Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Happy Birthday to ME!

Happy Birthday to Me!
Happy Birthday to Me!
Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm another day older (yippee!!!). I love my birthday. I get to do what I want. So what did we do? Well tonight we're going to our favorite restaurant for dinner with friends. But the big deal this year was a little party I threw myself. There will be another post about the main part of the evening, but in a nutshell--11 bottles of wine, four cheeses, two pasta courses, salad and an amazing dessert! I asked The Sommeliatrix if she would lead a group of us on a guided wine tasting! She was totally on board so we started planning. The main theme: Old World France vs. New World Wines. With a few odd ball grapes thrown in for fun. And it was a hit. I'll tell you more about this later...

But for the party. I had freshly made tomato sauce with tomatoes from the previous weekend's Market. The other pasta course was a specific request to pair with one of the wines--my rosemary cream sauce. Then I picked up some amazing cheeses from Whole Foods and made dessert.

I took this recipe--Pear and Vanilla Brown Butter Crisp and altered it to use what I had in season and locally. I had apples from the Market and frozen blueberries we picked this summer, so we had Apple-Blueberry Vanilla Brown Butter Crisp. Holy Rollers! It was amazing.

The filling. Apples, blues and brown sugar. A little flour to help it come together.

With the vanilla brown butter. That aroma is amazing. If for no other reason, you should open up a vanilla bean and drop it in hot butter. I think Paula Deen would call it redonkerous!

Covered with the crisp topping...Irish oatmeal, more brown sugar and toasted almond slivers.

After cooking, it must be served warm and with a scoop of home-made Spiced Ice Cream. The ice cream was flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and ground clove. Heavenly. IMHO.

Here's my table for the tasting. We all had two regular wine glasses, a sparkling wine glass, water, water pitchers, a dump pitcher. Cheese, crackers, Marcona Almonds, jelly (see below) and tasting sheets for notes.

Here are my cheeses. All were very good and we each had a favorite. Mine was the Saint Andre triple cream from France. Like Buttah!

Others (from upper left):
  • Vlaskaas from Holland (Gouda-like with crystalline nuggets of flavor, think little bits of salt)
  • Meadow Creek Appalachian Tomme from Southwest Virginia (mellow, creamy, grassy)
  • Parrano from Italy (pretend Gouda and Parmigiana Reggiano made a baby)
  • Saint Andre from France (triple cream, like buttah)

To pair with the cheese, I opened a jar of Cayuga White Wine Grape jelly that I picked up at the Market. This paired nicely with all the cheeses, but the combination of the jelly with the Saint Andre was transcendent. Eyes rolling into the back of your head good. Slap yo mama good! Highly recommend trying this!!! I have a phone number and email if you want to try to order some of the jelly...contact me offline and I will share.

A wonderful night...and I haven't even started talking about the wines! Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Blahs

It's been a busy week. We might make dinner tonight...but not sure. Friday night is another work event. Saturday will be very exciting, but don't expect a post on that super-secret until Sunday! Sorry for the delays.

I kind of feel like this today...just blah...maybe it's the weather system moving in...or the slow days leading to an exciting weekend?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sauce & Pizza...again

Another delicious weekend at the market! We took home a great haul. A lot of tomatoes & apples. Leeks, sausage, peppers, bread, plants, jam, honey...a lot.

Of course, with all those tomatoes, I had to make sauce. It took me about an hour to 90 minutes to prep all the tomatoes! Peeling, seeding, dicing. Overall, a very easy, fast process. But with the volume of tomatoes I had, it took some time. With the final, pre-cooked tomatoes, I had about 4 quarts of diced tomatoes (based on the size of my pot).

Prepped tomatoes.

The tomatoes cooking after 5 minutes. You can start to see the excess juice bubble up on the right hand side of the photo.

Remember to season with salt & pepper; to taste! These were some meaty, hefty tomatoes, so I think I added salt 4-6 times throughout the cooking process. Maybe 2 tablespoons total, but the only thing you can do is to taste and adjust as you go. There is probably 30 grinds of fresh black pepper...again, by taste. When cooking with a fresh, natural ingredient like tomatoes, an exact measurement is hard to give because each and every tomato is different.

