Monday, December 8, 2008

The Worst Foodie Blogger EVER!

I am officially the worst food blogger ever. It’s almost two weeks after Thanksgiving and I haven’t written about my Grammy’s amazing pumpkin chiffon pie, told you how my fennel casserole was a dud, or shown you the photo of my Turkey Day plate. You should either assume that Thanksgiving is so holy to me that I can’t spend a minute of the weekend (or following weeks) online writing or that I have been communing with my new kitchen and will eventually post all the amazing recipes I am cooking.

With that said, I am still not going to write about Thanksgiving today. I am going to write about something that made me laugh out loud – Whopper Virgins! Burger King’s latest and great marketing stunt was to send a team of documentary film producers around the world to find Whopper Virgins, people who had never experienced a Whopper or a hamburger before. They then did a un-biased taste test to determine which was better the Big Mac or the Whopper.

As you may or may not be able to imagine, this set off a wave of bloggers (here, and here, and here and here) complaining about everything from how they exploited the people they were interviewing to how the campaign is offensive to virgins everywhere. You can be the judge for yourself, since the video was finally released this weekend.

Personally, I enjoyed it. What I enjoyed most was how difficult people found the burger to eat. What we take for granted, they couldn’t figure out. Do I use a fork? Do I eat the bun first? Who knows!

In any case, however unhealthy is it, the burger is one of God’s greatest gifts to man (in my mind) and I am all for sharing it with anyone and everyone. Personally, if I was going to go around the would to introduce people to the hamburger, I wouldn’t have taken the Whopper OR the Big Mac, in fact I do believe I am both a Whopper Virgin and a Big Mac Virgin. No, I would have taken all those people one of the burgers from the Shake Shack in New York City’s Madison Square Park. It is in my mind, the best burger in the world, and believe me, I have tried a few!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lobsters, Lobsters Everywhere!

Did you know that lobster prices have gone down 25% since last year? Neither did I! Then my friend, JW, visited the office the other day and told me she has been eating nothing but lobster for weeks because it's so cheap. A quick google search revealed that not only was she right, but that I was way late to the lobster party!

Back in September, the New York Times covered the falling lobster prices. They explained that this has happened because lobster is a luxury item and in times of financial duress (ie. major world wide financial crisis) people just don't eat lobster. They also mentioned that "lobster fishermen are hauling in larger catches than ever" which means we have tons of lobster that need eating!

JR is completely and totally responsible for introducing me to lobster. I hadn't cracked a lobster shell until July 4th, 2004 when I spent my first weekend away with JR's whole family. The weekend before, he and I were hanging out in Ashford, and I mentioned I had never eaten lobster before. JR took this as permission to call his parents (who I had met MAYBE 4 times) and say "Karen wants lobster for the 4th of July, can we have it?" I was horrified!

I learned later that lobster on the 4th was a tradition and this wasn't really a big deal, but boy was I mad at him! In any case, over the course of the last few years I have watched numerous lobster dinners come together in New Hampshire. Occasionally, if we are lucky, JR's dad makes his famous baked stuffed lobster, but for the most part we have straight up steamed lobster which is nothing to cry about.

Seeing all these amazing dinners come together gave me the confidence to make a lobster dinner while on our honeymoon last summer. You know what? It really wasn't that big of a deal, it's a lot easier than I expected. So if you have been intimidated by the price of lobster in the past, now is the time to give it shot, because it's cheap!

Baked stuffed lobster is a beast all on it's own, if you are a first time lobster cooker, I recommend just steaming it. The first step to making lobster is making friends with your lobsters. They are really amazing creatures, so when you get home from buying them at the store, make sure you take some time to play with them and take photos of them. Then put them in the fridge until you are ready to start cooking.

When it's time to begin, get the biggest pot you can and a steamer basket. We are lucky because JR's parents actually have a lobster pot, but I am sure any very large pot will do. Add some water to the bottom and bring it to a boil and then place the lobsters in the steamer and lower them into the pot and cover it up. They don't scream or do anything horrible, they just take a nice steam bath. (I say that, but it's NEVER my job to put them in the pot.)

After about 15 minutes, peak in. You know they are done when they turn BRIGHT red. If you can believe it, when they are alive they are kind of a dull dark red, but when cooked they are almost fluorescent. Then comes the part where we are never sure exactly what to do. You have to cut them open. So get the biggest knife you have, and cut them straight down the belly.

