except for a few natural scars and very few bruises.  We had to buy them and they were the inspiration for this apple bread.  Each one was huge and we have really enjoyed them.   One apple cut up was equal to 2 cups.  All weren't that big, but most were.  Honeycrisps seem to be the "bomb" apple.  They are always priced more that other varieties because of demand, but they are so worth it.
Note on Honeycrip Apples:  The Honeycrisp is a relatively new apple that is a cross between a Macoun and Honeygold and is American made.   This variety was developed by the University of Minnesota and introduced to the apple growers in 1991.  The Honeycrisp has been wildly successful and many growers can't keep them in stock.  As more growers are producing Honeycrisps availability is becoming less of a problem, although they are still priced higher than other apples.  They are great eating apples as they are sweet and tart at the same time and crisp.  They are also very good cooking and baking apples because of their texture and flavor, that is if you have enough left over to bake with.  The honeycrisp is a win-win apple, don't you think?  My family can't get enough of them.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mushroom Tart

I went to a mushroom festival (maybe you heard) and they were selling their prize winning mushrooms and entries, I couldn't resist buying a bunch.  With luck, I secured five varieties and I only got a small container of shitakes because they were out. The positive side of being out of shitakes is that I tried other mushrooms I might not have if I had been able to buy more shitakes.  Criminis, shitakes, portebellos, yellow oysters, gray oysters and maitakes were what I left with.
Clockwise from top left:  Maitakes, Shitakes, Yellow oyster, Gray oyster

I was kinda sure I was going to make a tart with these mushrooms.  I have been enamored with tarts this year, especially savory ones.  Next step was to think of the flavors that mushrooms go well with, especially the ones that make the mushrooms really stand out.  These were fresh mushrooms so they deserved the top spot.  Right?!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What is for dinner tonight?

This is what we had for dinner the other night.  My daughter and I were the only ones home and something simple, tasty and vegetarian would do.  If the guys had been home, they would  have thought we were trying to starve them, especially my son.  He is all about protein.
We were hungry, so we foraged.  There is just no better way to say it.  We foraged through the frig, the pantry, and the tomato garden.  I had some nice looking beets that I bought from the grocery store.  I had great success with beets that I had roasted previously that I had gotten from the farmers market.  That night we were having wine, cheese, olive oil and a light salad.  My daughter was out that evening and didn't get to participate but had some left over beets the next day and proclaimed love for them.  So for her, I will try to recreate that salad we had that night minus the blood orange infused olive oil which sadly went home with the owner.  Who knew olive oils were infused with blood orange.  I must be living in a bubble.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mushrooms, Mushrooms, and a Mushrooms Festival

Did you know that
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania is the 
mushrooms capital of the world?
(Counter clockwise from top left: pink oyster, gray oyster, maitake or hen of the woods, yellow oyster)

Kennett Square area of Chester county produces 65% of the mushrooms sold in the US.  When you buy mushrooms at the store, check the container to see where they came from and you will most likely see Kennett Square, PA or an area close by like Avondale.

They used to have a mushroom museum but now a mushroom boutique called  The Mushroom Cap displays some of the mushroom museums exhibits at their store.  The store is dedicated to all things mushroom.

Kennett Square has a mushroom festival every year in September.  They have lots of mushrooms for sale, mushroom farm tours, mushroom soup contests, mushroom culinary events, nutritional presentations, a mushroom growing display and a mushroom judging contest.  There were also some local crafters and area restaurant's  selling their wares, a kiddie carnival and some local bands.  It was a bit of dreary, drizzly day but fun.  A little rain is not going to stop me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fresh Peach Bread

What can you really say about peaches?  They are delicious.  They are going to be gone soon. :(

For breakfast, I eat peaches with plain yogurt and homemade granola.  Such a fabulous breakfast to start the day.  I will miss them in October, but I will probably be onto other fruits like maybe, apples.

I have not made many peach desserts or really any desserts this year, the family is working on being healthier so I have avoided most sweets including peach crisps. I am not sure how, but I did.  I am trying to do my part.  It is hard because baking is just good, plain fun.  I did make peach ice cream.  It was - and is good.  I made some thirst quenching agua frescas con el melocotón (translation:  fruit water with peaches) to quench thirst during the hottest summer on record.  I haven't grilled any peaches yet, but I plan to - to go with that peach ice cream.  My peach man (he is also my apple man) says he will have peaches through September.  Yeah!  He sells me his seconds. You know, the ones that look funny or have a blemish.   I really like his seconds because they become jam, smoothies, cobblers/crisps, ice cream and peach bread.  I have several types of peach jams and some frozen peaches for whatever comes to mind this winter.  Nice.  I am not usually this prepared for hibernation.
 I decided to work on a peach bread recipe because I don't really like peach bread with cinnamon. To me they taste like other spiced breads such as apple or pumpkin.  My mission, a quick bread that taste like peaches.  This year, I am into combining vanilla and peaches.  Here is what I came up with and we loved it.  Sadly, the second loaf didn't make it to the freezer.  We ate it all.  The good news is I have more peaches.
These are a couple of peaches that are seconds.  They taste absolutely perfect, they just look kinda funny and one of them has a boo boo.  They look like Cabbage Patch peaches or something like that. Or something else that I will leave it to your imagination. 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Breakfast Sandwich

