Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Thoughts

This will be my first ever Thanksgiving in Richmond, not to mention the first ever Thanksgiving meal made in my own kitchen. And don't get me wrong, I'm comfortable in my own kitchen, but Thanksgiving is such a food-centric holiday that it's been hard not to stress out about it.

Do you know how many ways there are to cook a turkey? There are many, and almost as many ways to prepare the turkey before it even goes into the oven (or fryer, or grill...). It's completely overwhelming, especially if you've never done it before, and that's just the turkey.

I've made my cranberry sauce, and have managed to check off everything on my list up to this point. It seemed as though everything was going fine until this morning.  

I acquired my 20-pounder from Tomten Farm, and it's big and beautiful. Since it's a heritage bird, and they can sometimes be lean, I opted to brine it.

This morning I flipped the bird over, which was not an easy feat, and managed to permeate the indestructible surface of the brining bag. There was salty liquid all over the bottom shelf of the fridge, and the floor, and it was too early for me to do anything except clean it up and shove the entire thing in a Febreze-scented trash bag. Here's hoping we don't have a Febreze-scented Thanksgiving.

If any of you are interested in a nontraditional Thanksgiving meal, this recipe for Asian Beef (courtesy of Lyndsey) gave me something to look forward to earlier this week. The flavors are exotic and mouthwatering. I'd post pictures, but have run out of space in the blog, and am hoping to do a recap later this weekend when I figure everything out. 

And finally, here's a healthy reminder of what this holiday is all about, from an interview with the wise Sam Sifton:

"It is this one meal a year when the nation stops, gathers together in groups of family and friends, and pauses to say thanks, to give thanks—not necessarily to God or country or the farm or whatever, but always to one another, to the fact of the family, or the gathering."

Enjoy it, even if your turkey doesn't give off the aroma you're used to smelling on Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Finishing October

It seems incredibly long ago now, but the second half of October was just as sweet as the first. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the copious amounts of candy. I love the spirit of imagination and spookiness associated with October 31st, and try to celebrate it as much as I can every year.


I was originally going to make these owl cupcakes for book club (we read The Perks of Being a Wallflower), but the hurricane interfered, so they stood doubled as Halloween cupcakes. The chocolate cake recipe is definitely a keeper, and spreading Nutella over the cupcakes in lieu of frosting is a delicious substitute. My owls had Reeses Pieces eyes and beaks.



Halloween is also meaningful to me because it's my parents' anniversary, and this year we celebrated their milestone with a brandy whipped cream-filled cake made by Sophia. It was just as heavenly as it looks.



For an extra treat, Evan and I took Joe and Gayle to the new Char's, which I can't recommend highly enough. Every single detail was exquisite.


I hope October was just as enjoyable for all of you!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Salads and Giant Turnips

I know Tomten Farm is doing something right, because I'm not a big salad eater, but have been eating them nonstop for the past few weeks. Our fall CSA has been very enjoyable so far, and this week's share seemed extra plentiful because of the GIANT turnips we received. Or maybe not the turnips as much as their green tops. They're longer than our dishwasher! Check them out:





Tonight I'm going to utilize the turnip greens (or some of them) in Smitten Kitchen's pancetta, white bean and chard pot pies. Yum.

But back to the salads... 

I wrote about the radish salad in my last post, and have since made it again with mizuna and salad turnips instead of arugula and radishes. I love how simple and adaptable it is.

The October issue of Bon Appetit is one of my favorites in awhile, and I marked several recipes in it. I've already managed one - Roasted Pepper and Onion Salad with Blue Cheese - and it's definitely a keeper for autumn and winter. We ate it with feta instead of blue cheese, because neither of us are too fond of blue cheese and I had feta, and I thought it worked nicely. It would be great for an easy lunch or light dinner with a good loaf of bread.

For the first time in awhile, I made homemade dressing that wasn't just olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar. In fact, this dressing didn't even have olive oil in it, and it's a new favorite. 

Of course, after I put it together on Sunday to bring to Shannon and John's for dinner, I left it at home. We ate the salad itself (butter lettuce salad with tahini-agave dressing from Sprouted Kitchen) with the dressings Shannon had, and it was still tasty. Avocado makes everything better. 