I choose to clean out any gunk that is still in there, but some (like my uncle, MD) swear that is the best part. All that left is to grab some lobster (or nut) crackers and start breaking out that meat. Don't forget a plate for all the broken shells and some butter to dip the meat in, then go to town and enjoy!

Bottom line, lobsters are cheap right now. If you have stayed away because you are scared of them or think they are to expense, you don't have any excuses. Go out an get a couple of these beauties and give them a shot!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stupid Simple Thanksgiving Dinner

It's November, it's dark and cold outside, and there are leaves all over the sidewalk crunching under my feet as I walk to work. As a result, in the middle of last week I started craving Thanksgiving dinner. I wanted mounded forkfuls of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy carefully put together so that each bite had a little bit of everything.

The thing is, the REAL Thanksgiving is only a couple weeks away, and pulling together a turkey dinner in true Thanksgiving style takes time. So much time, that I can't quite convince myself to spend a Sunday, two weeks before the real deal, whipping up a Thanksgiving dinner for the two of us.

So I improvised and came up with my newest favorite weeknight meal - the Stupid Simple Thanksgiving Dinner. It was the easiest, most delicious, craving-curing meal I have had in awhile.

First, I ran over to Whole Foods and picked up a rotisserie chicken. I know it's not turkey, but it's close enough and super easy on a Monday night. Then I got some Stove Top stuffing. Do remember the Stove Top stuff commercial from the 80's? The one where the two kids do dinner twice just so they can have more Stove Top?

Well let me tell you, that commercial completely worked on me as a kid and I still think Stove Top is great. Not in a, make it for the real Thanksgiving kinda-way, but definitely in a Stupid Simple Thanksgiving Dinner kinda-way!

I threw some acorn squash in the microwave, steamed up some green beans and opened can of cranberry sauce (actually two cans, the chunky kind for me and the jelly kind for JR) and honestly I couldn't have been happier. The whole meal took maybe 15 minutes to pull together, looked beautiful (see the photos above) and it will hold me off for a couple of weeks until I can celebrate the real deal with my family.

Homecoming Meals & Thanksgiving Tryouts

My girl KF moved to Alaska not long after we finished college. She and her husband were supposed to be there 1 year and it has been much longer than that! Which means when she comes to CT to visit, it's a special occasion that I mark on my calendar and nothing gets between me and heading home to see her.

KF and I stumbled through our first cooking-to-live experiences together when we were living in Germany during our junior year of college. It's a stretch to say we were great cooks, in fact, I think we bordered on awful. At the time I blamed it on bad kitchen gear (we were using a shared dorm kitchen) and unfamiliar grocery stores, but the fact of the matter was, we had no idea what we were doing.

We did survive, mostly on pasta with frozen vegetables, salads, cereal and an occasional burger, but I think it's fair to say my cooking has improved since then. So when KF came to visit last weekend for the first time since my wedding (more than a year ago) I decided to cook her some favorites and show her how much I have improved.

Since the dinner was at my parents house, Mom and I collaborated on the menu. We planned balsamic braised cipolline onions, steaks, potato fries, salad and crunchy baked fennel. Both the cipolline onions and the fennel casserole are Food & Wine Thanksgiving specials that we were testing for Thanksgiving this year.

Jared and I headed down Saturday afternoon and Mom and I got to cooking. I haven't cooked a lot with fennel, but I like the taste of it and want to start cooking more with it, so I was excited about the experiment. The end result was good, I should have listened to the instructions and used 10 fennel bulbs (I used 6 - it looked like so much) but the flavor and crunchiness was perfect. It's a definite yes for Turkey Day.

The onions, which I had made a couple of times before, were like candy. Each tiny little onion is pillow of bliss for your to bite into. It's creamy and sweet and just melts in your mouth. They went with the steak perfectly, but they did not make the Thanksgiving day menu purely because of the time and effort it takes to peel each little onion. If you are having a small dinner, these would be a perfect addition, but for group of more than 6, this recipe is a daunting task.

As always getting to spend time with KF made me realize how much I miss her. I am constantly coming up with schemes to convince her to move back here. (For example, we are going to move our husbands to Vermont to start up a goat cheese farm just as soon as they move home.) In the mean time, I'll continue to save my weekends in Ashford to spend with her when she visits, and hope to persuade her with my much improved cooking.

