Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Local Produce News

We renewed our membership to the Fertile Crescent CSA. Unfortunately, the farm from which our providers procured eggs is closing for a year and we will not receive eggs on a regular basis. Fertile Crescent will offer some eggs on request.

I discovered the Edible Garden winter season co-op (late - it began in November) and am going to begin buying produce from local farms probably after the new year begins. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Autumn Highlights

Even though we're a few weeks from December 21st, the days after Thanksgiving always give way to feelings of winter holidays. It's the only time of year that flies by as quic
kly as wedding season. I wanted to mention a few of the delicious items I've eaten and made in the past few months:

  • A roast chicken using the same recipe as last time - it sits in the fridge overnight with salt and pepper on the skin and rosemary and/or thyme tucked under the skin.
  • We had a few meals out of it, including the leftover dark meat mixed with sauteed zucchini and garlic as a pizza topping.
  • I made an apple pie from the 3+ pounds of apples Davy and I picked at Carter Mountain Orchard. It seems that my apple pie making occurs yearly, and I use the same recipe every fall (deep dish, crumb topping).
  • For months I'd been craving a meatball sub, and I finally had the perfect opportunity to fulfill it at 8 1/2 a month ago. It was hearty, topped with legitimately Italian tomato sauce and an appropriate amount of melted cheese.
  • I ran a half marathon in mid-November and indulged in several treats for the next few days, including a cinnamon ice cream cone from Bev's, Zeus Gallery's melting chocolate cake, and a cupcake from Captain Buzzy's Beanery. I don't know what it is about the cupcakes there that make them so alluring, but this one was yellow cake with mini chocolate chips and a healthy topping of cold chocolate frosting. I'm still thinking about it.
  • Another dessert that I couldn't get out of my head was the Chocolate Cinnamon Cream Pie from the November issue of Gourmet. Luckily my family let me make it for Thanksgiving (a picture of the spread is above, the pie is below) and it won't haunt me again for a few months at least.
Hopefully I'll post again before another season has past. Happy Holidays!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 20 and beyond

This post is long overdue, but I'm glad that I've had a little time to reflect on the CSA and try to finish all of the produce from the final weeks. There's still a cute butternut squash and a few delicious sweet potatoes in my kitchen that I'm holding onto until I'm inspired by a recipe (or until Davy's not opposed to sweet orange food anymore).

Some of the meals we had with the remaining vegetables were: pasta with turkey sausage, broccoli rabe, roasted tomatoes, and pesto; grilled mahi mahi, peppers and onions (on the new grill pan!), rice and salsa; tacos with the leftover mahi and peppers; baked sweet potatoes with arugula and roasted chicken from Ellwood Thompson's; Tuscan bean and barley soup; arugula sauteed with roasted tomatoes and white beans eaten with brown rice and a poached egg; baked winter squash filled with cheesy orzo, boiled kale with garlic, onion and bacon.

I guess it's no secret that I'm happy I decided to participate in a CSA. Learning about different vegetables and experimenting with different preparations has certainly had an impact on my cooking and the way I think about buying produce. As disappointed as I was that our share was ending, I'm inspired to continue using ingredients I wouldn't have before and checking out what's locally grown at Ellwood Thompson's.

Whole Foods came to Richmond a few months ago, and I avoided it for several weeks until I found an online coupon for $5 off a $25 or more bill at the store. It was the perfect excuse to walk up and down every aisle and buy things I "needed" for upcoming meals - fresh pasta, a whole chicken, and specialty canned soup to name a few. For a venue that's not gigantic, Whole Foods has a wide variety of produce, prepared foods, and pretty much everything else. It's nice to know that the option is there if I want it, and Ellwood Thompson's is expanding to compete with the chain. Hopefully the bigger version of the natural grocery store will tide me over - at least until the next CSA.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Last One

Despite the fact that this is the twentieth week of our CSA, and that someone stole one of the farm eggs out of my refrigerator, I'm still excited about this week's share:

- sweet peppers

- mixed spicy greens

- broccoli rabe

- winter squash

- assorted cherry and slicing tomatoes

- sweet potatoes

- honey from the farm!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 19

Yesterday I harvested around fifty little Thai peppers from the plant on our front porch. There are several more that haven't turned red yet, and it's very comforting to know that we'll have access to spicy peppers for the next several months. Squash has been an important part of my meals for the past few weeks, and I like pairing it with hot peppers or sauce to complement its sweetness.

I got two more meals out of the butternut squash and green bean pasta - once for dinner on Tuesday paired with sauteed arugula, and again for dinner Saturday night mixed with some restaurant leftovers.

Thursday was my birthday, and I was fortunate enough to have several birthday meals and celebrations. Davy and I had a fantastic dinner at Zeus Gallery Cafe, and I incorporated the other half of my meal into the squash and green bean pasta for dinner on Saturday night. My meal at Zeus Gallery was a delectable combination of orecchiette pasta, broccoletti, escarole, chicken, and fava beans.

Davy prepared the mustard greens with garlic and ginger on Wednesday night. They accompanied white rice and a delicious pork tenderloin rubbed with lemon zest and salt. Both the pork and greens had strong flavors, but they worked well together, especially with the plain rice.

I took the rest of the butternut squash in a different direction and made a smooth soup with it. The recipe also included potatoes, which I had from the share, and leeks. It was fairly simple to make with my new immersion blender. We toasted some slices of bread (baguette from Can Can) with the last of the Zamorano cheese grated on top, and served the soup with the toast at the bottom of the bowl on Sunday evening. In addition, we had arugula from Victory Farms (sold at Ellwood Thompson's) tossed with toasted pine nuts, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was a very comforting fall meal and was just as satisfying Monday night, with cheddar and Parmesan on the toast instead of Zamorano.

Tuesday afternoon I had one of the sweet peppers sliced as a snack. I'm sad to say that the green tomatoes have started ripening and turning red, so they're no longer going to qualify for fried green tomatoes. Hopefully we'll get a couple more with the next round of produce, and I should have more time to attempt frying them next week.

No apples this week...

...but we do have green tomatoes. I can't remember ever making fried green tomatoes before, and I only remember trying them once. I might have to experiment this week. We also got:

- eggs

- regular slicing tomatoes

- sweet peppers

- arugula

- sweet potatoes

- a butternut squash

- mustard greens

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 18

It's sinking in more and more that the CSA is ending soon, and I'm doing my best to savor the last few weeks.

On Tuesday night we had a simple meal of sherry cherry tomatoes and bread, the mixed greens sauteed with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, and Zamorano cheese from River City Cellars. The cheese was deliciously tangy, and the store described it as similar to Manchego with hints of cheddar, which I found to be accurate. It's amazing what you can put together with not many ingredients around.

Wednesday (and Thursday and Friday) I enjoyed one of the crisp apples in the morning and leftover tomato, greens, and white bean soup from last week. In the afternoon I ate a sliced sweet peppers with chickpea dip, also from last week.