An hour of simmering. I gave the sauce a good stir every 15 minutes.

90 minutes later! Sweet, tangy, fresh tomato sauce. Perfect for...

Neopolitan Margherita Pizza!!!

The dough was from this recipe and rolled out thin. The sauce had just been made. The basil was also from the market and the cheese...well, that's from the store.

10 minutes in the oven at 450 degrees. The crust was crisp with a little chew. The sauce was perfect, basil aromatic and the cheese gooey.

While at the market this weekend, I had a neighbor ask if I did anything special to get my pizza dough/crust to turn out so well. I said "no." But was reminded that I do have a pizza stone.

I got one many years ago and rarely used it. Then I read a tip one day, probably from Fine Cooking magazine, that you can leave the stone in your oven all the time. So I do. It helps to even out the temperature of the oven, helps to retain heat and in an instance like this where I'm making a thin, crisp crust, it's in there, getting searing hot and gets that dough working into a great crust. I don't make much bread...it's actually been a long time, but the stone really helps in bread breaking as well.

So I have to say that yes, I do do something special to get my pizza crusts turning out so nicely...a pizza stone that is in the oven all the time and a good hot oven.

"La La La I'm Helping*"

*And there's a good story here, read more at the bottom

But first some apple sauce

Apple Sauce

1 lb apples, cored, peeled and diced into 1 inch pieces
¼ cup water or cider
pinch of salt
½-1 cup sugar (optional, based on sweetness of apples)
Extra flavorings (optional) Vanilla, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Nutmeg

Place apples, sugar, salt and spices in a saucepan with the water or cider. Cover with a lid, bring to boil, and then let it simmer for about 10-20 minutes. The apples should be fairly soft. When the apples are soft, remove the pan from the heat, and whisk or smash the apples until they break up to your desired consistency. If the sauce is more watery, simmer for awhile longer to thicken further. That's it! Pour into clean jars, and freeze the ones you won't use right away since these don't contain any kind of additives for preservation.

PS: this recipe came from a variety of sources.

I was experimenting with the camera a bit, so here are some of the pretty apples.

*And now a good story.

We don't really know how the applesauce tastes. You see, Saturday morning I packed up a bunch of stuff and brought it out to the community market to do some demos--homemade peanut butter and a quick pizza dough. So I had flour, salt, sugar, oil, peanuts, etc... The market was fun. Chilly...I love fall! Then we packed up and headed home. Everything was put away.

Jump ahead a few hours to the making of the applesauce. Apples, lemon juice, pinch of salt, sugar, cinnamon, etc. Taste....Hmmm? Something isn't right. Seems salty. A little more sugar. Nope? That didn't fix it. A little more sugar? Nope. More cinnamon. A tiny bit of vanilla. Smelled great. Tasted a little off. Maybe it was too hot. When it was done it was poured into a bowl and into the fridge.

Dang that's salty. But I only added a pinch. Strange.

Sunday morning, J-lo's shuffling around the kitchen..."OMG I know what's wrong with the apple sauce."

He was helping put stuff away. And that was so wonderful and nice and allowed me to get to my nap sooner. But he didn't notice the difference of the between the bag of salt and the bag of sugar...they were both dumped into the sugar canister. So with each addition of sugar to the sauce, we also got another helping of salt. Perhaps as much 1/4 cup of salt! That's a lot of salt.

I do appreciate the help though! J-lo begged me not to tell this story. But it's a good story and can teach a lesson. If you need to add an ingredient back to the canister, make sure to taste and see that the right thing is going into the right canister!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blushing & Peeling

Stay tuned...we made apple sauce today!

Kid Favorites

Hey everyone...today is the Kids Market at the Cheverly Community Market. If you're local, you should be there!

I'll be demonstrating pizza dough and peanut butter--two kid favorites. I'll also be available to answer any other questions you might have. I'll give you an update later today.