If you need an additional vegetable dish for a crowd, here is the Crunchy Fennel Casserole Recipe.

If you are looking for something decadent for a smaller group, here is the recipe for the

Balsamic Braised Cipolline Onions


2lbs cipolline onions (these are the small red and white ones, small boiling onions work as well)
1 1/2 cups fat-free low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1t brown sugar
3T heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup dried cranberries (or fresh pomegranate seeds if you are feeling decadent)
olive oil


Fill your large soup pot half with water and put over high heat. Once boiling, blanch the onions in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove them from the boiling water and immediately submerge them in cold water.

Cut off the two ends of each onion, and peel them leaving the core intact. This should be really easy because you have blanched them already.

Heat a dollop of oil in the same pot you blanched them in, and add the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sauté until brown on both sides.

Add chicken broth, red wine, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.

Turn up the heat and increase the boil until the onions are soft and the liquid is thickened, stirring frequently.

Add the heavy whipping cream and dried cranberries, simmer until the sauce coats the onions. (If you are using pomegranate seeds, add them right after you have turned the heat off.)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Recipes to Drool Over

I have a couple foodie blogs that I love. I am frequently drooling over their recipes and photos, wishing I could cook as beautifully and that I could take such amazing photos. Last week I came across this recipe for Seasonal Stuffed Peppers on Straight from the Farm. I think I save every other recipe she posts, but this one spurred me to action and I made it the very next day.

However, since I do try to be semi-unique on my blog and not just re-write all the recipes other bloggers post, I am not posting this recipe, but I still highly recommend it. Since I save at least one recipe a day to try later, I thought it would be fun to add one of HubSpot's latest tools - a web voter - to Gormandizing and let all my faithful readers vote on what sounds the best.

You can check out the recipes I am reading and loving in the new Recipes to Drool Over section! Click the up arrow to let me know you think something sounds good, add a comment if you want me to make it when you come over, or push something down if you don't like the sound. I can't wait to hear your thoughts!

The time of year for soup recipes!

I never liked soup when I was young, and I still don't like soup out of a can, but when the weather turns chilly and fall is in the air I don't hesitate to start breaking out my soup recipes. This winter I am sure I will share many with you, but the first is a brand new recipe from AF, my sister.

I have been searching for the perfect butternut squash soup recipe for a couple years now. There was a lunch place near my first job in NY that had a butternut squash and apple soup that I ate every day for a year. I have tried to recreate it, but I always find my attempts to be bland and lacking in inspiration.

This year AF had me drooling with jealously over the amazing garden she was able to plant at her new home in Royersford, PA. A couple of weeks ago when she was up visiting, she brought me two beautiful butternut squashes and a recipe for Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash and Wild Rice soup.

I have to admit I was hesitant at first, the idea of sausage in soup is not something that thrilled me. I waited for my mother to give it a shot first, and when both she and my sister raved about it, I decided to try it out. As I was making it, I was still skeptical about a soup that had almost no spices in it! What is butternut squash soup without cinnamon and nutmeg?

As the soup started to bubble in the pot I took a taste and was blown away. How could such a simple soup have so many flavors and textures? You could taste the smoky spiciness of the sausage and the vegetables and rice combined to give the soup an amazing heartiness. It was everything my other butternut squash soups have not been, inspirational.

Smoked Sausage, Butternut Squash and Wild Rice Soup

2 medium butternut squashes - peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 T olive oil
salt & pepper
12 cups chicken stock
2 1/2 cups chopped wild rice
1 box instant wild rice
3/4 pounds sausage - kielbasa, turkey kielbasa, jalapeno chicken sausage, chicken apple sausage, anything that inspires you
2 cups frozen corn
1 1/2 cups half-and-half (I didn't have this, so I used skim milk, it worked fine)
1T chopped parsley (I think I used 4 times this, you can never have too much fresh parsley!)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash with 1T olive oil and some salt and pepper. Layout on flat baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until tender.

2. Remove the squash from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes and then throw into the food processor with 2 cups of chicken stock and 1 cup of onions. You might have to do this in batches depending on the size of your food processor.

3. In a saucepan, cook the wild rice according to the instructions on the box except replace the water with chicken stock. Put to the side.

4. In a large dutch oven (a really big saucepan, perfect for making soups) add some olive oil and brown the sausage for 3 minutes. Add the remaining onions and the corn, season with salt and pepper and saute for 3 minutes.

