Monday, August 31, 2009

End of Summer Bounty

Last night, I slow-roasted plum tomatoes from the garden for four hours on 215 degrees Fahrenheit after cutting off their stem ends, halving them, and tossing them in some olive oil, sea salt and ground cardamom. After cooling, I refrigerated them for tonight's Slow-roasted Tomato and Basil Pesto Risotto with Herbed Goat Cheese. Here's the recipe:

For the pesto:

1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 cloves garlic, peeeled
1 1/2 cups - 2 cups slow-roasted tomatoes as above
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor, blend the first four ingredients til smooth, then add next three ingredients, one at a time, until smooth.

For the risotto:

1 small onion, diced (I recommend doing this in the food processor before you make the pesto if you're making at the same time)
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup risotto (Arborio rice)
3 cups chicken broth (or a combination of broth and white wine), simmering

2 oz. herbed goat cheese (plain is fine)
3-4 tbsp. slow-roasted tomato & basil pesto, to taste

Melt butter and oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions & cook for 3 min., stirring. Add risotto, stirring for 2 min. Add one cup of simmering broth to the risotto, stirring until all liquid is absorbed, approximately 5 minutes. Add more simmering (or warm) broth, one cup at a time, stirring until absorbed after each. After all liquid is absorbed (which could take 20 min. or so), remove from heat and stir in 2 tbsp. of pesto. Taste. Add more if you want more flavor. Stir in goat cheese until incorporated. Serve immediately.

I adapted the pesto recipe from Molly Wizenberg's book, A Homemade Life (link in previous post). Using it in the risotto was my own recipe.


I made these scones based on Molly's recipe, adding turbinado sugar before baking and adding dried cranberries, walnuts, and orange zest to the basic scone recipe. If not eating right out of the oven after a few minutes of cooling, warm for ten minutes in a 300 degree oven. Serve with clotted cream or soft butter or try them plain.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Comfort Food, '80s Stylie

Tonight was another use-up-the-leftovers night, and luckily I was reading inspiration in the form of Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life. You may remember me mentioning Molly's blog, Orangette, in a previous post (or two). She has many fans for good reason. Read an excerpt online and see if you don't want to read the whole book.

So I was reading her chapter on an ultimate '80s food, white chocolate, when it occurred to me that I had all the fixings for twice baked potatoes. I didn't take a photo of them since we all know what they look like, and if you don't you can just Google Image search them. They took us back to our teenage years with all their starchy, cheesy goodness.

There are other '80s foods that I care not to revisit, including the aforementioned white chocolate, unless it's in the form of Fresh Market's white chocolate-coated mix of nuts, pretzels, Chex cereal and something else salty and crunchy, which we've dubbed "crack" at our house due to its addictive qualities. I will not be heating up Jenos Pizza Rolls or Steak-umms anytime soon. Thinking of '80s foods, I can't help but remember Stouffer's frozen entrees, including their Lean Cuisine, which my friend Stacey's mom, Eileen, always had in abundance and shared freely with hungry teenagers. Stouffer's, now owned by Nestle, has their headquarters in Solon, Ohio, near where we lived and they had, and still have, an outlet store. You could stock up for much less than retail. Some favorites back then were the macaroni and cheese (eat the whole box and get 70% of your your recommended daily intake of saturated fat and sodium, and nearly half of your calories), lasagna, spinach souffle, Swedish meatballs and French bread pizza. The Swedish meatballs were even better if you added a little dollop of sour cream after heating. Mmm.

Of course, now I know that these mass produced convenience foods are not only bad for your diet, they're not so great for the environment, quality of life, or the local economy, either. I love that Slow Food USA's has started a sustainable school lunch inititiave called the Time for Lunch Campaign. This makes so much sense that you can't help but hope that it will succeed. Their National Day of Action is coming up on September 7th.