For a full list of great vendors and what will be available, please visit the Market website.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Avoiding the Store!

These flowers are from the major event at work this past Friday. Very pretty. And they are local...not just the florist, but the flowers are grown right here in Maryland! Instead of shipping flowers in from around the globe we wanted to do something a little more environmentally friendly.

So Monday, I made the fritters. Tuesday I made a big pot of sauce and pasta. Last night, Wednesday, I flat out quit...we had frozen food...not so environmentally friendly, local, etc...tater tots and fish sticks. Too tired, but tasty. Actually I'm putting off going to the store for as long as I can, use what we have here at home, save a little cash. Tonight, I'll probably use the rest of Tuesday's sauce. Friday...I'll finally go shopping.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Shivver Me Fritters!

The other day I linked to a recipe for Corn Fritters from The Houndstooth Gourmet. Well, we're still swimming in corn from the market, so might has well give this recipe a shot.

Note 1: There is frying involved. Which means spitting oil. Be careful please. Have your fire extinguisher handy, just in case, and keep the kiddies away. You don't want to burn yourself or others. If you have an exhaust fan, use it to help clear the air of any oily aroma that may permeate your home.

Note 2: The recipe at Houndstooth called for blitzing your initial ingredients in the food processor. I wasn't in the mood to clean that thing up, so I just finely chopped the peppers and onions. Worked great!

Get your peppers finally chopped. These were leftover from last week. Red, Green and Yellow.

Saute in a little oil with a wee bit of salt & pepper.

Add fresh corn from two cobs with some butter and spices...cumin, coriander, nutmeg. I would consider increasing the amounts of some of the spices and perhaps adding something a little hotter, perhaps some cayenne pepper or some other powdered chili. Later you will mix with flour, egg and baking powder.

Form and fry in oil. This is the messy part. When water hits hot oil is spits. All this fresh veg is full of moisture and there was some violent spitting.

With the recipe provide, I got 6 fritters. I was able to eat two. I would considering cutting the size of the fritters in half and serving these as an appetizer for a party. I served with some sour cream. Houndstooth recommends flavoring the sour cream with cumin or coriander and also having some basil oil. I think the basil oil would have been nice, or a cilantro-lime sour cream.

Overall, pretty good. Easy to make, but a bit messy with the oil. The fritter batter was a touch dry so I might try adding a little cream or milk in the future just to help it hold together just a little better.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


OK...so you don't always have time for completely from scratch meals. Sometimes you are just hungry, busy and need to get moving on to the next task. Sometimes you just want to relive your Midwest upbringing with a "Hot Dish."

Tater Tot Casserole!

Ground beef, chopped onion, frozen corn, frozen green beans. Seasoned with salt & pepper.

Mix all of the above together with a can of "Cream of..." soup and cover with Tater Tots. Bake in the oven for about 20-30 minutes. Cover with shredded cheese if you like.


When I was a kid, we used to have this all the time. One of these days, I might try to re-do the casserole without the processed foods. Maybe create my own tots somehow. I can do the "Cream of..." very easily. I mean really...this is Shepherd's Pie by way of the 1960/70's, simplified for the busy homemaker.

Friday, September 12, 2008

One or the Other

I saw this over meme at the Accidental Hedonist and thought I'd post my responses here. What are your responses.

**Today is a major work event day for me and I will be going into hiding this weekend to relax and recoup some energy. I'll be back next week.

Coke or Pepsi? I was brought up on Pepsi, from my mother, but I prefer Coke...a problem when you work on a Pepsi-Campus.

Thick crust or thin for your Pizza? I don't really get this, but I like pizza, thin crust, thick crust, pie, pan, deep dish...

Rare or Well Done for you steak? Medium Rare please. I like some redness and some juiciness.

Hot Dogs or Hamburgers? Cheeseburger please.

Ketchup or Mustard on your hot dog? Mustard was not around my house growing up, so it was strictly ketchup. I have had mustard on the full on Ben's Chili Half-Smoke, but it was too much and all I could taste.