I used agave instead of honey and parsley instead of chives in the dressing, omitted the sprouts, and finished off our head of butter lettuce and used frisee to fulfill the needed quantity of leafy greens. The dressing is garlicky, slightly sweet with a sour edge from the lemon, and nutty from the tahini, and none of the flavors overwhelm each other. I made the amount suggested in the recipe, which is twice what you need (or just a substantial jar full to have on hand if you forget it in your fridge), and have been enjoying it all week.

Normally I associated salads with spring and summer, but they're totally having their moment at our house this fall. Hopefully the above recipes will inspire you to join in on the fun!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

October

Growing up, my mom always made my brother and me feel extra special around our birthdays. Partly because all of her family members were late getting us cards and gifts, and partly because it made the celebration that much more fun, we had a "birthday month" surrounding the actual day. This involved the aforementioned delayed gifts and cards, special dinners, and treats scattered throughout the month. I made a point of carrying that tradition through college and into my life with Davy, and happily acknowledge all of my friends' birthday months as well.

Now that my wedding anniversary falls six days before my birthday, there's another reason to love October, and this year in particular, it's been especially wonderful. Below are pictures of some of the many highlights I've already experienced so far this month, and I can't wait to see what's in store for the rest of it.

Baby Paige, my 11-month-old soulmate, who loves dinnertime as much as her mom and I do

Veramar Vineyard, a winery Davy and I visited during a weekend trip to Berryville, VA in honor of our anniversary

Fantastic anniversary dinner prepared by my husband: grilled halibut, grilled potatoes, and this delicious arugula and radish salad that I can't wait to make again

anniversary gift label (by Davy)


Costco cake to end one of my most favorite meals ever - a surprise birthday dinner at Accanto

birthday dinner at home: fresh fettuccine with local spicy Italian sausage, ricotta, and CSA broccoli raab

Friday, September 28, 2012

Finally

We all know I am not a fan of eggplant. What we didn't know was that chopping into small pieces, drying it out with salt, browning it in olive oil, and baking it with other vegetables and orzo would make it tolerable, and maybe even (gasp) desirable

Making Smitten Kitchen's baked orzo recipe may have marked a turning point in my kitchen. The eggplant in this dish enhances the texture of the cheese and pasta, adds a pretty shade to the color palette, and hardly tastes anything like itself. I followed the recipe almost exactly, and loved the results. The only alterations I made were laying sliced tomatoes on top instead of dicing them and mixing them in, and substituting whole wheat orzo. Now I won't have to give away every single CSA eggplant we receive. Just most of them.


Chopped onion, garlic, carrot, and celery
Pre-baked mixture
Finished product (two days later, just out of the fridge)

Friday, September 21, 2012

2 for 1

I love a good sale as much as anyone, especially when it's a BOGO (an acronym I learned from my dear friend Shannon). And while I promise to never sell you anything from my blog, I would like to feature two separate culinary experiences to make up for last week's neglect.

The first, which actually happened second, involves late summer tomatoes from my parents' garden, CSA sweet and hot peppers, half an onion, the oven, and one of my favorite kitchen tools. I tossed the vegetables in olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roasted them at 450 for about twenty five minutes. When they were sufficiently browned and sizzling, they got a very quick immersion blend treatment, and I added fresh avocado and cilantro. 

There aren't any pictures because it's not pretty to look at, but the resulting salsa-type mixture is a compelling combination of summer and autumn that can be eaten in or on just about anything, including a spoon.

Earlier in the week, we tried 525 At the Berry Burk with a couple friends, and we were all very pleased with our meal. I started with the Four Mushroom Spinach Salad, which had a sufficient amount of mushrooms, fresh spinach and a lemon vinaigrette. The vinaigrette, while effectively tart, was somewhat creamier than I expected, but still satisfying.

Davy and I shared three small plates, and were thrilled with all of them. The seared scallops with sweet pea and lobster risotto may have been my favorite dish of the evening, though the ceviche and duck confit spring rolls were also beautifully prepared.