Perhaps I'll revisit the comfort foods of childhood theme later. For now, it's another hour of research before Project Runway.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Late Summer

It's late summer now and back-to-school time already for us students. I had orientation last week as an official member of this year's incoming class of Public History graduate students. I've interrupted my class reading to put up this post since it's been awhile since my last one. I would love to think that I will be able to post at least once a week during the semester, but that remains to be seen. Lots of reading in these graduate courses, even when taking one at a time as I am. I was a little hard on myself by being self-critical for feeling the pressure of getting all the reading and assignments done until I realized that the full-time students taking three classes per term and working an assistantship aren't doing so for forty hours a week as I am at my job.

Cooking, gardening and travel have all been limited in the past two weeks, and rather than write about previous adventures, I spent my time enjoying the last bits of freedom before the grind. I did manage to make a delicious snapper the other night with marsala, white wine and onions, as well as a cream of broccoli-mushroom-cheese soup, but other than that, there's not been much to write about on topic.

Here are a few photos of some things I made earlier in the week:

I photographed this Question Mark Butterfly downtown last week:

This walking stick insect was on our front door:

Back to reading for me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Jamie Oliver

Cocktail hour last night started with a Lemon Drop Martini based on this recipe, though I used Stoli Lemon and Gran Marnier. So summery. So delicious after a long morning of weeding, banana walnut waffle-making, and movie watching. The reflection of the sunflowers on the quartz countertop makes a rather painterly composition in this photo, no?

After tackling our challenging slope for two hours, digging out all manner of prickly, long-rooted weeds like smilax and wild blackberry vine, I went to see Julie & Julia, the one about food blogger Julie Powell and the dawning of Julia Child's career by Nora Ephron. I loved it, but I always enjoy Ephron's movies, and the topic is one near and dear to my heart. After cocktail hour, I found a recipe that contained ingredients we had on hand: spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, almonds, parmesan and tomatoes and basil from the garden. May I declare my love for Jamie Oliver? The Spaghetti alla Trapanese that I made last night from his Jamie's Italy cookbook was the bomdiggity. I asked Gnome if he thought that moaning after every bite would be inappropriate in the trattorias of Italy if this is what all the food is going to taste like.

This wine is fantastic:

After dinner, I watched, for the third or fourth time, Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

Gnome has named this squirrel "Hoppy" due to his predilection for jumping from this dogwood tree just outside our dining room window to the roof of the hot water heater house. Gnome snapped him just hanging out yesterday.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Backyard Butterlies and Wine Country

These two beauties are Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. The yellow one is male and the black one is female and they spent the whole day in our backyard at our aptly named butterfly bushes. They're the state butterfly of South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama and Delaware. We have a few pairs of cardinals, the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, that visit the feeder right outside of our sunroom window. They always remind me of Ohio, and they're not afraid to hang out at the feeder when the squirrels are around. They do, however, fly off when the woodpeckers arrive.

This is a glass of Barefoot Bubbly from California. At about $10 per bottle, it's weekday worthy. We bought a few more bottles today because drinking sparkling wine feels fancy. It comes in brut, which is the driest, extra dry, and a version made from Pinot Grigio grapes. We like all three.

When we have cucumbers fresh from the garden, I love them sliced on open-faced sandwiches with a shmear of mayo, s&p, and some slivered basil. Tastes like summer. Their crunchy juiciness are so refreshing.

We marinated the chicken breast for the Caesar salads for two days in brown mustard, garlic, Worcestershire, and thyme, then grilled them. Two of the three were sliced for the salad (after a couple of minutes of resting time), and the largest one was reserved for another meal, which was tonight's Fettuccine al Limone. I forgot to take a photo, but it was downright delicious. The cooked chicken breast was sliced, then warmed in the sauce, which was made of butter, lemon zest and lemon juice, and half-n-half.