Cake or Pie? Both. Why should I have to choose between my children. But if I really had to chose...I'd go cake. It's hard to make a Great Cake.

Brownies with a fine, glossy crust, or soft cake brownies? Dense, chewy, fudging brownies with a light, flakey crust!

Nuts in the brownies? Hell No. They do not belong.

Vanilla or Chocolate ice cream? Vanilla. Chocolate can be good if its the right type of chocolate. Bad, bitter chocolate isn't satisfying to me. That said, bad vanilla is kind of nasty as well.

Blue cheese or ranch dressing with your Buffalo wings? I don't do Blue...and when I'm having Buffalo Wing, I usually don't dip anyway.

Soup or Salad? Hard to decide. Depends on the soup. Sometimes soup is all I want. Sometimes I can't stand it.

Butter on your Popcorn? Yes please.

Pork or Beef barbecue? Pork. I haven't had great Beef BBQ in ages.

Coffee or tea? Tea is only good when I have sore throat. Otherwise it's coffee daily please.

Beer from a can or a bottle? I'm not 18...bottle please...draft is preferred.

Oreos or Hydrox? Oreos are what I had as a kid. But I'd rather have a Chips Ahoy.

Little Debbie or Hostess? I think Little Debbie. I can remember and name more variety of cakes/bars.

Bacon or Sausage? Both. Seriously. I use both equally in my cooking.

Eggs Scrambled or Fried? Fried egg, runny yolk, toast for sopping up the yolk.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Small Ears

With some pasta dough, I made a batch of orecchiette (click link for instructions &/or a different dough recipe).

I tossed my "small ears" with some homemade tomato sauce.

Top with a light dusting of fresh Parmigiana Reggiano. Served with a salad, you have a complete and filling meal.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Fresh Tomato Sauce

With a little time and a little love, you too can have the most glorious, simple, fresh, bright, delicious tomato sauce ever!

What do we have here:

6 large tomatoes*, softball size!
Fresh basil

What more do you want? What more do you need?

Step 1: Peel the tomatoes. Seed them and cut them into chunks.
Step 2: Place in a large pot and season liberally with salt and pepper.
Step 3: Over medium/low heat, simmer for 90 minutes, stirring regularly.
Step 4: OPTIONAL: Use a potato masher and schmush the tomatoes into smaller chunks.
Step 5: When the tomatoes have cooked down to the consistency you'd like, add the basil. This made just about 2 cups of finished sauce.

Done. You just need the time and the tomatoes.

*In this case, we happened to have heirloom tomatoes from the community market. J-lo went on Saturday and brought home a dozen. 1/2 of them are still a little too green, so I'm hoping to repeat this process next weekend. But they were so delicious. Sweet with a bright acidic note on the backend.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Longwood Gardens

Hola. J-lo and I took the train up to see The Duchess in Philly last Saturday morning, spent the night, brunched and came home on Sunday. What a fun little trip. We went to Longwood Gardens, and they are really worth the trip. And bring a camera. Make sure to visit the fountain shows, especially the one with music. The Idea Garden and the Conservatory! I took well over 200 photos. Here is a small sampling...

(all photos can be clicked to embiggen.)

Shapes. Shapes. Shapes...I felt like I was in Super Mario Land.

This is the bigger fountain show, but not the show with music. The music show is smaller, but still really a lot of fun! A Sousa March is always fun.

A Cotton Flower!

Mmmm, beer! HOPS.

Another Cotton Flower....so pretty!

This isn't a cotton flower...it's an okra flower...

Inside the Conservatory.



J-lo will be choreographing a dance in this space...

There is about 3-6 inches of water on the floor. Could be very interesting!!!

The water lilies...another site not to miss.

More caladium. This is like the one I have at home!

Random. There was a room tucked in the back filled with colored glass pumpkins. These were the only ones I saw in the gardens.

A cactus named for me!

This is my backyard...someday.

A Hobbit's House.