Thursday, September 2, 2010

End of Summer Bounty II

Fall semester has begun and therefore I have little time to blog, but here are a few photos from the garden and kitchen this week. Contact me if you would like the recipes. Cheers!

You can roast peppers on your stovetop if you have a gas grill. After fully charring (turn every few minutes), put them in a sealed container for several minutes. Peel the charred skin and enjoy. I added them sliced to orzo with pesto. Basil & peppers are from our organic garden.

It's coho salmon time! Yum. I salted and peppered the fillets, then pan seared in a little heated olive oil, skin side down first, then slathered with pesto and covered to cook the top half.

After serving the dish as above, I decided I'd like it better if I peeled the skin and flaked the salmon into the orzo:

Earlier this week I made chicken piccata. I used the recipe on Epicurious.

Finally, here are how our banana trees are doing this year. We transplanted two of the "pups" on either side of the two "parents," and the youngins are doing quite well, with pups of their own. The parent plants have hit fifteen feet with leaves between four and five feet long. Still love the way they sway in the breeze.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Zucchini Madness

If you, like we, are inundated with zucchini right now, here are a few of the recipes that I've used to mix it up a bit. Still haven't baked with it yet this year, but I do usually make a zucchini nut bread or muffins at some point during the season.

First up, Michael Symon's Zucchini Crudo from his Live to Cook cookbook:

Nice resemblance, no? Mine is the one on the left, in the bowl. Easy and delicious. Fresh, thinly sliced zucchini and yellow squash with toasted almonds and dill in a lovely vinaigrette.

Next up, the Flat Zucchini Omelet from The only change I made that I can recall is that I doubled the recipe, used a 14" non-stick skillet to cook it, and finished it under the broiler as suggested by one of the reviewers rather than flipping it. Easy peasy. I served it with a multi-grain English muffin and a PB&J smoothie. We were ready to garden.

To accompany our grilled pork chops, I made Michael Symon's Zucchini Fritters with Feta and Dill. I subbed lemon balm for the mint since we have that growing all over the yard and it's in the mint family. They were also easy and flavorful. I love me some feta.

I don't have a photo, and it's only slightly off-topic, but I'm loving cucumber sandwiches for lunch or a snack lately. Good white bread seems to work better than multi-grain, a schmear of mayo, thinly-sliced cukes, s&p, and a smattering of minced basil. Oh, my.

As G-Love is fond of saying, "can't get any more fresh, local, and organic than this!" Yay summertime!


Monday, May 3, 2010

And we're back...

Shoo. That was a long semester. But now it's done and we can get back to the blogging. Missed y'all!

Let's ease back into it with a photo-heavy layout of a few dishes from the past five months:

I wish I could remember which cream sauce this is, but I likely found it on epicurious, perhaps hyperlinked to the recipe for roast turkey. I think there are caramelized onions or shallots in it. It was so good. Used up leftover parmesan mashers that I'd frozen a few weeks earlier.

Standard short cook fare in our household, penne carbonara:

Another dish where the photo doesn't do it justice. The cornmeal pancake recipe is on epicurious, and any liquid in the recipe was substituted by lowfat yogurt. I've previously posted Orangette's sweet & spicy bacon recipe, and the cinnamon pecan butter pulled it all together.

This is another cold weather standard, corn chowder. Easy to whip up with pantry & fridge ingredients. The bread was homemade during Gnome's bread baking extravaganza. It made excellent bread pudding, too. Check out that crumb.

I've made these fish cakes a few times and I love them every time. Topped with a papaya salsa made with freshie lime juice, red onion and jalapeno, the cakes are made with flaked cooked fish, which I vary depending on what's on hand. In this case, I think it was mahimahi. Dry mashed potato, bread crumbs, jalapeno, red onion and egg round out the cake recipe. Reminder to self: make again soon.

What? Done so soon? Yes, but I hope to get back to regular posts now that I'm on summer break. Unless that internship comes through...


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Party Season-ing

The semester is finally over and I finally have time to put up another post. I took photos of several dinners over the last month, but once again we took none at our winter holiday party, despite our best intentions. And we should have. The food was glorious. Not only what we made, but what our talented friends made and our generous friends brought.

It's gratifying to know that so many of our friends know how much we love cheese. In addition to the brie en croute with chopped pecans and cranberries that we set out, we were given not one, but two packages of taleggio, a soft Italian cheese; a crumbly, pungent mountain gorgonzola; a drunken goat (which I've been wanting to try but hadn't yet splurged); a peppered goat cheese; one aged sheep's milk cheese with potato chips; and another that I can't recall. We shared all but three, which now sit alongside the parmesan, gorgonzola, sharp cheddar and havarti with dill in our cheese drawer. After considering recipes in which to use up all of this bounty, we nixed doing anything to them at all. They're too good not to be enjoyed all by themselves. Thanks to Jen & Chance, Myk, and Joe.