5. To the soup pot, add 6 cups of stock and the squash puree. Stir well and allow to come to a boil. Reduce heat an simmer for 20 minutes.

6. Skim off any fat that rises to the surface (I used chicken sausage and there was almost none, but I expect if you use real sausage there is more.) Stir in the rice and continue to cook for 10 minutes.

7. Remove from heat, add half-and-half and season with salt and pepper. Stir in parsley and serve.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Still River Cafe - Eastford, Connecticut

The other day I was chatting with a couple other foodies at work and I was trying to tell them about this amazing restaurant near my parents house. I was explaining that it would be the perfect fall Sunday get-a-way and trying to do the food justice in my explanation. My glowing recommendation missed a little, when they asked, "What's it called?" and I blanked on the name.

Boston Magazine (and my father for sending the article to me) came to the rescue this week, clearly thinking along the same lines. Their article about various Foodie Road Trips in New England has the Still River Cafe in Eastford CT as the #1 recommendation!

I agree 100%. If you are looking for something to do on a beautiful fall weekend before the cold sets in, I highly recommend heading down to Eastford. The only thing they forgot to mention is that you MUST have reservations to get into one of their 3 seatings a week, but trust me the drive is worth it.

Now I am going to try and convince JR to start taking me to the other places on the list!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coffee - Nectar of the Gods

Have you ever stopped to think about how wonderful coffee is?

I recently had a "come-to-Jesus" moment with regards to coffee and I don't think my life will ever be the same. You see, I never liked coffee. I didn't like it's bitter taste, I didn't like the smell and I HATED coffee breath. Then everything changed.

It started with Tiramisu when I was young. Since I discovered it, at about the age of 12, I have loved Tiramisu. I made it last year, and as with most things, it's even better homemade. It took about 10 years for me to graduate from Tiramisu to Coffee ice cream, but I suppose it was eventual. I have to credit the White Mountain Creamery in Wellesley MA for their coffee flavored hard yogurt and my father-in-law for introducing it to me. Add some heath bar crunch topping and you have heaven on a cone.

I supposed my passion for coffee then followed a normal course. From super foofoo drinks like Peppermint White Mocha Frappuccinos to lattes and then on to cappuccinos. Finally one day, I was at work and exhausted and really not in the mood for a Diet Coke, and a light bulb went off, "What if coffee with cream and sugar tastes just like coffee ice cream?" And you know what? When I tried it, it did!

From there it has been a slippery slope to coffee addiction, but I think I have been smart about it. I only drink decaf (unless the caffeine is necessary) and I always keep gum on hand because coffee breath is still a major turn off. In case you haven't realized yet that coffee is officially the nectar of the Gods, here are 5 reasons why you should love it too.

1. There is a coffee to suit every tongue and personality! Bitter, sweet, creamy, foamy, part skim, full fat, hazelnut, Colombian, Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks - anyone who likes coffee has a way they like it best. All you have to do to like coffee is find out how you like it and where they serve it that way.

2. It kills hunger. I never knew this, and I am amazed that the coffee industry hasn't used it as a marketing campaign, but drinking coffee makes you less hungry. It only took a couple of weeks of drinking it regularly for me to realize that if I had coffee in the morning, I didn't eat as much. It is your instant, cheap and easy-at-the-office, diet drink!

3. It comes hi-test or low-test. At first I wondered about drinking all the caffeine in coffee, just because it tastes like a warm cup of ice cream. It didn't seem like fair trade off. Then I realized decaf coffee comes in all the great flavors of regular coffee without the extra JUICE! Amazing!

4. Coffee is a natural conversation starter. The coffee machine (you know the new Keurig Machines that make individual cups of coffee - brilliant!) is the new water cooler and a place to chit chat at work. Coffee is also the end to a good meal and a reason to linger at the dinner table and keep the conversation going.

5. Coffee is also a good choice when you need to stay awake. Let me tell you, as someone who didn't drink coffee until she was 26, when you are driving at 2AM a Diet Coke just isn't what you are craving. The warmth of a cup of joe is just so much more satisfying.

Blog Post Credits
- The inspiration for the post is entirely due to my good friend JS who realized the beauty of coffee when we worked together in NY. I thought he was crazy at the time, but now I know he was just a couple years ahead of me.
- Photos can be credited to Google Images. It's impressive enough that I felt inspired to write a freaking post, taking photos was more that I could manage.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Exciting News!