We went back to the old frittata standby Thursday evening for lack of other ideas. I also didn't want to waste the farm eggs, and they were as tasty as ever with arugula, tomatoes and two cheeses - grated Zamorano and mozzarella.

Lentil soup from the freezer and more chickpea dip with peppers made for a nice makeshift dinner on Friday.

After an overnight camping trip from Saturday to Sunday, Davy and I pretended we were still functioning in the great outdoors for dinner. We made hot dogs and zucchini on the grill. I roasted the last of the week's tomatoes, and combined them with a little Romaine lettuce and shaved Zamorano for a warm fall salad.

I finally put some of the butternut squash to good use with pasta with green beans (pictured above). Ditalini noodles, or little tubes, were a good vehicle for the crunchy green beans, sweet roasted squash, and savory Parmesan cheese. The dish had a subtle kick from half of one of the hot peppers from a few weeks ago.

There are about five cups of diced squash set aside for a soup recipe I've been meaning to try for about a year. We'll see if I get around to it next week...

Sweet Potatoes!

This week's produce includes:

- sweet potatoes

- apples

- arugula

- mixed greens (two types of kale and broccoletti)

- green beans

- tomatoes

- sweet peppers

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 17

While I was looking back over the food Davy and I ate this week, I realized that making use of our produce has gotten to be less of a hassle. We ate a few meals out (Mom's Siam, Kitchen 64, Popeye's, and Comfort) and still managed to eat a lot of the week's share. The only items remaining are some cherry tomatoes, which took awhile to ripen, and the beautiful butternut squash, which can keep for a month or longer.

The apples were just as good this week as last week. I ate them for my morning snack on Wednesday and Thursday. It's hard for me to get sick of apples, but eventually I might try an apple crisp or something with them.

On Wednesday night I roasted eggplants and tomatoes and mixed them into brown rice with a poached egg. It was a simple and hearty meal, and satisfying because it seemed so healthy.

Sometimes I crave something in particular or want to try a recipe, but whatever the food is doesn't necessarily fit into the meat-starch-vegetable dinner format. Thursday night, Davy and I knew that we wanted some sort of dip and shrimp but we didn't know exactly how to prepare them. We ended up making a chickpea dip and shrimp fra diavolo. We ate the dip with the delicious, sweet peppers from our share, cucumber sticks, and pita chips. The shrimp fra diavolo, pictured below, was easy to make and was especially tasty with tomatoes from the farm.

Friday started out well, with an apple for my morning snack, leftover shrimp and chickpea dip for lunch. After that, takeout and eating at Kitchen 64 won out over the soup I made Friday evening. Soup gets better with time anyway, so I didn't feel too bad waiting until Saturday to have the tomato, white beans, and greens soup for dinner. The greens - two types of kale and broccoletti - were the right amount of spicy to cut through the creamy beans and tangy tomato.

Sunday's brunch mimicked the poached egg and brown rice combination from earlier in the week, but I mixed leftover red wine shallot sauce with it instead of eggplant and tomato. The half cantaloupe I ate with the meal was sweeter and more interesting than last week's melon.

The same can be said for the white watermelon we got, which I ate Monday and Tuesday mornings before lunch. We had another round of soup Monday night with a nice baguette from Can Can.

I'm going to try to find a good use for my ripe cherry tomatoes in the next couple days, with thoughts of butternut squash still swirling around in my head.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


That's right...I came home to a lovely, large butternut squash! We also got the following today:

- eggs

- garlic

- more apples

- cherry tomatoes and a few larger tomatoes

- a couple sweet peppers

- a small eggplant

- white watermelon

- cantaloupe

- a large bunch of mixed greens

Happy Autumn!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 16

One of the big differences this week was the arrival of fruit in our share. Apples, watermelon, and cantaloupe marked the shift in seasons and were a welcome change of pace. The white watermelon was sweet and more flavorful than the last one we got. Unfortunately the cantaloupe was very small, and only a few bites of its flesh were edible. The ones I did get were fresh and delicious, but it's the apples that really made my week.

Virginia continually lets me down with the quality of its apples (compared to Pennsylvania), but the two I ate from the farm were wonderful. I tasted some variation in the flavors - one was more tart - but both had smooth skins and a crisp texture. I tried the fruit by itself and then with peanut butter for my afternoon snack on Wednesday and Thursday.

I had to take advantage of the spinach on Tuesday since it's one of my favorite items and doesn't keep as well as some of the other vegetables. We sauteed it with garlic and homegrown Thai peppers, and ate it with grilled mahi mahi and rice.

For lunch on Wednesday, I had the leftover fish in a salad with tomatoes and sunflower seeds. We grilled again that night: chicken, peppers and onions. The other half of the rice served as our starch, and we nibbled on the greens after they had been boiled for a few minutes, sauteed with garlic and olive oil, and sprinkled with lemon juice.

Salad was a common feature in my meals last week. I utilized the leftover chicken in a salad with tomatoes and sunflower seeds once again on Thursday at lunchtime. Before I went to dinner at 3 Monkeys, I scarfed down the rest of the greens from the night before.

After the past week, the only produce remaining is a handful of cherry tomatoes. I've been reading a lot about roasting tomatoes, so I might try that in the next few days. Otherwise, I'm ready for more apples!

It's definitely fall, and I'm excited because...

...we got apples in our share this week! There are two varieties, one more tart than the other, and both have mixed red and green skin. We also got:

- the last of the potatoes

- the last of the melons (a white watermelon and small cantaloupe)

- a few sweet peppers

- cherry tomatoes

- Malabar spinach

- mixed greens: two types of kale and broccoli rabe

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 15

As fall creeps in, I'm starting to worry that the abundance of produce from the CSA will give way to a much lower vegetable intake when it's over. I'm really going to have to make an effort to find fresh vegetables, which will probably mean more trips to Ellwood Thompson's. Luckily there are still a few weeks left to savor the offerings from the farm, and I managed to do pretty well this week.

On Tuesday I ate a poached egg over brown rice, and mixed in spinach sauteed with garlic, tomato, and basil. The nutty, sweet, and earthy flavors came together with the richness of the egg to make a hearty and simple meal.

I made a cucumber and tomato salad to enjoy Wednesday afternoon, and that night Davy and I grilled burgers, peppers and onions. Since we had eggplant around, I made another attempt at eggplant fries. They were tasty but still not crispy enough to really be a substitute for french fries.

Cucumber and tomato salad made its second appearance Thursday afternoon, as did the grilled peppers and onions for dinner. Some of them were spicy, so they were a great addition to our chicken tacos.

Saturday morning I ate a fried egg with some of the brown rice from Tuesday night. Davy and I ate delicious leftovers from Tarrant's (pizza and a chicken caesar wrap) with steamed green beans on Saturday evening.

After we ran a 5k race on Sunday morning, we made bagel sandwiches with eggs and cheese. I made use of the eggplant fries that had been sitting in the fridge from earlier in the week by mixing them into a baked pasta dish with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. The homemade pesto I made that afternoon with basil from the share emphasized all of the other Italian flavors in the pasta. For nutritional purposes, we also had a salad with romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and sunflower seeds. The baked pasta and salad hit the spot Sunday night, as well as Monday and Tuesday for lunch.