Our server was both attentive and well-versed in the history of the building and development of the restaurant, which set a very nice tone for the evening. 
My one concern with 525 at The Berry Burk is that it wasn't very crowded, so go see the newly renovated space for yourself sometime soon!






Friday, September 07, 2012

Dessert for Breakfast

My standard, eaten-at-my-desk, weekday breakfast is one of two combinations: whole wheat toast with peanut butter, or yogurt with cereal or granola and (often) Craisins. Or it was, until I discovered this Peach Breakfast Bake via Pinterest yesterday.

It looked easy enough to prepare, healthy enough to pass as the most important meal of the day, and I happened to have a ripe peach at home. Voila! A special Friday breakfast, made ahead of time, and reheated in the office kitchen.



This really does taste enough like luscious fruit cobbler to satisfy an early morning dessert craving (don't judge - it's not chocolate). Peaches may not be in season for much longer, but I'm certain that this would work well with apples or various other types of fruit.

I consumed about a third of the portion shown above, and am already anticipating next Monday at 9 AM to have another round. Well, anticipating may be a strong word, but my new favorite breakfast will certainly take the edge off of any work day morning.



Peach Breakfast Bake (adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie)

(Serves 2-3)
  • 1 1/4 cups sliced peaches
  • 1/4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/8 cup shredded wheat, crushed (I used the Trader Joe's version)
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp applesauce (For a more buttery taste, replace this with an extra tbsp of the margarine)
  • small amount of vegetable oil, if desired
  • 1/8 tsp salt 
  • yogurt for serving
Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the peaches, lemon, cornstarch, cinnamon, 1/2 the salt, and 1/2 the sugar in small oven-proof serving dish. Let the mixture rest for ten minutes. 

Meanwhile, stir the crushed cereal, remaining sugar, remaining salt, and applesauce in a bowl until well-blended. If it seems to be dry, pour in a small amount of vegetable oil. Top the peaches with the cereal mixture, and bake for 20-30 minutes.

Friday, August 31, 2012

CSA Meals - The Times They Are A-Changin'

As I mentioned yesterday, the last few weeks of August have been overwhelming in the best way. Simultaneously, work is getting busier, and I've been thinking about ways to improve my blog. I'm interested in making a change and streamlining the content so I'm not just dumping a week's worth of meals into one post.

Excitement is not always the first thing I feel about my writing my weekly CSA summaries, but last week Davy and I joined forces to make a truly dynamite dinner. Aside from feeling satisfied because it was healthy, uncomplicated and composed of mostly local ingredients, I couldn't wait to share it. This led me to the idea of reporting on a "meal of the week," be it one I've made, a restaurant visit, or any memorable experience involving food. 

As our summer share comes to a close, I thought I'd start the transition with the dinner that inspired me. 

Our air conditioning was finally fixed last week, and I didn't waste any time firing up the oven (these were the first on my list). Once I got some baking out of my system, I made use of our cool kitchen to make sherry cherry tomatoes, a favorite in our house that's been neglected this year. I've written about them before, and am happy to share the recipe if any of you are interested.

It helps to start with homegrown or CSA cherry tomatoes, and the different colors made the end result even more attractive.


I love this recipe because it's extremely versatile, and could be eaten as a main course, snack, or side dish, served over pasta, smushed on top of crusty bread, mixed into a salad, or scooped up with a fork under a layer of broiled cheese. On this particular night, we chose to grill thick slices of Billy Bread in order to more efficiently shovel the tomatoes in.


While both of us probably could have subsisted on sherry cherry tomatoes alone, I'd also gotten a beautiful piece of rockfish from Yellow Umbrella (they also supplied the bread). Before Davy took it out to the grill, I adorned it with olive oil, sprigs of thyme, a spritz of lemon juice, and minced Thai chili peppers. It was extremely tender and the flavors added just enough without overpowering the fish. The before and after are below. 


At this point you're probably sick of hearing me talk about padron peppers, but I can't help myself. We grilled those, too, and they were even better than they were blistered in a pan (which I wasn't sure was possible).


There's nothing revolutionary about this meal, but it served as a timely reminder to me that simple is often better, in food and in writing.