I was going to go into work early today. Then I decided to change ALL the music on my iPhone, and you know what? It takes long time for that little sucker to sync up when you change everything. So instead, I am sitting at the computer watching it tick up (316 of 669 songs) and I decided it was time to write another post apologizing for not posting more, and give my official excuse.

I have basically taken on a second job in the last 3 weeks. It was unexpected, but we went out one Sunday to look at a few condos and suddenly decided to put an offer in on one! The owners accepted and so we have been navigating the house buying waters for a couple of weeks now. Let me tell you, this is no small feat for someone as anal as I am. I mean, it took me a week and a half alone just to get my binder in order and color coded (what, you don't have one of those?)

In any case, we are super excited and hoping to close sometime in November and move in before Thanksgiving. While we aren't going to host Thanksgiving this year, in the future it won't be out of the question with my new kitchen!

If you remember my kitchen in NY you know that this is a dream come true for me. There are enough cabinets for all my stuff!

The place also has amazing outdoor space, which has become something I refuse to live without. Assume everything goes as planned, we will have a deck AND a patio!

Everyday I love living in Boston more! I can't wait to move in and have everyone over for football!

(iTunes Update - 554 of 669 - guess it's time to get ready for work.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

So Busy!

I can't complain, we are so busy living life, that I haven't had time to write in my blog! Yes, I am cooking. Yes, I am taking photos. But I just haven't had time to sit down and put the two together.

Take this post for what it is, a cop out. I was going through some photos and I realized there were some great ones I hadn't shared yet! So here is to the end of summer and to being blissfully busy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

End of Summer Salads

I recently brought some of this salad into work for DA today (recently being today) and he asked if the recipe was on the blog. I thought it was, because I remember writing the post, and when I checked I realized it had gotten lost in my backlog! So here is yet one more summer salad recipe before it's too late to make summer salads any more!

This year for the 4th of July we decided to stay in Boston and go to the gigantic fireworks display (I have been told it's the largest in the country) with my parents. It's the kind of thing my Mom has always wanted to do, but dealing with parking is such a pain that we never did. Since JR and I now live within walking distance of the river and downtown Boston, this was clearly the year to make it happen.

Mom & Dad came over in the afternoon and brought a big fruit salad and my Mom's world famous Copper Pennies. I then pulled together another coleslaw recipe from Smitten Kitchen, this one a bit different, had no mayo and an Asian influence. I knew my Mom and Dad would love it. We also grilled some corn and fish and had a feast.

Then we walked to the fireworks, which were totally worth it, and highly recommended.

Napa Cabbage and Sesame Seed Slaw

Wasabi Dressing Ingredients:
2 teaspoons wasabi powder (available at Asian markets, specialty stores and many large supermarkets)
1 tablespoon water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 tablespoon honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Slaw Ingredients:
1 large head Napa cabbage, finely shredded
2 large carrots, peeled and finely shredded
4 green onions (white bulb and 3 inches of green), finely sliced on the bias
1 cup finely sliced snow peas (strings removed and sliced on the bias)
Wasabi dressing
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds, toasted

Combine the wasabi powder and water in a small bowl. Whisk in the garlic, ginger, lime juice, vinegar, oil and honey, and season with salt and pepper.

Combine the cabbage, carrots, green onions and snow peas in a large bowl. Add the dressing and coat well. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

Side Note: This salad also made an appearance at Labor Day and about 5 other weekends this summer. We had it this past weekend with some spicy buffalo wings for the second Patriots game and it was the perfect accompaniment. It stores well and everyone loves it. I highly recommend it the next time you need to bring a salad somewhere!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ice Cream GALORE!

This weekend we went over to dinner at our friend BC's parent's house. S&BC live out in Wellesley and for 4 years I have been hearing about their freezer.

Apparently they love ice cream and there is never a shortage. Everyone always talks about how many flavors of Ben & Jerry's they have and I always thought "of course, EVERYONE loves ice cream!" Boy was I wrong, no one loves ice cream as much as S&BC!

Here is a quick glimpse inside their freezer,

That's right, you can see 9 flavors of Ben & Jerry's alone, not to mention 2 sorbets. What you can't see is the 3 other half gallon tubs on the bottom shelf! BC also assured me that they are about 8 flavors short right now!

I haven't told JR yet, but I am considering moving in with them just to be closer to their freezer....