Taking a wine country vacation is absolute bliss. We went a few years ago: flew into San Francisco, picked up our rental car at the airport - at a great price by using Priceline, the only category for which I'd use them since I typically have a specific place I want to stay or times that I need to arrive or depart from a flight - and headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge after a good night's sleep at a hotel near the airport. The drive, while beautiful, can be harrowing as the other drivers seem to be in an awful hurry and a bridge, like a tunnel, leaves one little wiggle room (and the fear of going over the side). Luckily we made it off of the bridge without a scratch, and, hearts pumping, all the way into the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County and the cozy opulence of the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville.

Our room was one of eighteen cottages available on the six-acre site, most with fireplaces and saunas. Gnome especially enjoyed the jacuzzi tub with the picture window that had a view of an upward-sloping landscaped hill (except for the time that the landscaper came marching by with a garden hose, which was a bit startling). The bed was so tall I think I had to jump onto it, and it was dressed very swankily in fine linens. There are also rooms in the main house and in the renovated barn. The inn's restaurant is Michelin-rated and definitely worth the splurge. It was lovely to walk back to our room afterward and to not have to drive. Gnome had chef Steve Litke's signature dish Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, which consists of applewood smoked bacon-wrapped loin, roasted rack, and confit of leg. I don't recall what I had, but I remember the heirloom tomato and buffalo mozzarella tower, which is now in regular rotation at our home in the summer.

The inn has an inground, unheated pool that was too chilly for us even during the heatwave they'd been having in the low 100s. Behind the pool lies the spa, where we enjoyed our first couples massage, the low light of dusk adding to the dreamy state it put us in. Two-course breakfasts, different each day, were savored on the patio with visiting pets at our feet.

We hit the wineries early in the day, with Cline or Schug as our first stop, at around 10am. Each tasting room was different, as were the grounds. Most memorable were Gundlach Bundschu, where we were taken on a cave tour, Cakebread Cellars, where we enjoyed a private tasting with a very entertaining and informative staffer, and J Vineyards & Winery, where they paired food with each wine. It was my first taste of caviar. I haven't had it since, but I liked it. We also enjoyed a California-esque lunch on the stone terrace of Korbel, surrounded by giant redwood trees.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Summer Weekend

We've entered the final third of summer this weekend. The cicadas are still going at it, and it's too muggy (that's hot and humid) to get the planned-on weeding done or even walk the dogs. To continue the celebration of flavors and skilled use of leftovers and whatever's-in-the-pantry, we enjoyed the following, before and after backgammon, darts, reading, movie-watching, shopping, and a birthday celebration:

Friday night: Grilled chicken thighs, marinated 48 hours in a brown mustard, thyme, garlic marinade with sour cream horseradish mashers and steamed, buttered carrots with Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Brownies for dessert.

Saturday breakfast: Red pepper, shallot, chive & cheddar frittata with potato latkes made from leftover sour cream horseradish mashers, focaccia toast drizzled with honey and butter, and pulpy orange juice.

Sunday breakfast: Open Face Bacon and Egg Sandwiches.
The recipe calls for arugula, which I neither had on hand or like, nor did I have a substitute, so I merely left it out and reduced the amount of shallot vinaigrette by just drizzling it on the tomatoes (which are orange persimmon tomatoes, just beneath the egg and just above the added slice of buffalo mozzarella.

Sunday dinner: Heirloom tomato & fresh mozzarella towers with shallot vinaigrette & slivered basil; focaccia and olive oil; orzo with tomato sauce made with butter & onion, manchego, cherries. Orvieto & Rosso di Montelpuciano.

Last winter, I snipped the last of the Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida), a type of spiderwort often misidentified, as I had, as its cousin, Tradescantia zebrina or Wandering Jew, and put it in a vase. Do you know that the cutting stayed in that vase for several months, brightening up our winter days? I changed the water of course, but it stayed alive and even bloomed for the first few weeks. The little pink flowers would close up and open throughout the day. A nice vase companion (and garden bed neighbor) is asparagus fern. Like this, which I put together this morning: