Thursday, August 31, 2006
This post is an homage to Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz. She always is so generous with her pictures of "The City," and those of us who love Manhattan are refreshed in our love for it all over again. I had the pleasure of returning "home" to the city a week or so ago, accompanied by my beloved sister who had never been there, and it was just so great to be there and to share it with her!
Grand Central train station is completely gorgeous, inside and out. Not only that, there's a world class restaurant that you MUST EAT AT once in your lifetime, the Oyster Bar Restaurant. And no, it's not only an oyster bar, it's fabulous, fabulous foods of all kinds. Trust me. It's worth several trips.
We were so disappointed when we returned there on Sunday to find it closed. On a three-day trip to the city with a million restaurants, we'd have had two dinners at Oyster Bar if we could have. And I guess that's all I need to say about that.
When I do these groups, I always share my recipe website URL, so that anyone who is interested in a recipe can go find it there. Often, I don't know if anyone ever does follow up, unless they tell me. In this case, though, a couple of people said this was their favorite dish of the weekend and they were going to go find the recipe and try it at home. So I knew it was a hit, hence, its appearance here!
The word strata means "layers," so technically you could call something like lasagne a strata. In cooking terms, though, it has come to mean some sort of layered bread dish, often with an egg-and-milk component to moisten the bread. In this case, the bread layers are filled with spinach, shallots, and Gruyere cheese (I often substitute Jarlsberg or swiss when my budget is tight.) The egg component has cream, reduced wine, and the ever-popular S&P to taste.
The whole thing is assembled the night before, covered and stuck in the fridge overnight ... a blessing for us morning-challenged types! You refrigerate it with another pan on top of it, weighted with whatever is handy so the bread layers are compressed, which much improves their texture. The next morning, take it out of the fridge and pop it in the oven for 45 minutes or so and voila! A most impressive morning feast.
Some tips, if you do decide to make it:
- Unless you know your crowd adores spinach, cut the recipe amount in half.
- Be careful when you pour in the egg to not completely fill the dish. When you put the weights on top of it, you don't want egg seeping out of the pan onto your refrigerator shelves. I know whereof I speak.
- The recipe calls for two layers, but you can use a smaller pan with taller sides and make it a beautiful three layers, as shown.
- If you want to go from an 8x8 pan to a 13x9, the recipe should be one-and-a-halved.
- The wine is critical! Otherwise it's just a fancy french toast.
- The recipe says to use 2 tablespoons of butter to butter all those slices of bread. I don't know what magic those folks are able to work with that little butter, but try as I might, I always end up using a little more.
- If you let it cool for 5 minutes before slicing, not only will it be easier to slice, but the puffy sides will have settled down to the height of the center and it will look better.
Hey, wait a minute! Without even trying, I just published an entry worthy of Sweetnicks' ARF 5-a-day! Woo hoo!
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Here is our contest and the recap:
Can you help Simba express himself? He clearly has something very important on his mind ... what do you suppose he is muttering to himself? Or what will he say when he lifts his head and looks you right in the eye?
Eva engaged three-year-old Acadia's creative input and got the following:
And here's my entry:
"Gee, I'm not sure, but I don't think I'm doing too well at this bomb-sniffing class. I've been sniffing all day and haven't found a single one. Just that funny-looking piece of metal over there ... boring!"
Previous caption not-contests:
While my sis and her family were visiting, The Huz had to be away for a few days. On the day that he returned, I went to pick him up at an airport a little over an hour from here. We got back to our neighborhood about an hour before dusk, and we decided to take a slightly different route home, because there had been a lot of construction on our road and it was recently finished and we wanted to see how it looked. So there we were, driving up the back side of the hill, when The Huz carolled out "Moose!"
Sure enough, there on the other side of the road, about 100 feet ahead, was a very small moose, looking toward us with its ears straight up. Well, we've seen lots of wildlife on our hill, but we've never seen a moose there. I thought we never would, because they like bogs, which are few and far between on good-sized hills like the one we live on. So we were pretty excited, and I immediately slowed way down in hopes it wouldn't run away too far from our car. By the time we got near it, we were barely rolling, and I had already rolled down my window so we could see it well.
It was a really small moose. We figured it had been born this past spring, making it about 4 months old. So we looked all around to see if there was a protective mother moose nearby. We don't want to irritate a protective mama moose. She'd come right through the car to get to us if she thought we were a threat to her baby.
But we didn't see one. Closer inspection revealed that the little moose was a girl. She had withdrawn maybe 10 feet from the road, watching us carefully. We just sat there, directly opposite her and the tiny bog she had been feeding in. I spoke to her quietly, in a wee elfish voice, saying, "We won't hurt you, little girl" and other such foolishness, but surprisingly it did seem to soothe her. She started walking back toward the road. Closer. And closer. I began to get nervous. Was she going to come right up to the car?
But no, she stopped right at the edge of the two-lane road where, as it turns out, there was something particularly delicious to a moose. She kept watch on us, but eventually she began pawing at the ground and dropped her head to nip at whatever she unearthed.
Then I realized that my sis and fam needed to see this. "Call them!" I urged the Huz.
Without hesitation, he commenced a long, slow moose call! He was about 2 seconds into it when I realized what he was doing. "Not the moose, the house!" I was cracking UP. I reached for my phone, keeping my eye on the moose, and handed it to the Huz. Sheepishly, (moosishly?) he dialed the phone and told them where to find us.
Meantime, I spotted another car coming up behind us. We were stopped dead in the middle of our lane. I worried that they might just pass us without realizing what we were doing, which would totally spook the little girl before my sis had a chance to see her. But he also slowed way down and stopped behind us and, chin in hand, proceeded to admire the little moose, too.
She was very pretty, for a moose. She had big soft eyes, and her muzzle looked amazingly soft. I swear she looked me right in the eyes whenever her nose wasn't in the muck, which took her eyes below the level of the road.
Soon my sis and her family slowly rolled up in their car. I looked to see if they had thought to bring a camera, but they hadn't. We all sat there, three cars in the middle of a country road, watching this little moose as she calmly had her dinner before our admiring eyes. We watched her for a long time. For so long, in fact, that eventually we got tired of it and said a soft "Goodbye, little girl!" as we headed up the road. The fellow behind us followed us, and eventually so did my sister.
So now, "Call them!" is a catch-phrase at our house, invoking guffaws and head shakings. I asked him later to do a full moose call for me; I had no idea what he was going to come out with that day. What he produced started out with a deep "mmmmoooooo" as if he were calling a cow, followed by an "s"! "Mmmmmmooooooose!" he was going to say. What a nut.
Monday, August 28, 2006
We moved into our house nearly 15 years ago. It's the first time I've ever owned a house, and it's been a really interesting experience, ownership versus rentership. There are good and bad things about it, and I probably should muse over the experience someday. But, not to wander too far afield from the topic at hand, I will say that one of the good things is that it made me more willing to invest in really good kitchen equipment. Over time we've replaced all the major appliances in the kitchen, and if you've been reading my blog you know that we've just recently invested in new countertops, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
One thing that I had always wanted was a good stand mixer. There are some recipes that are really hard to make if one of your hands is tied up holding a hand mixer, and besides, stand mixers allow you to mix things that would leave most handheld electric mixers red-faced and smoking and cussing, bread doughs, for instance. So when The Huz gave me a Kitchenaid stand mixer for Christmas, I was very excited. (No lingerie or perfume for this gal. The best present is something I can use in my kitchen!)
But I have to say, when I later got my Kitchenaid food processor, I truly found the appliance that I cannot live without. Well, OK, not literally. I'm not that materialistic. But I do find myself reaching for it constantly.
Perhaps my favorite use for it is to make scones. I whir the dry ingredients in it to mix them up, and then add the cold butter pieces. A few pulses, and I've got perfectly chopped butter, still cold as heck so it will leave nice little pockets in the dough. I turn the butter/flour mixture into a bowl to add the wet ingredients gently, and off we go to kneading, rolling, cutting and baking. Or freezing! Did you know you can freeze scone dough? Yep!
This past weekend I made some scones with golden raisins and a sweet wash of powdered sugar and milk for a largish group of folks. One gentleman commented that he'd never had such moist, light scones. It was so easy, thanks to my beloved food processor!
I use it to crush chocolate wafers for pie crusts. Grate cheese. Make pesto (using the small bowl that rests inside the large one). Puree soups (until I got my immersion blender, also a very handy tool!) Chop nuts, veggies, etc. I am constantly reaching for this thing. My mixer sits out on the counter because it's too bulky to be moved into a cabinet easily, but it's the food processor that I use the most.
By the way, I can heartily recommend my Kitchenaid, but I'm sure the Cuisinarts are also excellent, and there are probably other excellent brands. I do think it pays to invest in a heavy-duty food processor. In my experience, the less expensive ones tend to not do a good job with one or more of the tasks you care about.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
The call of the loon is incredibly haunting. Listen to it here. It seems as if they live on lakes that are natural echo stadia, so the sound just reverberates all across the lake. It's one of my all-time favorite sounds.
The last day of our visit, the Huz and I waited till we spotted the pair across the lake, grabbed our camera and Simba, and climbed into the canoe for one last paddle. We had gone to see them the day before, but they were wary of us. They would only let us get so close and then they would dive. They're prodigious divers; you never know where or how far they'll come up. They probably swam right below our canoe sometimes to pop up some distance away on the other side. No doubt grinning a loony grin the whole time.
Amazingly, on the day with the camera, they were far less skittish. In fact, the male did a lot of diving, but the female never did. She would just poke her head below the water when he dived; it seemed as if she were watching him, but there I go anthropomorphizing again.
Simba is very comfortable on the water, having spent a lot of time in a kayak with his previous owner. See my favorite picture of him in the canoe here.
It's Sunday night, so we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!*From Vermont Fish & Wildlife:
Vermont's common loon numbers reached a low of eight breeding pairs in 1983 and was designated a state endangered species in 1987. The Vermont Loon Recovery Project, a joint effort between Vermont Fish & Wildlife and VINS, monitored the state's loon numbers and began management efforts to increase nesting success.
Artificial nesting platforms, reducing human disturbance and coordinating with hydroelectric companies and other agencies to stabilize water levels during the nesting period greatly benefited Vermont's loons. From 1983 to 1989 Vermont's breeding loon population gradually increased at an average rate of one pair per year. The numbers held steady at 14 to 16 breeding pairs from 1989 to 1994, and then dramatically increased statewide during the next ten years to 43 pairs in 2004.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
And to top it all off, we were able to visit with Martha at a fabulous Turkish dinner the night we arrived, and then visited her at her office Monday morning before we left. My only regret is thatI forgot to contact fellow blogger Paz before we left for the city to figure out how to connect with her. Paz! I am so bummed about that!
I feel a bit like a flea on a hot griddle, never settling anywhere for too long. With my sister's visit, we were here a few days, at the lake a few days, down in NYC a few days, all great times. She and her family got on a plane this morning, and I'm here till tomorrow noon and then I'm on the road again to do some cooking for a crowd at The Fold. Then back for a few days, and off again for Labor Day weekend.
I don't mind telling you, I'm looking forward to some concentrated time at home in September. Anyway, just thought I'd zip off this little love note to you all and say "au revoir" for a short time. The end of summer draws near ... here's hoping you're all ready for whatever autumn is bringing your way!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Saturday, August 12, 2006
Can you help Simba express himself? He clearly has something very important on his mind ... what do you suppose he is muttering to himself? Or what will he say when he lifts his head and looks you right in the eye?OK, all you creative types, leave your quotes in the comment section; I'll summarize when time permits, no promises about when because I have company coming into town tonight and keeping me busy for a couple of weeks! Posting will no doubt slow down a bit during this time as well.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Problem is, the recipe has egg yolks and heavy cream and butter and chocolate. And sugar. And salt. Oh yeah, even my vanilla has alcohol in it. So now we see the second meaning of "killer" chocolate pudding!
As a woman of what they used to call "a certain age," I really can't afford indulgences like that very much. And even less so because I've just been offered and accepted a role in a play, as a woman half my age. Friends, I need to lose a little weight. Pronto. The play opens the end of September. No time like the present.
So I was tickled to find this recipe in Cooking Light. Made it, loved it. It's not killer, but it's quite good. But friends, take a look at the calorie total. If that's how fattening this is ... I can't even imagine how much more so the killer chocolate pudding is! So I guess this isn't quite the low-cal treat I was hoping for.
Shared a serving with The Huz, shipped the rest off to a family with kids. Very active kids. They can eat this without suffering blobules of fat starting to wobule around their tummies.
Oh, well, with peaches and cherries as good as they are right now, I can't really complain about not having yummy sweet treats available, now can I?
And there's always After The Play ... :o)
Velvety Fudge Pudding
From Cooking Light, July 2006 issue
1 cup 1% low-fat milk, divided
1 cup fat-free half-and-half
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 T cornstarch
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1½ tsp vanilla extract
chocolate shavings, optional
Combine ½ c milk, half-and-half, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes or just until mixture starts to simmer.
Remove from heat; add chocolate chips. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir until smooth. (NB: if you took it off the heat a little too quickly, the chocolate won't appear to completely blend with the milk. Don't worry, the next step will take care of that. I speak from experience.)
Place chocolate mixture over low heat and return to a simmer, stirring often.
Meanwhile, combine remaining milk, cornstarch, egg and egg white in a medium bowl or large measuring cup; stir with a whisk.
When chocolate mixture has begun to simmer, remix the egg mixture, as your cornstarch has probably drifted gracefully and silently to the bottom of the bowl. Then gradually add 1 cup of the hot mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour the entire egg mixture into the pan, whisking. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat 4 minutes or until thickened.
Stir in vanilla. Serve warm, or place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding (if you don't want it to form the chewy "skin" on top; my sister loves that part!) and chill.
Garnish with chocolate shavings before serving.
Serving size: ½ cup
Calories: 314 (30% from sat fat)
Carbs 49 grams
Fat 10.3 grams (sat 5.8 g, mono 3.5 g, poly 0.5 g)
This is also my entry in WOBAT (Weekend Obnoxious But Amazingly Tasty) #2 over at A Fridge Full of Food And Nothing to Eat. Glenna will be posting the roundup shortly after August 15th. Can't wait to see what other WOBAT foods are posted then!
Monday, August 07, 2006
Notice how his tail is up in the earlier pictures, and then it begins to droop as he obviously wonders if he's ever going to be let in. But the hope always shines through in those eyes.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
I've been wondering why there have been no comments on the blog for a while. Not few, but no. Then I realized I had turned on comment moderation without providing an email address so I could be notified when new comments had been received!
That deserves a big dope slap! Anyone want to volunteer?
Anyway, I have rectified the situation and, with apologies, your comments should now appear on the appropriate posts. Thank you so much that you didn't give up in the meantime!
Now I'm going to go read them all!
It's Sunday night, so we can expect to see lots of canine hijinks over at Weekend Dog Blogging at Sweetnick's place. Head on over for head shots, tummy shots, jump shots and what nots!
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Now, calling it a cheesecake is something of a misnomer, because cheesecakes are baked and this is not. But it's prepared in a springform pan and contains cream cheese, so we're going to cut some slack here. Parties are not for nitpicking, it spoils the spirit of the thing, n'est pas?
I took this as a surprise extra to a potluck for 9 the other night, and the enthusiastic response was balm to my soul. Every baguette slice and every endive leaf was dipped and consumed, and then we went on a cracker hunt. In the end, a tiny bit was left on the plate and we moved on to a delicious dinner of tandoori chicken with cucumber and mango relish, local sweet corn on the cob, spicy sesame noodles, my spinach salad with gorgonzola and sugared walnuts, and a gorgeous blueberry pie with fresh-picked blueberries, a la mode. It's safe to say a good time was had by all!
Hot Pepper Jelly Cheesecake
|1/4 c.||pine nuts (I substituted pistachios) |
|8 oz||cream cheese (neufchatel ok, but it makes a softer "cake" |
|1 c.||hot pepper jelly, preferably red (I used Catamount Specialties chipotle) |
|2 cloves||garlic, finely minced|
|1/4 c.||chopped fresh cilantro|
|5 oz||sharp Cheddar, grated (about 1 1/4 c); you can substitute Monterey Jack or even mozzarella |
|sliced bread, crackers, or Belgian endive cups|
- Soften cream cheese
- Mince garlic
- Preheat oven to 325 F
- Chop cilantro
- Grate the Cheddar
- Place the pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the 325 oven until golden, about 8 minutes. Set aside.
- Place the cream cheese, 1/2 cup of the jelly, garlic, cilantro and Cheddar in a food processor. Process until evenly blended.
- Line the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Spray the sides of the pan with nonstick spray.
- Add the cheese mixture. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
- Spread the remaining jelly evenly across the top surface and sprinkle the pine nuts on top. The recipe can be completed to this point up to 24 hours before serving.
- To serve, carefully remove the sides of the pan. Transfer the cheesecake to a serving plate. Serve chilled, with bread, crackers and/or endive cups.
Friday, August 04, 2006
We were invited to a potluck at friends' place last night, and as you know, I've been dying to get in my kitchen and make something. It seemed a perfect opportunity to try to replicate the salad.
In fact, it seemed a perfect opportunity to make a salad and an appetizer, so stay tuned for my Hot Pepper Jelly Cheesecake recipe tomorrow.
As often happens, when I went looking for the ingredients, I had to make some substitutions. I couldn't find any arugula at all, other than baby arugula, which doesn't have the peppery bite I wanted. The local season for arugula must be past, which makes sense, since it likes cool weather. We'll probably see some starting to appear in the markets again later in the summer.
I did find some beautiful baby spinach, loose. Don't you just love choosing your own loose greens rather than buying them pre-packaged? I used to love those packages, because they're sprayed with a gas that prolongs the freshness of the greens. But lately I've begun to notice the taste of the gas on the greens themselves, so I've started to avoid them when possible. It's not so noticeable on the spinach, but I am sure I smell/taste it on the precut romaine.
Anyway, the loose spinach was even more beautiful and more baby than usual, so I was delighted to just have spinach in the salad. I found some organic radicchio that I hoped would not be too bitter. Pecans were out of this world at $10.99 a pound, so I substituted walnuts. I asked for a very mild gorgonzola, because The Huz doesn't care for it and it's always a little risky if you don't know the people you're serving.
As it turns out, I needn't have worried. Every leaf was eaten, and afterwards as we all stood around the kitchen island everyone was reaching in the bowl for the last of the sugared nuts!
So, with no further ado, here's the recipe for the modified
Spinach, Arugula, and Radicchio Salad with Gorgonzola and Sugared PecansThe sugared nuts
2 ½ c walnut or pecans, halves or pieces
1 c sugar
½ c water
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp vanilla
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the nuts in a shallow baking pan or jelly roll pan and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. When you start to smell the nuts, remove them from the oven and set them aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients except vanilla. Bring to a boil over medium heat, and cook to the soft-ball stage (236 degrees F on a candy thermometer) without stirring. Remove from the heat. Add the vanilla. Pour mixture over nuts and stir gently until the nuts are well coated and the mixture loses its gloss. It will start to make some strings as you toss and stir. This takes a while. It's OK to set it down for a minute and come back to see if it's cooled off enough to stir some more, or you can keep stirring to speed the cooling off.
Turn out onto a greased platter or some parchment or waxed paper and allow to cool. Just before the coating is totally cool, sprinkle with some coarse sugar and toss.
When nuts are totally cool, chop coarsely.
arugula, in equal amount with the spinach
1 small head radicchio
mild gorgonzola, crumbled
Crumble the gorgonzola. If it's soft, try putting it in the freezer ahead of time and then shave it with a sharp knife.
Julienne the radicchio into ¼-inch shreds. Toss with a little vinaigrette. Set aside.
Toss the greens with the vinaigrette. Distribute on salad plates. Cover with a layer of radicchio, then a good layer of gorgonzola, and then lots of sugared nuts.
Serve and await the compliments with a modest smile.
This is also my entry in Weekend Herb Blogging, normally hosted by Kalyn but this week being ably hosted by Christa from Calendula and Concrete.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Cate over at Sweetnicks is hosting a You Show Me Yours, I'll Show You Mine event: where do you keep your tried-and-true recipes?
I've tried all kinds of ways to keep favorite recipes nearby, including using one of those photo albums with the lift-up plastic pages, an accordion file, and a file card box. What's ended up working for me is a three-ring binder with tabs. It's portable, the print is large, I can write on the pages, and if they get spilled on I can just print them again, because most of the recipes are printed from my recipe website. A few of them are ones that have made it to the tried-and-true stage but haven't been HTMLd yet.
The recipes that I've clipped or printed and haven't tried yet are in a humongous pile in a pretty stamped-tin "basket" given to me by my dear friend Jill. That pile is growing all the time, but especially in recent months as I've waited for my kitchen to become usable again. There's a pile of pent-up cooking demand that's going to be satisfied very soon!
Head on over to Sweetnicks to see how others store theirs, and add your entry if you can get the permalink to her soon.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
It is really hard to capture the smooth, shiny, sumptuous beautimousness of these new countertops. And the faucet, which is an absolute dream to use. And the deep, wide sink with its custom little grid thingie so everything you put in there stands up straight.
Please pardon me as I descend into total materialism. It will pass. I was nearly this excited when I got my refrigerator. Foodies, I'm sure you can relate!
The little smidgen of ceramic tile you can see there on the floor is a reminder of what our "before" looked like. That was on not only the countertops but also the backsplash. Lotsa 70's earth tones.
In about 35 years, what will they be saying about my Amazon Uba Tuba granite, "It's so nineties!"?
So, to recap:
- The countertops are in!
- The plumber has hooked up the plumbing!
- Now I just have to get the electrician back to hang the lights and put in dimmer switches and I'm done.
- Oh. And the contractor to do some silicone caulking.
- And, of course, we need to choose a wall color and paint it.
- That flooring has to be replaced pretty soon.
- And did I mention I was thinking of painting a thin black strip along the top of the cabinets?