Never to Busy for Lasagna!

I have been working my little tail off for the last two weeks. I have been so busy, I haven't even be able to publish the articles on my blog that were already written! You might think that also means I didn't have time to cook, but I do have my priorities straight!

Last weekend, at JR and BC's request, I made lasagna for the first Patriots game. I LOVE lasagna. It's a bit of work, but almost impossible to mess up, and everyone thinks you are the worlds best chef when you make it. The leftovers also get better and better and there are always lots of them.

My recipe is from my mother and it's as healthy as lasagna can be. Follow along and you can have your very own!

Step 1: Arrange all the ingredients around your lasagna pan, including -

1. Lasagna noodles - I have used both regular and whole wheat. I do pre-cook them in boiling water.
2. Vegetables - shredded carrots, sliced zucchini and mushrooms. This is much easier to make now that I have a Cuisinart. If you don't have one, I highly recommend using whatever vegetables you can get pre-sliced at the grocery store.
3. Cheeses - Mozzarella, parmigiana, and ricotta. Mix the ricotta with some egg, parsley, and the parmigiana cheese.
4. Red Sauce - I saute lots of garlic, onions and peppers. Then I add a couple jars of pasta sauce and tons of basil, oregano, rosemary and red pepper.

Step 2: Spray the bottom of the pan with Pam, add a couple spoons of sauce and build a layer of noodles. This gives you a base.

Step 3: Then add some plops of the ricotta mixture, followed by some more sauce. Mix the two and spread them out over the noodles.

Step 4: Start adding your veggies. Begin with the mushrooms. I don't like mushrooms much, but in lasagna, I don't even notice them, so I add them for JR.

Step 5: Add the shredded carrots (and think about how beautiful it looks!)

Step 6: Finish off the vegetables with the zucchini.

Step 7: Cover the vegetables with mozzarella cheese, and start back at the beginning with the noodles. Keep building until your pan is just about full. Then finish off with a layer of noodles, sauce and cheese.

Step 8: Admire your mess! This is where JR comes in. He knows a lasagna is quite a bit of work because of all the dishes it makes. But he agrees that it is totally worth the effort. It's also much much better now that we have a dishwasher.

Step 9: Bake the lasagna, covered, at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Then allow it to stand for 10 minutes. This is the hardest part! It's a true exercise in patience.

Step 10: DIG IN! (Note: There are no photos of the lasagna all served up waiting to be eaten because it didn't hang around long enough to be photographed!)

Lasagna is super easy to share or store. We brought one of these over to JR's sister and ate the rest for dinner all week. You can freeze single servings in tinfoil and they are great on nights when you don't feel like cooking or for weeks when you are too busy to blog!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Wildflowers, Lobsters & Tomatoes

Last week JR and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary. We were lucky to be able take a long weekend and head to New Hampshire where we spent our honeymoon. New Hampshire in August is breath taking. There are wildflowers and butterflies everywhere, and the mornings are cool enough for a sweater, but the days are long and georgeous.

As can be expected, I crafted our honeymoon around food. Since we were staying in a house with a great kitchen, we used the week to gormandize. This weekend was not different, we made glorious feasts each night, and then headed to town to gorge ourselves on desert.

Friday we headed down to the local farm stand and picked up corn, tomatoes, fresh peas and cucumbers. We then went down to the nearest grocery store (a half hour away) to stock up for dinner and the weekend. We decided on our honeymoon to start a Lobster dinner tradition and continue it each year, and so the required lobsters had to be picked out.

This year we went for 3 soft shell lobsters. They have less meat than their larger hard shell brothers, but the meat is supposed to be sweeter and easier to get to. They are also a little smaller, and last year we had tons of left over lobster. As always we played with them for a little while, and I was happy to see they had some spunk.

Making lobsters couldn't be easier, we threw them in the lobster pot, steamed them for 12 minutes, and presto, beautiful red lobsters. We had them with a some corn and of course the required butter. We ended the night biking down into town for ice cream.

The next night we dinned on grilled steak, mushrooms and onions, but the star of the evening were the slow roasted tomatoes. I had been catching up on my blog reading earlier in the day and had seen this recipe for slow roasted tomatoes. I had some amazing cherry tomatoes from the farm stand and I knew instantly what I was going to do with them. We chowed down on them as appetizers, popping them in to our mouths like cherries, while we made the rest of dinner. That night we ate out on the porch and followed up dinner with drinks and desert down at the local hang out. It was a perfect weekend.