Have a happy Labor Day weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 17

Between fantasy football drafts, Davy's birthday, book club, Tex's birthday, and a trip to Chincoteague for Labor Day, I haven't had much time to think. Some emergency Amy's macaroni and cheese hit the spot last night for a late dinner, along with a big salad featuring carrots, cucumber, sweet pepper, and edamame. Everything that doesn't get eaten before tomorrow, which will probably be most of the following is going to come with us for the weekend:

- various sweet peppers

- various hot peppers

- red onion

- okra

- salsa kit 

- rosemary

- carrots


Friday, August 24, 2012

CSA Meals - Week 15

It's never easy to come back from vacation, especially after a week-long trip to the beach that involves multiple gourmet dinners. This year's features were steaks on the grill, lobster, breakfast for dinner, shrimp pasta, and the ever-popular pizza night. Cary and Brian outdid themselves yet again, with the traditional margherita, a spicy jalapeno and pepperoni pie, and an extra special clams casino pizza.

Jalapeno Pepperoni
Clams Casino

The back-to-reality blow was even harder this year since our house was still without air conditioning. I was hoping to score some burrata from River City Cellars to eat with fresh tomatoes and ease our pain a little bit, but, sadly, they were out of it. Instead I took home two other varieties of cheese and a new jar of spicy plum chutney, and we had another dinner with bread, cheese, Hungarian salame, and steamed edamame.

Sticking with the stove-free theme, I made a chickpea salad later in the week, minus the lettuce wraps. The poblano peppers from our share, which I diced and added at the last minute, added a little heat and extra crunch to the dish.


I put together another lettuce-free salad for lunch one day, inspired by this recipe for Mediterranean Chopped Salad from Serious Eats. Instead of onion, I added some garlic to the dressing, and was pleased with the results. I rarely think to add much besides oil and vinegar or lemon juice when I'm making dressing, but the presence of mustard makes a big difference.




One of my favorite annual events, the Hanover Firefighters Crab Feast, took place on Saturday. My parents made their second appearance, and Evan made the drive north to participate.



After the copious amounts of crab and beer, and even a few hot dogs, we relaxed, ordered a pizza, and munched on raw Dragon Tongue beans, which were sweet and crisp.

By Monday, Davy and I ended our oven moratorium. The weather was slightly cooler, and he put together an impressive pan of nachos with ground chicken, a few tomatoes, sweet peppers, salsa, lettuce, cilantro, and plenty of cheese. The oven was on at 450 degrees for fifteen minutes or so, and we barely suffered (only the cheese melted).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 16

Amy mentioned in her latest email that there are only two weeks left in the summer CSA, and I'm still in shock. How is August almost over? I know it's been cooler, and the days are noticeably shorter, but I'm still holding on. There are still plenty of tomatoes and peppers in our share, and I'm going to enjoy as much as possible while I still can. This week, we received:

- assorted sweet peppers

- assorted hot peppers

- yellow roma tomatoes

- purple and red cherry tomatoes

- carrots

- eggplant

- padron peppers (Amy was kind enough to give these to me instead of okra)

- a fragrant bunch of tuberose, pictured below




Wednesday, August 15, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 15

Pictured to the left is a Dragon Tongue bean - an heirloom variety that, according to Amy, can be treated like a green bean. We also received:

- new potatoes

- yellow cherry tomatoes

- "Jimmy Nardello" heirloom sweet peppers

- poblano peppers

- onion

- a few other sweet peppers

- Juliet tomatoes (a "petit roma")

- figs, which I bought from Epic Gardens

Friday, August 03, 2012

CSA Meals - Weeks 12 and 13

It's normal to make a big pot of soup when your air conditioning breaks at the end of July, right? The heat of the stove certainly doesn't increase the temperature of the kitchen and surrounding rooms to the point that you just want to leave your house.

I'm not sure making soup in the summer is a good idea even with functioning central air, but I had a significant number of vegetables to work with, and wasn't creative enough to think of another use for them. I chopped potatoes, scraped corn off cobs, cut ribbons of Tex's chard, sliced carrots, and minced garlic in preparation. 