Since we experienced both rain and heat this past week, I'm wondering how our produce package will be affected by the weather. Check back soon to find out!

Return of the Eggplant

This week's share:

- eggs

- three eggplants

- garlic

- peppers in various colors, shapes, and degrees of heat

- spinach

- slicing tomatoes

- red and yellow cherry tomatoes

- green beans

- a generous bunch of basil

- cucumber

Thursday, September 04, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 14

It was nice to have some variety with last week's share. I experimented with broccoli rabe for the first time on Wednesday night and it turned out pretty well (although it's no Edo's or Mamma Zu broccoletti). We boiled the greens for a few minutes until they were tender, and then sauteed them with a little butter and garlic. The side dish went well with some gifted leftovers from Maggiano's - veal parmesan and penne with sausage.

Almost everything we've received lately has been crisp and flavorful. On both Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, I had sliced cucumbers and peppers with hummus. One of the eggs was delicious in Pad Thai for dinner on Thursday, and steamed green beans balanced the rich flavors of the main dish.

We postponed grilling on Friday because of the rain, but homemade macaroni and cheese (which used another egg) really hit the spot. Sauteed spinach, tomatoes and garlic made a delicious and healthy accompaniment.

The culinary highlight of the week was probably
the one egg frittata (pictured above) Davy made for me with the leftover spinach and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese. Malabar spinach, which is what has been in our share, is darker and a little heartier than the baby spinach I'm used to in the grocery store. It's perfect for sauteeing because it's not as watery and doesn't wilt down as much.

I probably should have fried the okra that we got, because I'm not very familiar with it and have only eaten it a few times, but I wanted to be adventurous. I sauteed it with zucchini, squash, and onion for dinner on Sunday. While seasoning the vegetables with cumin helped their taste, the okra definitely made everything a little slimy.

On Monday afternoon I toughed it out and ate the leftover okra and squash, and was rewarded with a wonderful end of summer meal: grilled ribs, peppers and onions, and roasted potatoes. The grilled peppers and onions made a much better afternoon snack than the okra. Unfortunately we didn't get any okra for the upcoming week, but I'm hoping that wasn't the last of it; I'm having too much fun conquering new vegetables.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Broccoli Rabe

We've had a lot of rain lately, so the potatoes and tomatoes didn't do as well this week. However, greens like rain, and we got both broccoli rabe and spinach! We also received:

- okra 

- assorted tomatoes

- green beans

- several sweet peppers

- Asian melons

- yellow squash

- an eight ball zucchini

- cucumber

- white watermelon

Thursday, August 28, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 13

Believe it or not, I'm finally done with cucumber and tomato salad after this week. Somehow I just hit my limit, and while it was an appropriate side dish for the homemade ceviche we had for dinner on Wednesday night, I am not going to make it again until next summer.

The cucumber and tomato salad still tasted good Thursday when I had it as an afternoon snack, but finishing it was a huge relief. That night we grilled strip steaks from Belmont Butchery, which were fantastic as usual, and decent corn on the cob. I was planning on putting the fresh shitakes I bought at the market in a lasagna, but I realized that mushrooms that impressive looking should be given more of a chance. Tossed in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, the shitakes were mellow and earthy off the grill. They were delicious with grilled, sliced peppers and onions.

Unlike my Thursday snack, I couldn't wait for Friday afternoon to eat the leftover grilled vegetables. They were just as crispy and flavorful the second day.

The small eggplants, zucchini and squash were roasted with olive oil and sliced to constitute one of the layers in my Friday night lasagna. Ricotta, pesto, and a thick turkey sausage tomato sauce were some of the other components, and we have eaten it two or three times since Friday, with more meals remaining.

Surprisingly, the only eggs we've used in the past week were for brunch on Saturday, and there are four left. Breakfast for dinner may be a welcome change of pace from lasagna.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Free Garlic

Since we got mushrooms once in our share, I've been dreaming about how delicious they were. Today when I went to the market I gave in and decided to buy some. I was also planning on buying some garlic, but Adam (our friendly farmer) said he could just give them to me and dumped a bunch of small heads in the bag! We also got:

- eggs

- basil

- sweet peppers

- cherry tomatoes

- slicing tomatoes

- cucumber (guess what I'm making this week)

- potatoes

- zucchini

- yellow squash

- the last of this year's eggplant

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 12

I'm not the type of cook who has every available ingredient in my kitchen at the front of my mind. If I put something away and out of sight, I'll often forget about it for extended periods of time.

Early in the week I pulled some forgotten chimichurri sauce out of the freezer to roll with flank steak. A few spoonfuls of Trader Joe's olive bruschetta mix came out of cabinet hibernation to spice up le
ftover pasta, and a small cube of feta flavored some green beans and tomatoes (pictured). It could be that I'm subconsciously trying to make the same food taste a little different, or maybe I'm getting smarter. Either way, some exciting meals happened this week.

On Tuesday we had leftover grilled flank steak, corn from the Byrd Market, and the steamed green beans I mentioned above with feta, cherry tomatoes, lemon juice, and herbed olive oil. They were also delicious as an afternoon snack on Wednesday.

Lunch that day was pasta with tomato sauce and sauteed spinach, and for dinner Davy and I grilled chicken and thin slices of eggplant. I tossed the eggplant with pesto and olive oil, which made it very appealing compared to other preparations I've tried. Sauteed zucchini and squash, as well as corn on the cob, completed the meal.

On Thursday I was in transit to Pennsylvania, but when I got there I made a quick dish out of a small eggplant, sweet peppers, and tomatoes. They were cooked with garlic, olive oil, white wine, pesto, and fresh basil, and eaten over pasta. I would eat eggplant that way again too.

The watermelon was white on the inside and had less flavor than the past few we've gotten. It was still juicy and crunchy, and tasted great on Friday morning.

After a long weekend of wedding food and quick snacks, I heated up the leftover zucchini and squash with pasta for dinner on Monday. The olive mixture was a wonderful addition to the dish without overwhelming the other flavors. I'm looking forward to eating the other half of the pasta for lunch, and trying some different dishes next week!

Help the earth!

I read somewhere that you can use the water from boiling pasta or potatoes to water your plants. It conserves resources and the plants seem to love it. The hard part is remembering to save it, but I'm getting better at that. I've also used leftover water from making corn on the cob, and that works just as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I was just starting to miss leafy greens...

When we got spinach in our CSA share! We also got:

- small pototoes

- eggplants

- yellow squash

- zucchini

- cherry tomatoes

- slicing tomatoes

- green beans

- sweet peppers

- two watermelons

Thursday, August 14, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 11

Even though Davy and I came back to Richmond on Wednesday and didn't start in on our share until Thursday, we still managed to eat everything before our next round of produce.