The next thank you goes out to Elizabeth, who graciously agreed to supply us with holly boughs from her parents' yard and to artfully arrange them on the mantle, buffet and tables. She also agreed to come over early to help us with party prep, creating a fun party mix on Our lovely holiday-themed red dishtowels were also courtesy of Elizabeth, as was a potent brew of Kentucky Cider, which was kept warm in her handy dandy Cocoa Latte machine. So, not only did she look stunning for our party, she was an integral part of its success. Thanks, Elizabeth!

We received a few bottles of wine, which, when you subtract the three or four we opened for the party, still puts us ahead of where we started. I may miss someone, so feel free to comment if you're reading this so I can give you props, but thanks to Rod & Melissa, Steven & Allison, Justin & Hannah, and whomever brought us the Beaujolais. Brian, was that you? Paul brought us our first growler from our favorite Columbia brewpub, Hunter Gatherer. Thanks, guys!

As many of you know, I am not relaxed when it comes to funky smells (unless it's cheese). Last year I found the perfect scent in holiday candles with Glade's Glistening Snow. Then they up and discontinued it. Any remaining Glistening Snow sells on ebay for five times what it sold for in stores. You'd think that Johnson & Johnson would have caught a clue and made some more, but not so far, so I was left to find another affordable scent this year. After sniffing too many too-cloying scents, I chose one that I thought would do, but I was wrong. I had to blow them out after the first guests arrived and put them away so that I couldn't smell them. Luckily Greg arrived with two beautifully-scented candles in hand which I will enjoy throughout the winter. We missed his lovely wife Sharon this year, who was home sick. Thanks Greg & Sharon!

Several tantalizing desserts arrived with Travis & Julia (shiny truffles made in new professional molds with decadent fillings of caramel, Frangelico, or raspberry); Bill & Melissa (Bill's chocolate, bacon, & peanut bark); and David & Aubrey (peanut butter kisses) to be enjoyed next to my platter of hand-rolled truffles, oatmeal scotchies, sea salt-dusted chocolate chip cookies, and pecan squares with shortbread crust. Thanks to all of you!

Justin & Hannah also arrived with a scrumptiously savory chicken salad that Gnome and I actually got to taste before it disappeared like our aformentioned brie, water chestnuts wrapped in sweet & spicy bacon (known to all my Ohio friends as rumaki), the carrot & basil bundles wrapped in prosciutto, and the spinach dip & crudite that we didn't even get to try. Lesson learned. Eat some before you set it out on the table. I did get a taste of the clearly fattening and delicious baked onion dip (think cream cheese) made by Dave & Aubrey, as well as the chicken satays with peanut sauce that we made earlier in the day on the grill. I also enjoyed a bite of the French provencal fougasse bread
that I'd started the night before and baked the day of the party. The dough is made with olive oil, sundried tomatoes, rosemary, oil-cured olives and lemon zest and then shaped like a leaf. Pretty and satisfying.

Jill & Scott arrived with their usual panache bearing travel-related gifts and perhaps a bottle of vodka. Not sure if it was them, but we're guessing it could have been. Thanks lovelies!

And thanks to all of you who joined us for the festivities again this year and graced us with your stories and cheer: Adrienne & Paul, Whitney, Olaf, Daniel, Matthew, Anjuli & David, Jennifer & Matt, and Erik. We missed seeing the rest of you, but hope that we see you again soon and that you're having a warm and tasty party season!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints' Day

We changed the clocks this morning to fall back an hour to end this year's Daylight Saving Time (DST). I think DST is outmoded, but decide for yourself by reading about it via the link to Wikipedia's entry.

All Saints' Day, which I know about either because I was raised Catholic (sort of) or because of all of my years watching Jeaopardy. Regardless, I know that it's the day after Halloween which is today, and that tomorrow is All Souls' Day. All Saints' Day is a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics which means that Mass is required today for them. I decided to honor the saints by cooking a delicious breakfast. (Okay, I probably would have made one anyway, but then I'd lose the educational topical element of this post.)

As Gnome did his best to celebrate Halloween last night, I knew that a fatty, starchy, protein-rich breakfast was in order. And because I would marry cinnamon orange butter if I didn't already belong to another and if we were the same species, I wanted to have that. I made it before with the recipe linked to here for apple pancakes, but I knew that it would go well on French toast which is much less effort and would use up the last of a loaf of ciabatta bread. Instead of making my usual blend of egg, milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and vanilla, which would have paired just as well, I'd already used part of an orange skin for zest for the butter so I used that instead of the nutmeg, sugar and vanilla, along with a splash of Gran Marnier, an orange liqueur.