To start, I sauteed the garlic in olive oil in my dutch oven, added the carrots and potatoes to brown them a bit, and then dumped in a mixture of chicken stock, water, and some diced tomatoes that were taking up freezer space. Rosemary, thyme, and a parmesan rind went into the broth to add some flavor, and I let everything simmer for a couple of hours. When I turned off the heat (to Davy's relief), I stirred in a can of rinsed cannellini beans, corn kernels, and the chard. 


The soup rested in the fridge over night, and on Sunday, I made a cross between gremolata and pesto by blending lemon zest, basil, garlic, and olive oil to add a little bit of freshness and citrusy tang.



What I should have made, instead of soup, was something like the Vietnamese chicken salad that we ate earlier in the week. I don't have the source of the recipe, but it includes chicken, napa cabbage, scallions, cilantro, and peanuts. I added grated carrots, and the dressing contains fish sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. It's quick, light, and especially satisfying served over rice noodles.



To go with the salad, we tested out the Padron pepper method I mentioned, and it worked beautifully. 



On average, about one in every ten pepper is supposed to be extremely hot, and the bunch that we got fit that standard. The few that were spicy hit me in a surprising rush of heat and saltiness, which only made me want to eat more.

Luckily, Amy had more Padrons available this week, and Davy and I made another round on Tuesday night. In the interest of not turning our kitchen into a room-sized oven, we ate Hungarian salami, a few cheeses from Caramont, and a makeshift bruschetta with yellow cherry tomatoes and basil marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.



I will admit to making pasta a few times, despite the unofficial stove ban, but all of our tomatoes were practically begging me to make fresh pasta sauces. There may have been a few tomato and feta sandwiches thrown in as well, which only require the brief, contained heat of a toaster oven.

We're leaving for the Outer Banks tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to bringing the rest of our share and using a kitchen to its fullest capacity without worrying about the temperature ramifications. Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

CSA Meals - Week 11

I once participated in a conversation with a group of people, including a vegetarian friend, about why she decided to give up meat and how she went about it. She said something that's stayed with me, which was that her family didn't center their dinners around meat every night. 

It struck me that, despite the fact that I consider myself to be a healthy eater, I normally start planning meals based on the protein rather than the vegetables. Even though I think about my friend's words fairly often, I never made much of an effort to put the idea into practice.

Three or four years have passed since then, and this is the first CSA season in which I'm really noticing a difference in the way I approach cooking and eating. I'm getting better about using our fresh, weekly produce items as building blocks instead of side dishes.

We still had potatoes from Week 10 and ate them thinly sliced, off the grill. Davy always manages to season them perfectly, and they accompanied grilled tile fish and raw green beans.

Wednesday marked a turning point in the summer. I was completely worn out from the heat, and had no desire to make dinner until I saw the cover of my neglected Bon Appetit. August's cover recipe is an open-faced tomato and feta sandwich. I'm not sure why I hadn't thought of it before, but it's a genius way to feature ripe tomatoes. 


I didn't even have to go to the store to make these for dinner now that we have an oregano plant, and Davy and I both loved them. 


The simplicity of this method even allowed me the time to chop a bell pepper and cucumbers from my parents' garden to use throughout the week. For not saving that much time, I certainly felt like I'd accomplished a lot whenever I took out the prepared vegetables.


We used some of them for a chopped salad with tomato, feta, and basil alongside pork nachos, and more the next night in a salad when we ordered pizza.

The weekend highlights were limited to two more rounds of tomato and feta sandwiches, along with leftover grilled potatoes converted into homefries, and a lemony shrimp pasta dish.


On Tuesday, I went home during my lunch break and made a salad with tomatoes, corn, avocado, hard-boiled egg, lime juice, basil and olive oil.



The salad was not only flavorful and refreshing, it also allowed me to clear several items from my fridge before they were past their prime, and not once did the thought of starting with meat cross my mind.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

CSA Takeaway - Week 13

When I pulled the soy bean stalks out of our CSA bag, I nearly jumped up and down in excitement. Edamame are one of my favorite healthy snacks and addition to recipes. We also got:

- more padron peppers
- sweet bell peppers
- an onion
- cherry tomatoes
- slicing tomatoes
- green beans
- hot peppers (one of which is a mature Padron)