So that time of the year is here.  The start of the school year.  The kids are excited.  Summer seems to have ended even though September weather is usually quite promising.  Still warm, sunny and cooler nights (at least on the Eastern seaboard) and fall doesn't truly start until the Autumnal Equinox which is September 22 at 11:09 pm.  I have always enjoyed beach trips in September.  More nature, bluer waters, fewer people and really nice weather . . . lower prices.  I am starting to get lost in a fantasy and missing my point which is starting the day off with breakfast.  It is important to "break fast" which simply refers to eating after "fasting" overnight since your last meal and for many would be roughly 12 hours.  Many studies indicate that having breakfast helps control weight and effects metabolism.  It is also believed that it increases the ability to concentrate.  And I do believe that, but for me has to be with a cup of morning joe.  In fact, coffee should come before breakfast especially if I am having anything to do with preparing it.  Lord knows what the Mom-before-she's-had-a-cup-of-coffee would actually make.
 It seems everyone is always in a hurry and if you can carry breakfast on the morning commute to school or even work, why not a breakfast sandwich.  Fold it up in a napkin or wax paper and take it with you.  I had a hankering for eggs one morning and I was on the run.  I love scrambled eggs with buttered toast because they just belong together.  I had some bacon, some end of season sun golds, left over goat cheese, basil and if I had some baby spinach that would have gone in there, too.  I really just used what I had on hand and lets face it, in the real world a toast and scrambled egg sandwich would work fine.  Oh, and don't forget to butter the toast like I did.  Silly me.  I think this is a great "to go" breakfast sandwich, especially if it was in a pita or in a tortilla as a wrap.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Farm Stand Lasagna

I am a farm stand junkie.  I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again. Once I get there I buy produce that looks perfectly fresh and potentially delicious. I know that I am not alone.  I don't necessarily have plans for all that I buy so I have to get creative or compost.  This time, I have some fresh zucchini and Japanese eggplant that I haven't used up. I also have some tomatoes from my garden that are just past seeing their best days and I want to use them before they need to be composted.  So tomato sauce is in the works for dinner tonight which goes really well with lasagna.

Even though lasagna seems to be a winter dish, I think a summer version is in order.  The zucchini and eggplant can replace the pasta with a meatless sauce and voila!, I have a farm stand version of lasagna.  I have never tried substituting vegetables for pasta before and was I ever happy with the results.  In fact, I think it is the best lasagna I have ever made.  I love it when I come up with something that is indulgent but airs on the side of healthy. I did not miss the pasta or meat at all and it was garlicy and spicy.  Adding Italian sausage to the sauce would probably be quite good if you are one that prefers meat in their lasagna.  In the summer, I tend to skip meat altogether, because that is just me and I don't miss it.  I call this Farm Stand Lasagna because almost all ingredients can be purchased at the farmers market.  There are cheeses at my farmers market but they were out of ricotta and they don't have Parmesan.  The fresh mozzarella was made locally and am sure it is sold at some farmers market somewhere.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fresh Peach Margarita on the Deck

A good margarita is a favorite of mine and I hesitate to mess with the lime version as is.  Peaches are also a favorite and I have a ton of them.  And I have a nice little bottle of silver Patron tequila.  The stars are aligned and the deck is waiting, so who am I to argue.

Margaritas have always been my mixed drink of choice, on the rocks with salt and I want to be able to taste the tequila.  That is the nature of a margarita.  For such a simple drink, there are many variations just in choosing the tequila and orange liquor that can take a basic drink to something off the chart delicious.  How much you want to spend also comes into play, but keep in mind you don't have to spend that much to have a really good margarita.  Then there is changing up the fruit flavorings.  Essentially a margarita is tequila, orange flavored liquor and fresh lime juice.  It is summer, peaches are in season and it sounds like great combination.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tomato Gazpacho

 This recipe is adapted from Patricia Wells, cookbook Vegetable HarvestI am a recipe meddler from way back and have a hard time following any recipe to the letter.  I think this recipe is perfect just the way it is. The only adjustment I would recommend is the amount of tomatoes you would use.  For example,  if you love raw tomatoes then use full amount but if you want a little less tomato flavor then cut back a bit and enjoy more of the cucumber, red pepper and other flavors.

For me, Gazpacho has always been a dish that I am on the fence about.  Never quite right.  It could be that raw green peppers are not my favorite which are in many versions and there are many versions of gazpacho.   One year after a trip to the farmers market and more garden tomatoes than I knew what to do with, I tried the Tomato Gazpacho recipe from Vegetable Harvest.  It was so delicate and fresh.  It tasted like summertime.  It was simply amazing.  It is easy and it's flavor relies on fresh ingredients.  This time of the year I can get almost every ingredient at the farmers market and what is not there, is already in my cupboard.  Nice.