The watermelon turned out to be juicy and sweet, and it was a great mid-morning snack on the first day back to work. Cucumber and tomato salad found its way into the lineup once again as a snack on Thursday afternoon. For dinner that night, we made a salad with potatoes from a few weeks ago, green beans, and leftover chicken from a delicious meal at Edo's Squid. I got a bag of arugula from Ellwood Thompson's (grown locally) to go with the other ingredients, and it was wonderfully spicy and fresh.

The salad was refreshing the next day for lunch with additional arugula and more of the lemon, parsley and mustard dressing we mixed with it the night before.

My parents came for a quick visit over the weekend, so I used two of our precious farm eggs to make banana and banana chocolate chip bread. Davy and I used two more for breakfast - on a bagel sandwich for him and scrambled with leftover arugula for me.

We were eating in preparation for the crab feast in Mechanicsville, which was just as amazing as last year's event. By the evening, after indulging in Bev's and beers from Commercial Taphouse, everyone collapsed on the couch to watch the Olympics. Luckily my trusty cucumber and tomato salad was around for us to dip pita chips in as a snack.

Sunday's brunch was similar to Saturday's, but my egg was fried and eaten on top of toast with sauteed arugula. For dinner, Davy and I grilled zucchini, squash and sweet peppers, then tossed them in pesto thinned with olive oil. I also attempted to make eggplant fries, which were decent but should have been crispier. Bread and cheese rounded out our meal.

For lunch on Monday we had pasta with fresh tomatoes and pesto, plus the leftover grilled vegetables. This weekend I will be out of town again, so stay tuned to hear how I try to eat and preserve everything in just two days.

I may have missed the watermelon festival...

...but we did get a watermelon the size of a basketball in our produce package this week! We also got some more of the standards, which are still very welcome:

- eggs

- assorted sweet peppers

- yellow and red cherry tomatoes

- large red slicing tomatoes

- zucchini

- cucumbers

- yellow squash

- eggplant

Friday, August 08, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 10

It's hard to believe the first half of the share is done! It's also hard to believe that there are ten more weeks of eggs and vegetables coming my way. There's a lot to look forward to, including the green beans I blanched and froze for cooler weather, and the four tomatoes I skinned and seeded to save for sauce.

On Tuesday a leftover Mary Angela's pizza had cucumber and tomato salad to keep it company. Wednesday was another quick meal for kickball night: zucchini and squash sauteed with garlic, then combined with pasta and a little crumbled feta that melted nicely into the warm pasta and vegetables.

I ate more cucumber and tomato salad on Thursday (I'm still not sick of it), and for dinner we grilled burgers and peppers and onions. My burger was garnished with some of the peppers and onions, salsa, and a poached egg.

Friday, the day before we went out of town, I had the remaining pasta with zucchini for lunch, and the last of the cucumber and tomato salad. Somehow we managed to finish almost everything in three days (besides the beets, which I handed over to Shannon). Now I just have to find a good use for my tomatoes.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mixing It Up

This week's share was more about quantity than variety, and I'm ok with not getting an eggplant.

- sweet peppers

- slicing and cherry tomatoes (of different colors and sizes)

- green beans, which I really am going to freeze this week

- zucchini

- yellow squash

- three different kinds of cucumbers

- beets!

Friday, August 01, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 9

I have already frozen my green beans from this week's share, but a week ago I was still finishing Week 8's beans. They were delicious for dinner on Tuesday - steamed and tossed with a little balsamic vinegar and herb olive oil. As a main dish, I ate a bowl of homemade lentil soup with a poached egg on top (the picture is below).

Wednesday was a kickball night and we ate bar food at Home Team Grill. I did manage to fit in a cucumber and tomato salad in the afternoon, just to keep my routine going.

The first of three entertaining nights was Thursday, and I made a quick spaghetti carbonara with zucchini. I like Rachael Ray's carbonara recipe, but I wanted to fit some vegetables into the meal. Jamie Oliver has a recipe for carbonara with zucchini, so I used his idea and incorporated summer squash into the process.

Eggplant can be hard to get rid of in my apartment as it's not my or Davy's favorite vegetable, so I decided to make baba ghanoush for an appetizer on Friday night (another night hosting guests). The eggplant we had was tiny, and the recipe called for a large one, but I added a can of chickpeas to make up for it. Served with cucumbers and pita chips, the end result was more like hummus than baba ghanoush, but it had a harmonious blend of flavors. Our main course was tomato and green bean risotto, and the freshness of the ingredients made a huge difference in taste.

The leftover risotto went well with a poached egg on top for lunch on Sunday. We had enough of the eggplant hummus to serve to our friends on Sunday night with cucumber and sweet pepper slices. Shannon brought some wonderful corn from the Goochland farmers market, and I made lime and peanut cole slaw that turned out to be spicier than everyone expected. It was still an interesting variation on cole slaw, a fitting side dish for grilled ribs, and yummy snack for the next few days.

Having a whole week in Richmond and being able to spend so much time with friends really made me appreciate our weekly produce in a new way. It was fun thinking of dishes so that other people could see the value of the share, although by Monday Davy and I were ready for pizza from Mary Angela's. Can you blame us?

Lunch at The Black Sheep

Obtaining a liquor license is one way for a new restaurant to draw attention, but The Black Sheep would have probably grown popular without alcohol.

My second experience at the funky little restaurant was just as satisfying as the first. Breakfast (served until two p.m.) was tempting, but I opted for one of the "battleship" subs. The cold filling of the "USS Cumberland" appealed to me on a hot summer afternoon: "grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper, white bean spread, black olives, and an herb cucumber tomato salad; loaded into french baguette."

Nothing about that description is an exaggeration. I received a serrated knife to cut the sandwich, which was literally an entire baguette with the ends cut off and vegetables overflowing from the center. Salty capers and olives complemented the sweet peppers and tomatoes, and crunchy cucumbers, while the bread was sturdy and chewy but not hard.

My friend Lyndsey's "Miss E" sandwich, composed of avocado, tomato, bacon, cheddar cheese, red onion, and horseradish,
was unexpectedly interesting and flavorful.

We shared a creme de menthe brownie after our meal, and it was an ideal ending. A minty green layer provided a sufficient amount of flavor against the chocolate, and the refrigerated display case made the frosting on the top slightly challenging to get our spoons through. While I wouldn't want my brownie to be cold under ice cream, its seemed to be an appropriate temperature for a summer lunch.

Make Your Own Popcorn!

It's cheaper and healthier. I am a huge fan of Orville Redenbacher's Natural Buttery Salt & Cracked Pepper microwave popcorn, but the other night I made a perfect batch of popcorn on the stove. I put a tablespoon of vegetable oil and about a quarter of a cup of frozen kernels in a small pot over medium high heat. It took one to two minutes for the popping to start, and I kept shaking until it slowed down. The end result was fresher than any microwave popcorn, though I couldn't resist adding my own salt and pepper.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Bountiful Week

- 6 large brown eggs

- assorted sizes and colors of tomatoes

- small white potatoes

- an eggplant

- zucchini

- yellow squash

- green beans

- four sweet peppers

- three different kinds of cucumbers

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 8

Most of the weeks that we've gotten our CSA package have conformed to two patterns, one in which we are in town through the weekend. The other involves a weekend trip of some sort, usually beginning on Thursday or Friday, and cutting out several days of potential produce consumption.