Next, I made up a recipe loosely based on a restaurant version of a skillet breakfast. Using a small five- or six-inch wide sauce pan, I heated a quarter-inch of oil to smoking then turned it down a bit while I chopped up the last of our two, small potatoes into a quarter-inch dice. It's important to keep the dice as uniform as you can so that each is cooked the same. I fried those up in three batches, drained them on paper towels and sprinkled them with salt. While keeping an eye on them to watch that they didn't burn, I sliced up some more ciabatta for toast since Gnome doesn't like sweet stuff for breakfast, grated some sharp cheddar and quartered some grape tomatoes from the garden.

I turned on the broiler, set up the bread in the toaster to be put down when everything else was just about ready, and heated one large and one small skillet.
In the small skillet, I melted a little butter and cracked three eggs into the pan, then lowered the heat a little and covered the pan to sort of cook the eggs basted-style. I dipped the bread into the French toast batter quickly, removing any excess, then slipped each slice into the skillet to which I'd added a tablespoon of butter just seconds before so that it wouldn't burn. Once the eggs were set on top, I distributed the hashbrowned potatoes around the perimeter of the skillet then topped it all with the cheddar and tomatoes and popped it under the broiler.

With an array of hot sauces already set out on the table and hot coffee and orange juice ready to go, I toasted the bread and plated up. It was delicious, as I hope you can imagine.

I tried to locate a saint to feature today but couldn't locate a patron saint of breakfast or food. Today is the feast day of several saints, but each one that I read about died a grisly death, which I suppose is a popular criteria for martyrdom, and well, just wasn't a good tie-in for this post. Too bad there isn't a patron saint of hedonism.

Skillet Breakfast Hash on FoodistaSkillet Breakfast Hash

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Finale

Our last night in Italy we dined close to home in Chiusi. Having been lost several times in this town, it hadn't endeared itself to us, but it was the nearest larger town and was as far as we were willing to drive with an early departure time the next morning.

Having already consulted the travel books and the list our hosts sent us, we knew that La Solito Zuppa was the right choice. After getting lost before finding it, we made our way to the cozy bistro. We were greeted at the door by lovely owner Luana Pacchieri and seated at our reserved table near the hostess station at the front of the restaurant. She asked which type of bottled water we preferred, "con gassata" or "naturale", and if we'd like the house wine. Since the other diners all had carafes of red wine and no bottles in sight, it seemed like the thing to do. It was delicious. Luana told us that it was from a vineyard in Montalcino and the grapes were 100% Sangiovese. We didn't know how much it cost until we paid at the register at the end of the night, but we didn't think it would be outrageous and at eleven euros, it wasn't.

Luana's husband, Roberto, came to the table in short order and after determining that we'd like to hear the menu in English (we could have also chosen Italian, Spanish, German or French) he began to tell us about the way they serve dinner there. He told us that we would begin with our choice of soup or pasta, then described five or so choices from each category. He told us that the portions were small and not to worry. We both chose ravioli, one in a butter sage sauce and one in a tomato sauce. The ravioli appeared to be green gnocchi when it came to the table, but we enjoyed the dishes nonetheless.

From the list of secondi Roberto recited and described, Gnome chose the cinghiale, a regional wild boar specialty, and I chose the salt cod in a light tomato sauce. The chef chose our individual (though still shareable) contorni: pureed potato with nutmeg and smoked lentils, chick peas and cannelini beans in olive oil. Delish.

It was too dark in the restaurant to take decent photos of our plates, but the ceiling shot at the top shows a wall full of Slow Food awards. When I noticed them and mentioned it to Luana, she said, "You like Slow Food?" and reached for the latest Italian edition of the group's magazine, opening it to the article celebrating La Solito Zuppa's 25th anniversary. Bonus!

Full but not wantinng to miss out on any delicious desserts, I chose a no-sugar chocolate mousse. A big fan of dark chocolate, I wasn't worried when Roberto restated that there was no sugar in the dish. The pudding came in a shallow bowl and was indeed bitter, but it was topped with a dark chocolate cookie crumble that sweetened it up a bit. I could have enjoyed it very well with the remaining house wine in my class, but Luana showed up at the table opening up a bottle of a fortified wine saying that it went with the dessert. It wasn't my cup of tea, too bitter and sweet at the same time with some unusual spices, but I liked that they automatically served liqueurs with their desserts. The couple at the table next to us were poured a Prosecco with their sorbets.

About that couple. They were young, Italian, and fit, yet they managed to eat five or six courses, including a cheese plate, with no trouble. How do they do it? Is it all the walking? It's not because they skipped lunch, because that's another two hour affair.

Our mystery bill was very reasonable, in fact Gnome pointed out that a similar meal in an American restaurant, should we be able to find one, would have cost us more than double. It was a great way to end our trip.