I am always amazed at how fresh and pure this soup tastes. The flavoring are limited to salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and red pepper flakes or hot sauce.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bruschetta with Golden Tomatoes

If you are a farm stand junkie like me,  you need a few quick recipes to utilize all the produce that you end up with.  Not to mention the tomatoes, herbs and peppers in my own garden.

This year I planted my one and only gold tomato plant with great anticipation and then it surprisingly produced some sort of red tomato.  I was so disappointed.  I even went out and checked the tag.  Mistakes happen.  I love these gold tomatoes. I picked up a couple that looked really good at the market.  My favorite way to have garden fresh tomatoes is with bruschetta. This is one dish my no-fresh-tomatoes-for-me kids definitely eat and can't seem to get enough of.  They aren't little kids either.

Bruschetta is grilled bread that has been brushed with olive oil and rubbed with a garlic clove.  The name comes from the Italian word bruscare that literally means "to roast over coals".  There are many ways to serve bruschetta but a typical way is with fresh tomatoes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Roasted Corn-Black Bean-Tomato Salsa

On a visit home to Alabama several years ago, my brother had made this bowl of salsa (I don't remember what he called it) that consisted mainly of canned green chiles, white shoepeg corn, onions, beans, tomatoes and some other flavorings.  We ate it on salad with grilled chicken thighs and with chips.  It was really good.

Of course, I thought that it would really make it special if it was made with fresh local ingredients.   Being the farm stand addict that I am, I couldn't help myself.  The next summer, I rounded up fresh ingredients to make a go of this recipe.  The can of white shoepeg corn was replaced with fresh roasted corn off the cob, the green chilies were replaced with jalapenos or serrano chilies, the beans became black beans, sweet summer candy onions replaced yellow onions and so on.  This has become one of my favorite salsas because it is so chunky and flavorful.  I love that spicy sweet combination of the roasted corn, cherry tomatoes and the spicy peppers.  It is nutrient dense, low in calories and tasty.  That is a good combination!
 So let's get to it . . .

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Farm Stand Sandwich for a Festival

That's right.  A sandwich made from farm stand produce for an evening picnic at a local music festival.  Minimal refrigeration needed and local brews are available at the festival.  Sounds like a good plan to me.

I love going to music Festivals.  Most take place in the summer expecially up here on the east coast.  Who wants to go to a music festival in the snow?  Well, I am sure there are a few amazing fans that would show up, but it probably wouldn't be me.  This year to start the summer off, we went to Clifford Brown Jazz Festival in Delaware and saw Chick Corea, then midsummer we went to the Xponential Music Festival and saw Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and this weekend we went to the Riverfront Blues Festival and enjoyed some really awesome blues including the Bernard Allison Band starting off their set with a stellar version of Voodoo Child.
 Here are a few shots from the festival.  The weather was perfect and it was a nice evening for an outdoor event. 

Monday, August 2, 2010

Green Tomato Pie

Got tomatoes?  I do.

When I was a kid my mom could not have gotten a fresh tomato past my lips without a fight.  Tomato sauce on a pizza was just about it for my tomato adventures at that time.  I am still not a tomato-off-the-vine girl unless it is a little sun gold.  Now that I am an adult, I love a caprese salad or fresh chopped tomatoes on pasta with a cream base sauce or a raw tomato sauce for pasta and don't get me started on bruscetta. Seriously good eats.
Along with many Brandywines and Sun Gold tomatoes, I have a bunch of green tomatoes called Green Zebra.  Many assume they are a heirloom tomato, but a little research tells me that they were developed by a tomato breeder in 1985.  They are quite tangy and acidic.  I have tried to make fried green tomatoes with them but their texture is a little too soft and get a bit mushy during cooking.  I have heard others have used them for fried green tomatoes and thought they were great.  They might have picked them earlier than I did, when they were firmer and crisper.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Good Things Come to Those Who Wait"


These days, patience is rare.  Unless, of course, if you have kids.

A hard trait to find these days when our immediate whims are at our disposal. 

My sister gave me a 12-inch portion of an Orchid Cactus about 6 or 7 years ago.  I was told the fifth year it would bloom.  I waited.  It grew.  I waited some more.  It grew a lot.  I waited not so patiently. I forgot.  I wondered why I had this huge plant that was taking over my dining room.  I thought about getting rid of it.  Was it really going to bloom?

And then one day it did this.
 Isn't it lovely.

What can I say about this plant?  It takes minimal care.  It grows despite me.  It is scrappy, in an interesting, flowing kind of way.  Don't you agree?
It grew into the carpet and tried to set roots.  Is it trying to tell me something?

I did neglect it this year.  I will do better.

It completely redeems itself yearly when it flowers and it flowers in spite of me.  
I guess that is just like an orchid.  Orchids are not the greatest looking houseplants until they bloom, then they are stunning.  I have some orchids that bloom for 6+ months and some for a month.  The orchid cactus holds its bloom for about a week to two weeks.  I was neglectful this year so I only had about three blooms instead of the past 10+ blooms.  I vow to be a better cactus orchid keeper next year.

The last bloom just dried up.

This is my homage to the old proverb "Good things come to those who wait".  To remember to be patient and caring in the process of "waiting" and the process, in many cases, is more important than the goal.

Until next year . . .
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