Week 8 fell into the second category, so I tried to get as much eaten before we left on Friday morning. On Tuesday we had grilled squash and zucchini, marinated venison steaks, and tomato and mozzarella salad with basil
and olive oil.

I made the standard cucumber and tomato salad with balsamic vinegar and basil as a snack for Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. The tomatoes are wonderful right now, and the farm does a nice job giving us some that aren't as ripe so that they last throughout the week.

Sunday we had steamed green beans with lemon juice and sesame seeds to accompany delicious sandwiches from Ellwood Thompson's. I had a turkey, cucumber, spinach and hummus wrap and it was tasty as always - I don't know what it is about their turkey, but it surprises me every time because it's so good.

Monday morning Davy and I shared the watermelon, which was sweet and had a familiar flavor despite its orange color. Once again I ate cucumber and tomato salad as an afternoon snack, and for dinner we made stuffed eggplant and zucchini, slightly modifying this stuffed eggplant recipe from the Food Network. For a side dish, we sauteed the red noodle beans (cut into two inch pieces) with butter, olive oil, garlic, and Thai chili peppers. I was much happier with the way the beans turned out with this preparation; they were crunchier and more appealing overall.

Everything was still fresh tasting and far better than grocery store produce, and the only items left were potatoes and a small portion of green beans. I'm going to use them at some point during Week 9 and teach myself how to freeze beans so they'll be available in the winter.

Another Melon

Produce this week:

- a small watermelon (which has an orange color inside)

- sweet peppers

- Chinese red noodle beans

- green beans

- assorted slicing and cherry tomatoes

- white potatoes

- cucumbers

- yellow squash

- zucchini

- a "stuffing squash" or spherical zucchini

- garlic

- eggplant

Thursday, July 17, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 7

The full bag of produce this week made me realize that summer is in full effect. I was, of course, excited about the eggs, but the copious amounts of vegetables allowed for many cooking options.

On Tuesday night we made a quinoa salad from 101
Cookbooks to accompany grilled boneless pork chops. We grilled squash and zucchini, which were deliciously sweet, and prepared the eggs according to the recipe's directions. The hard-boiled eggs were some of the best I've ever had because of how plump they were. I added a seeded jalapeno from the share to the creamy avocado and yogurt dressing, though I think I would have liked it to be spicier to offset the richness of the dressing, pine nuts and goat cheese.

I steamed the Chinese red noodle beans and mixed them with chopped tomato and pesto. Their purple color (which reminded me of eggplant) was intriguing, as was the taste, which was similar to regular green beans. In addition, the red noodle beans had an almost chalky aftertaste, and I think next time I'll try them in a stir fry.

On Wednesday and Thursday I ate the leftover quinoa salad for lunch. It got better over the next couple days, and I liked having it at room temperature or a little cold. I didn't add the last third of the dressing like the recipe suggested; I think that would have overwhelmed the other ingredients and it was still creamy two days later. As usual, I made a cucumber and tomato salad to accompany my lunch on Wednesday. Davy finished it that night with our homemade egg mcmuffins.

Over the weekend I was in Harrisburg helping my parents prepare for their annual summer cookout. My dad got up at 5 am on Saturday to start smoking a pork shoulder, and I had the honor of pulling it that night. It was my favorite out of the meats, which also included a whole chicken, wild turkey, and brisket with two homemade sauces. There were several other highlights to dinner that night, including smoked red potatoes, delicious yellow beans with black sesame seeds, two wonderful pies (peach and blueberry, still warm and served with ice cream), and a famous banana pudding.

On Monday night Davy and I ate some of the leftover chicken and brisket, along with potatoes from our share and green beans. I steamed the green beans and mixed in balsamic vinegar, chopped tomato, and a little feta. The potatoes were roasted with olive oil and rosemary.

I'm looking forward to having the green pepper this afternoon with white bean dip. Despite being away for a few days, the only items remaining from the share are a small head of a garlic, two sweet peppers and a jalapeno. Something tells me they won't be uneaten for long.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I love summer squash

This week's offering:

- Eggs!

- Cherry tomatoes

- Slicing tomatoes

- Rote Erstling new potatoes

- Green Beans

- Chinese red noodle beans (also called asparagus beans or yard beans - they're normally 18" long and are deep purple in color - shown above)

- Cucumbers

- Mixed zucchini and squash

- Assorted peppers: a green bell pepper, two sweet peppers, two jalapenos

- Eggplant

- Garlic

Sunday, July 13, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 6

Do you ever come to sudden realizations about your food tastes?

Although I've been turning the idea over in my mind for the past six months, this week's share confirmed that I am not really a melon person. I love watermelon in the summer, and I've been known to eat good cantaloupe, but honeydew and any other varieties will always be left on my plate or picked out of fruit salad.

I was curious about the half of an Asian melon that came with our produce this week, but I only managed to eat four or five bites before I had to push it away. The color was a pretty light green, except it was crunchy like under ripe cantaloupe, but the taste resembled overripe honeydew (according to Shannon and Davy, since I don't eat honeydew). It was disappointing, but not overly so.

Another minor setback with this week's share was the cucumber and tomato salad (shown above) I made on Tuesday night. Davy and I both had bites that were extremely bitter, and then we realized that the cucumber skin was to blame. Luckily it was easy to fix, and when I cut off the skin it tasted normal and delicious.

Wednesday we steamed the green beans and mixed them with tomatoes, feta, basil and lemon juice. They were the standout in a meal of mediocre leftovers from the weekend cookout.

Six days of rain last week yielded several basil and parsley leaves, so I was able to make pesto on Friday night with a combination of herbs from the farm and my own plants. I sauteed the onion, zucchini, squash, and tomato from the share in olive oil with chicken, white wine and basil. We ate it with boiled new potatoes garnished with parsley and a little butter. The onion was very fragrant and melted down nicely to flavor the other ingredients. I was able to get a snack and a lunch out of the leftovers.

A large portion of the pesto I made went into a pasta salad with yellow, red, and green tomatoes and feta. The only items left from the share are a small spring onion, some of a head of garlic, and part of a large tomato. I'm looking forward to Tuesday and more fresh eggs.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Time to Make Pesto

This week's share:

- tomatoes (various colors and sizes)

- red new potatoes

- a large bunch of basil

- green beans

- small yellow squash

- zucchini

- a head of garlic

- spring onion

- a yellow potato onion (more like what you buy in the grocery store)

- an Asian melon

- cucumber

- lemon cucumber

Monday, July 07, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 5

With Evan visiting and the 4th of July falling right in the middle of the share week, it wasn't difficult to consume everything we received last Tuesday.