Happy Anniversary, La Solito Zuppa, Luana and Roberto!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Our House in Umbria, Part Due

Sunday, up early with the hunt and all, we made our way to nearby Panicale. Based on the recommendation of Stew Vreeland's blog, See You in Italy , we chose Bar Gallo for lunch, having arrived too early for the last day of the town's wine festival. The small piazza had several choices for outdoor dining, so we had plenty to look at while we ate our torta al testo, a panini made with the local bread, which is thin and unsalted and quite delicious and in our case filled with mortadella and rocket, known to us as arugula. The Italians like their bitter flavors.

Oh, wait. I have to backtrack. After United's debacle caused us to miss our connecting flight to Rome, rerouting us through Frankfurt on Lufthansa, a much better airline all around, we had a few hours before departure and really enjoyed the respite of Vino Volo on Concourse C at Dulles Airport where it was easy to decompress seated in comfy sleek leather armchairs, a few flights of wine, a bowl of buttery Moroccan almonds roasted in sea salt, safflower oil and rosemary, and a plate of fantastic cheeses: Humboldt Fog, Manchego and Stilton. The servers were impressive, too.

After Panicale, we drove to Castiglione del Lago, which felt much more touristy and had lousy gelato. Women stood in doorways of shops with samples of salami on trays and lace in the windows. It was pretty, though.

On Monday, we drove to Montepulciano in Tuscany. On the outskirts of town, we came to Madonna di San Biagio, built in the 16th century. It gave me goosebumps when we went inside.

We stopped in for a tasting at the nearest winery, where luckily the staffer spoke perfect English and we bought a bottle of Vino Nobile to bring home.

We walked into the historic center and chose to eat our lunch at La Dolce Vita, an enoteca, or wine bar. We ordered too much and felt like bad Americans not cleaning our plates. I started with ribolitta, a traditional Tuscan/Umbrian bean soup drizzled with olive oil, then had a crostini with roasted eggplant and melted pecorino drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Gnome had bruschetta with chicken liver pate that was rather strong tasting and an antipasti plate with salume, prosciutto, capicollo, fresh mozzarella and pecorino. Please note the vantage point of our table on the city street. Many pedestrians walked past, diners sat at tables, and cars passed each other all in that skinny space. Clearly not an American street.

Tuesday we drove to Orvieto and had a pizza margherita and a Peroni at an outdoor table. It was good, but nothing special. After walking around a bit, it started to rain, so we ducked under the large tent and took a table at L'Antica Piazetta for a cappuccino and tiramisu for me and a beer for Gnome. After finally finding our car thanks to a couple of very nice Italian ladies who spoke about as much English as we spoke Italian, we headed back down the winding road and, as everywhere we went, saw this view:

Wednesday night, we drove the twisty roads to Cetona, another little gem of an Estruscan hilltop town. Once Gnome managed to back the car out of the overcrowded parking area that we'd driven into, we found a place to park and walked to the piazza to Osteria Vecchio da Nilo and were seated at a lovely table in a very well lit room. Our server, Silvia, knew only a little English, and was very friendly and efficient. We started with a plate of assorted antipasti: roasted zucchini artfully rolled around buffalo mozzarella, bruschetta with tomatoes, basil and garlic that was sublime, bruschetta with pate, prosciutto and salame. Next, for our primi, we had a melt in your mouth, savory sweet ravioli that was the best single thing we ate on the trip. Divine. For secondi, we had guinea fowl with juniper berries and a contorni, or side dish, of steamed spinach and onions. Silvia recommended a 2008 Dorigo Ribolla Gialla from Friuli that was refreshing and a little complex. Perfetto. I ended the meal with a wedge of chocolate torte. We would eat this entire meal again in a heartbeat.

Thursday night, we drove the twisty roads to Citta della Pieve and ate our dinner at Serenella. We couldn't take photos because it was like we were eating in a church. The conversation at the four other tables in our dining room (there are a couple of them) was very quiet, causing things to seem a bit somber. Our server spoke no English and our Italian exasperated her a little bit. We had a yummy salad, which was served with olive oil and white wine vinegar everywhere we went, followed by a spaghetti bolognese (delicious), and for dessert, a panna cotta with chocolate sauce for me (also delicious), with a bottle of 2006 Rubesco Lungarotti, all for 26 euros.

Our favorite meal overall was in Cortona, a lunch enjoyed once again outside. Gnome had a decadent steak in a peppercorn cream sauce while I had a pecorino and pear risotto. I now know that I cook mine at home for too long, at least to suit a Tuscan. My salad also had pears, hazelnuts, fresh goat cheese, and bacon. Yum.

In the next post: our last supper. Ciao!