For a quick meal on kickball night, I combined some leftover rice with the dark green kale leaves. I sauteed garlic, a couple spring onions, the rice, chopped kale, and salsa. When all of it was warm I topped it with a fried egg and ate everything mixed in together. The rest of the rice was the perfect amount for lunch with another egg later in the week.

Wednesday night we had a delicious meal at Mamma Zu (including the elusive white pizza for the first time, which was amazing) and on Thursday ate grilled yellow squash and zucchini, mahi and roasted potatoes. Some of the potatoes were the size of a marble, so I chopped all of them to about that size - 1/2-3/4 of an inch - and tossed them with salt, pepper and olive oil. The mahi was prepared to be grilled in a foil pack with onion, leeks and sweet pepper. All of the sweetness from the vegetables sauteed in white wine balanced the meatiness of the fish. A pat of butter in each foil pack brought everything together with a hint of rich flavor.

Lately I've been craving feta a lot, so I decided to make pasta salad with chickpeas, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, lemon juice and basil for our cookout. The two different kinds of cucumbers, a standard variety and the lemon cucumber, which is spherical, contributed different degrees of crunchiness. I added more lemon juice and olive oil later when I ate the pasta salad for lunch with chicken the next day, and all of the flavors and textures held up until we ate the last of it on Monday.

Brunch on Sunday was a delicious zucchini frittata (pictured) with the remaining three eggs, garlic, spring onions, Canadian bacon and basil. I wish we could get eggs every week.

For dinner on Monday, we incorporated the rest of the basil with my homegrown basil into a baked penne dish with meat sauce. More of the tomatoes went into a warm salad with steamed green beans and feta. There is one beautifully ripe tomato sitting on the counter, and I am going to wait to see what we get this week before I decide what to do with it. I have a feeling we're going to be seeing more everything in the next few weeks - I hope I can keep up!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Time for Tomatoes

Yesterday we picked up:

- a dozen eggs

- a large bunch of basil

- a pound of tomatoes (various colors and sizes)

- new potatoes

- Tuscan kale

- two cucumbers

- zucchini

- several yellow squash

- garlic

- baby leeks

- two sweet peppers

- a small heirloom melon

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 4

Another Tuesday, another chance to assess the manifestation of the week's produce. The vegetables were incorporated into a few larger dishes to ensure the presence of leftovers while I was out of town.

Taking a tip from the farm, we managed to put together a Zucchini Crusted Pizza. Unfortunately Davy and I both read and forgot the step for drying out the zucchini, and our pizza was more like a lasagna with zucchini noodles. It was still very tasty, with yellow squash and zucchini from the share and basil from the front porch. I hope to try it again soon and will be much more careful about following directions.

The cute little new potatoes, garlic and kale wen
t into Kale and Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes. We ate them with hot Italian sausage from the Belmont Butchery, and what seemed more like a cold weather meal hit the spot on Wednesday night after kickball.

Monday night I was lucky enough to be served lamb chops (gu
ess where they were from), rice, cucumber and tomato salad, and turnips. The honey, cinnamon and nutmeg on the turnips made them taste like dessert. Neither of us are sure turnips are our new favorite vegetable, but it is fun experimenting with them. I was particularly excited about the cucumber and tomato salad with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and fresh basil, because it's one of my favorite summer dishes.

All of last week's share is gone except for th
e spring onions, which are holding up well, and today
get eggs with our produce!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More Squash

No eggs this week, but there is plenty to keep me busy:

- 3 yellow squash
- an heirloom zucchini

- a bunch of spring onions

- healthy sized turnips with leafy green tops

- kale

- a cucumber

- a cute little head of garlic

- a few pounds of little red new potatoes

Friday, June 20, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 3

I didn't think it would be possible, but somehow I managed to incorporate most of the herbs and vegetables into delicious meals before the weekend.

For the first night, Tuesday, I made a frittata with two of the spring onions (and their green shoots), yellow squash, zucchini, and local goat cheese. It had layers of light, seasonal flavors that were perfect for a quick summer meal. The freshness of the eggs shone through and I have a feeling that frittatas may play more of a role in my kitchen in the next few months.

Wednesday was a kickball night so I put together a quick carbonara with macaroni. The recipe, which I halved, called for an egg yolk. Compared to the sauce made with a normal grocery store yolk, the pasta had a much thicker, creamier coating. I used my homegrown Italian parsley for the first time, along with the garlic from the farm, which was mild and sweeter than store bought garlic.

Based loosely on a Jamie Oliver recipe for crostini with greens, I let the swiss chard and turnip greens get tender for a few minutes in boiling water, then drained them and added lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. There were three cloves of garlic in the pot, which I removed and mashed with a fork to mix in with the greens. It was a simple procedure that yielded wonderful results.

On Thursday we grilled pork tenderloin with chimichurri sauce (made with basil from the share, parsley, and cilantro instead of oregano). If you haven't tried chimichurri sauce or made it yourself, I've had success with an Emeril Lagasse recipe and it's a great warm weather dish. To go with the meat, we put the baby carrots, turnips, zucchini and squash in the grill basket and tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Everything tasted delicious and the turnips were pleasantly sweet. The chimichurri also went well with the black beans I sauteed with olive oil, garlic and green onions. The onion was tough and it is the first item I haven't been thoroughly pleased with, though that may have been my fault for not cooking it long enough.

It is now Monday and the only produce left is a small spring onion and green beans. The plan is to steam the beans, grill a piece of mahi, and eat orzo with pesto on the side. I'm already getting impatient for tomorrow's share.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Grocery Bag's Full

Standing below the shade of Fertile Crescent Farm's tent, I watched in shock as the contents of the brown bag I got to take home kept increasing.  Along with the weekly half dozen of eggs, I was also entitled to:

- several stems of basil

- the last of the season's radishes

- baby turnips

- a cluster of small orange carrots

- a healthy looking bunch of swiss chard (red and green)

- green beans

- a tiny head of garlic

- red and yellow spring onions

- two yellow squash

- an heirloom zucchini

- an eight ball zucchini (spherical in shape)

- small cucumber

- heirloom cucumber (yellow and also spherical)

I left the Byrd Market feeling very fortunate and excited about this week's share.

Monday, June 16, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 2

Summer traveling is probably going to interfere with the amount of cooking I do in the next few months, but getting produce on Tuesday is helpful.

I went through the two small heads of lettuce pretty quickly by eating them with some leftover Greek nachos for dinner on Tuesday and with the rest of my steak from Wednesday night for lunch the next day.

On Wednesday I cut the heirloom zucchini and yellow squash into strips, then marinated them in a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. They were grilled with several shitakes and two beautiful strip steaks from the Belmont Butchery. I threw together a barley risotto with the mushrooms, zucchini and squash, a shallot, fresh basil, lemon juice, and homemade chicken stock. It was a much faster process than regular risotto because I used instant barley, and the result was a light and summery side dish.

For dinner on Thursday I took two turkey sausage links out of the freezer, squeezed the meat out of the skin and sauteed it with olive oil. I added the sausage and more chicken stock to the leftover risotto to revive it, and it was just as enjoyable as an entree as it was with the steak.

Since Friday involved some car travel, we transported the turnip greens, collard greens, and some chard I bought at Ellwood Thompson's for a late dinner. The greens, which we cooked according to a Dave Lieberman recipe, could have used a little more time but were still wonderfully flavored with bacon, sugar, garlic, and vinegar.

Tonight I plan on sauteeing the rest of the garlic scapes stir fry-style with some broccoli and chicken. We get eggs again tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to a frittata in the next few days, as well as making chimichurri sauce later in the week.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

It's Tuesday Again!

Time for another round of produce from Fertile Crescent Farm - half of this share:

1 bunch collards

1 bunch Japanese turnips

1 bunch radishes

2 heads baby lettuce

1 bunch garlic scapes

1/2 pound shitake mushrooms

1 small bunch basil

3-4 yellow squash and heirloom zucchini

Sunday, June 08, 2008

CSA Meals - Week 1

I was afraid that with a grocery bag full of vegetables I wouldn't be able to use everything in a week, though it turned out to be easier than I expected. The first dinner, a recipe adapted from 101 Cookbooks, used all of the kale. I also sauteed the sugar snap peas in a little sesame oil and added a few sesame seeds at the end. Both the kale and the peas were unbelievably fresh, and I was able to reserve half of the rice mixture for another dinner and lunch.

The instructions were clear enough that I was able to achieve poached eggs, and I learned that they only need a few minutes as some of them turned out more well done than I would have preferred. I could definitely tell the difference between the farm eggs we got in our share and regular grocery store eggs. They were richer in taste and color.

For two of my weekday lunches I ate a tuna, red onion and white bean salad with handfuls of the mescaline mix. It was firmer and help up better than bagged salad. The remainder of the mescaline was mixed with some leaves of the baby lettuce, and the lettuce will be finished tonight in a salad.

On Wednesday we made Pad Thai and substituted garlic scapes for the scallions. They were mild and sweet, and complimented the dish nicely. The last of our half dozen eggs also went into the Pad Thai, and I could easily see the yellower yolk when it was finished. The stir fry mix - prize choy, mizuna, and Fun Jen Chinese Cabbage - accompanied dinner. It was sauteed with some sesame oil and soy sauce, and finished with sesame seeds (yes, I'm on a sesame kick at the moment).

Now that it's Monday again I am eagerly awaiting the next newsletter and list of produce from the farm!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008


The first share from our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) arrives today at the Byrd Market, and I can't wait! We are supposed to get six fresh eggs, and half portions of each item on the following list:

· one bag of arugula

· one bag of mescaline mix

· one head of an heirloom variety of lettuce, either Rossimo Red, Jericho, Buttercrunch, or Freckles

· One bunch of Kale, either Red Russian, Lacinato, or Winter Bor

· one bunch of a mix of Asian greens—Prize Choy (a pak choy), Mizuna (spicy), and Fun Jen Chinese cabbage, a great mix for a stir fry

· sugar snaps

· Radish

· garlic scapes (according to our supplier, garlic scapes "are the firm, round seed stems that grow from the garlic as the bulbs size up. The lower portion is the most tender, but the entire scape is edible and can be used like a scallion.")

Stay tuned for more about the produce!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Many Faces of a Rotisserie Chicken

I have a hard time resisting the rotisserie chickens at Ukrop's, Costco and Kroger whenever I smell them. On Tuesday I finally decided to give in and get one at Ellwood Thompson's, which made me feel better because I knew the name of the farm that the chicken came from. As a bonus, I was able to find some beautiful local and organic sugar snap peas there, which probably wouldn't have been in the regular grocery store.

Tuesday's meal ended up being shredded chicken (leg and breast meat) incorporated into a stir fry with soy sauce, garlic, leftover rice, and the crunchy peas. I tried some of the chicken meat by itself, and it was tender and flavorful, but still blended well with the rest of the dish.

On Wednesday, I reheated the succulent chicken in the oven and feasted on the wings and breast with broccoli and baked potatoes. It was still tasty, and didn't have that weird leftover poultry taste that many turkeys and chickens acquire after sitting in the fridge.

A first time trip to Helen's, dinner at the Greek Fest, and a cookout prevented me from making Gourmet's Chicken and Swiss Chard Enchilada Casserole until Sunday evening. I knew that with two thighs and a drumstick left, neither Davy nor I would be too excited about the chicken unless it was converted with other ingredients. We took the meat off the bones and shredded it in preparation for the casserole assembly.

There were a couple of modifications from the recipe: I bought a can of enchilada sauce from the grocery store because I didn't feel like taking the extra steps to make my own. Instead of corn tortillas, we used flour tortillas, which were already in the fridge. They were fairly large, so we only needed six, and we toasted them without oil in a 12" pan on the stove over medium heat.

I was pleased with the way the casserole turned out; the dark meat was rich enough to stand up to the tomato sauce and earthy flavor of the swiss chard. All that was left of the chicken - mostly just the bones - went into a big pot with some onion to be simmered for stock. It is now the following Tuesday and I am planning on straining the stock and pouring it into containers to freeze tonight. It is nice to know that I used the entire chicken...not bad for $9.99 and a week's work!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A New Favorite

I wish I could walk to the Black Sheep to avoid the confusing side streets, but good food in a laid back atmosphere can forgive just about any driving difficulties.

The relaxed and welcoming demeanor of the servers is also reflected in the restaurant's decor and menu. Two waitresses frequently refilled water glasses and chatted with our table about our meal choices. Most of the desserts were displayed in a glass case, and the servers referenced our options with a gesture, keeping everyone at ease while we made our decisions.

Items on the menu have a similar feel: comfortable yet creative and sophisticated enough to make you want eat them somewhere besides your own home. Breakfast is generously served until 2:00 PM, and the lunch menu, with it's wide array of sandwiches, is served through the evening.

Although I don't particularly like deviled eggs, I did appreciate their presence as an option for a side dish. I was fortunate to taste the chicken and dumplings, which was a large, satisfying meal, and the dirty rice, which had unique flavors and an appealing texture. One bite of orzo salad was enough to make me wonder if my broccoli salad with sesame oil vinaigrette was really the most refreshing side on the menu.

An elaborate veggie sub served cold, one of the options under "The War of Northern Ingestion" heading, caught my eye, but I'm going to wait to try it when summer really gets underway in a few weeks. I also had a hard time ignoring the "Black Sheep French Toast," which is filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, but eventually I settled on the "Prodigal Son" - smoked turkey mixed with barbeque sauce and apple slaw on a toasted roll. Tangy and crunchy, the sandwich was hearty but left just enough room for dessert.

Just as the menu promised, the Peanut Butter Pie was "sweet, light and fluffy with a fudgy bottom layer." The "White Russian Brownie" with ice cream also delivered; our waitress divulged that the secret was doubling the amount of liquor called for in the recipe. Next time I'm really hoping to try the creme de menthe brownie and the banana pudding, which is rumored to taste like tiramisu.

Location is the only quality that could lend itself to The Black Sheep's name. Positioned on a corner a block north of Broad Street in the midst of several one way streets, finding the place and a spot for your car are the most difficult parts of the experience. The food is worth every wrong turn and parallel parking effort.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Breakfast at the Beach

It's hard to feel comfortable staying in someone else's home, especially when your hosts aren't friends or family. In my opinion, that slight weirdness is the only drawback to staying at a bed & breakfast, though it is possible to overcome.

The innkeepers at Savannah Beach Inn in Tybee Island, GA made every effort to make guests feel welcome and at home. Their southern hospitality exceeded any expectations I've ever had about bed & breakfasts. A fridge full of (complimentary) sodas and water bottles was available for everyone to take advantage of. Around three in the afternoon there was a "wine and cheese hour," which included red, white and rose wine, crackers, snack mix, and various cheeses.

I'm guessing that the wine stayed out for the duration of the afternoon, because it was still there before we went to dinner and remained on the bar in the kitchen when the nighttime innkeeper set out several plates of freshly baked cookies. Warm M&M oatmeal cookies will always make me feel more comfortable, no matter where I am.

The highlight of the stay at Savannah Beach Inn was, of course, the breakfast. We had a choice of strawberry pancakes or eggs benedict with either crabcakes or country ham. A fresh fruit salad with creme di cassis (black currant liqueur), juice, coffee and tea were available to everyone, although the pancakes were so filling that I'm surprised I was able to consume anything else. Strawberry syrup, made right in front of me, along with fresh strawberries garnished my meal. The crabcake eggs benedict was equally as indulgent.

By check out, I was completely acclimated to the bed and breafkast, and would have gladly pretended to live there for the rest of the weekend.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Country Buffet

Despite its title, this post will not be about that infamous restaurant bearing the name Country Buffet. Instead I am going to talk about the second celebrity chef restaurant I've ever visited - The Lady and Sons (owned by Paula Deen) in Savannah.

If I had to describe the dinner buffet in one word, I'd have to say it was succulent. I don't even remember many of the options from the regular menu because I was so set on helping myself to mounds of fried and buttery food. Luckily one of the servers brought us warm cheddar biscuits and hoecakes before we had even ordered, and they were not disappointing in the least.

The three entrees featured that night were fried chicken, country fried steak, and low country boil, which involved shrimp, corn, potatoes and sausage. Having indulged in copious amounts of seafood the night before, I limited myself to two shrimp, and they were tasty. The corn, however, was extraordinary, and I'm not sure if it's because it was that good or if I'm just excited about summer being near. Nevertheless, I had two pieces of corn, which amounted to two-thirds or so of an ear.

I eat fried chicken about once a year, and I'm thrilled that I was able to experience it The Lady and Sons. My first piece was a breast with part of a wing attached, and it was amazing, but for round two I tried a drumstick and it was truly unbelievable. The skin was perfectly crisp with just a hint of flavor, and the meat melted in my mouth.

Another highlight of the meal was the luscious macaroni and cheese. It was casserole style, and had a nice amount of creaminess without being too rich. I don't think it would have been humanly possible for me to sample all of the side dishes, but everything I tried was delicious: collard greens, black-eyed peas, green beans with potatoes and ham, candied sweet potatoes and short ribs. Some of the other options included grits, succotash, and cabbage.

The sweet potatoes were worthy of ending the meal, the buffet included a choice of three desserts: banana pudding, peach cobbler, and chocolate chip gooey butter cake. The choice wasn't a hard one for me, and I am wondering how I can perfectly replicate both wonderful layers in the gooey butter cake. The bottom was chocolate and almost like cookie crumbs, and the top lived up to its gooey description with mini chocolate chips mixed in.

I also had a few bites of the peach cobbler, but I was pretty full by that time and it didn't taste like anything special. All of the other food made such an impression on me that I couldn't be bothered with mediocre cobbler. I wasn't even disappointed that I didn't get to see the lady, or her sons, except that I want to ask them for some recipes...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Cookie Dough Heaven

It's not often that I bake something with a boxed mix (Kahlua vodka cake may be the only exception), but there was no way to avoid the recipe for Cookie Dough Cupcakes after I laid eyes on it. Between the instant pudding in the cake and the chocolate butter cream frosting, I knew these cupcakes would be something special.

They were, as promised, relatively simple to make: combine all of the (six) ingredients, blend well, and scoop into a cupcake pan; drop a chunk of cookie dough in the middle of each one, and bake. My only trouble was an issue I've had regularly with cupcakes, which is that I put too much batter in the cups and they overflow a little. As a result
I only got 22 cupcakes from the recipe, but if I followed the instructions to only fill each cup two-thirds of the way, I probably would have had more than 24.

The chocolate butter cream frosting turned out to be exceptional, and I'm definitely going to keep it in mind for other recipes. However, the instructions were slightly off again with respect to amounts and proportions. Each cupcake was supposed to get a heaping tablespoon of frosting, which would have been just enough to cover the tops of each, but not necessarily enough if I'd had the full two dozen. I think I might make one and a half of the chocolate butter cream next time.

Regardless of the minor shortcomings with the cupcakes, they were decadent and wonderful. The cake itself was moist and light, and the hunk of cookie dough was just the right balance. Chocolate icing on top was almost a bonus, but it tied all of the components together and made the cupcakes exceptional. The recipe recommends serving them right away so the cookie dough is still soft, but I found that a quick zap in the microwave did the trick.

Before I made the Cookie Dough Cupcakes I was considering using my own cookie dough, but I decided to wait until I'd made them once to tinker with the recipe. While I may still try that at some point, I think the artificial ingredients and mixes were a big part of the cupcakes' charm - I know because I ate at least six of them.

Cookie Dough Cupcakes

For cupcakes:

24 paper liners for cupcake pans (2 ½ inch size)
1 package plain yellow cake mix
1 package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup whole milk
1 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package (1 lb) frozen cookie dough – you can use the logs as long as you cut it and it’s frozen; I found a package with 24 cookies

  1. Place an oven rack in center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Fill pan with cupcake liners.
  2. Place cake ingredients, minus cookie dough, in an electric mixer bowl and blend on low speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more. When the batter looks well blended, scoop ¼ cup batter into each cup (about 2/3 of the way full). Place a frozen cookie dough piece on top of each cupcake and place pans in the oven.
  3. Bake until cupcakes are lightly golden and spring back when pressed – 23 to 27 minutes. Remove pans from the oven and place them on wire racks to cool for 5 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cupcake liners to help remove the cupcakes. Allow them to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.

For frosting:

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter, room temperature
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
3 to 5 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place butter and cocoa in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed until mixture is well combined – 30 seconds. Stop the machine and add the sugar, 3 tablespoons of the milk, and the vanilla. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated – 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy – 1 more minute. Add 1-2 tablespoons milk if the frosting is too stiff.

Use about 1 tablespoon of frosting for each cupcake. Serve while warm, or fresh out of the microwave.