Swedish Cucumbers - Summer in a Bowl

My mother's family is Swedish, and as can be expected, I relate most to my heritage through the food. I love good Swedish mustard, I would kill for real Swedish meatballs and every summer I crave Swedish Cucumbers.

The best family functions always include both Swedish meatballs and cucumbers, and they accompany each other perfectly. However, my understand is that Swedish meatballs are HARD to make (having never made them myself) - so today, I stuck with just the cucumbers. This may sound like I wimped out, but I assure you, the cucumbers have taunted and teased me for a couple years.

Come July and August, I can't get enough of the fresh cucumbers that are at the farmers markets, yet I have never made Swedish cucumbers! Mostly it's a result of the whole mandolin issue, but it's also because my mom could never tell me more about the recipe than "put some cucumbers with vinegar, water and sugar." It seemed like too much work to risk a massive failure.

Then my Aunt PC came to the rescue a couple of weeks ago and sent me the recipe as well as a tip for skipping the mandolin. Apparently my Great Grandma, who immigrated to the US from Sweden with she 18 and who just turned 105, (WOW!) used to make these super thin cucumber slices with just her vegetable peeler. Since I have a wonderful Cutco peeler, and have been beaten by my mandolin, I decided this was the approach for me.

So today, I stopped by a farm stand and picked up some beautiful cucumbers. I went at them with the peeler and viola! I had beautiful Swedish cucumber slices within 10 minutes. It wasn't nearly as difficult or as painful as I expected. I threw together the vinegar, water and sugar, added some salt, pepper and parsley and was in summer-time bliss. It took a lot of will power to not eat the whole bowl before dinner, but I managed and even shared some with JR.

Pickled Swedish Cucumbers
2 cucumbers
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup white granulated sugar
1 cup water
Dash of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper
Chopped parsley or dill

1. Dissolve the sugar in the liquid ingredients.
2. Slice up the cucumbers making sure they are paper thin. Use a mandolin if you are brave or a vegetable peeper to peel off thin round.
3. Pour the vinegar mix over the cucumbers and add salt, pepper and herbs.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Oh yeah, O Ya! (A foodie dream)

A couple weeks ago, JR’s college roommate and the best man at our wedding, AWE(some), was in from L.A. and took us out to dinner to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. The evening resulted in the best foodie experience of my life (and that is saying something!)

AWE gave us the choice of where we wanted to go. It’s impossible for me to choose, so I bailed and gave back 3 restaurant names that I have been wanting to try. He decided on O Ya, and I was excited, but had I an inkling of what I was getting into, I would have been jumping up and down and hollering with joy.

I found out about O Ya when they were written up in F&W as one of the top restaurants in Boston. I got nervous though, when I asked a couple of my co-workers who know the Boston restaurant scene and they hadn’t heard of it. I figured we would just hope for the best, and if it wasn’t great, we would have a good time just being together.

AWE called on Tuesday before our Thursday date and was only able to get a reservation for 9:30. He actually was on the phone with the restaurant when the LA earthquake hit and had to hang up and call back. It resulted in us getting Kevin Garnett style treatment at the restaurant as the owner and a couple of the staff came out to shake his hand.

Once we saw the restaurant we knew we were in for something special. It’s on a side street near South Station and is pretty much the only thing on the street. There is a small sign and a tall wooden door. It’s very unassuming but you can tell that a lot of thought has gone into the presentation of everything from the moment you walk through the door. The building was actually an old fire station, and the tall ceilings and Asian influenced decorations work together to create an intimate atmosphere. It also doesn’t hurt that the place sits maybe 30 people.

We were offered a couple different seating choices, since we were there a little early. We held out for the corner spot at the long sushi bar, and boy was it worth it. From that vantage, we got to watch 3 artists behind the counter prepare some of the most beautiful food I have ever seen.

The menu was a bit overwhelming, but the waitress was very used to dealing with people like us and provided a pen so that we could mark the items we wanted. The food is served tapas style, and they recommend 12-16 plates per person. We ordered in a couple rounds and everything we got came with 3 pieces of perfectly crafted bite-sized-heaven and a explanation of what it was from the waitress.

I wish I had photos of the food, but I didn’t bother trying because the lighting would not have allowed, and also it could never convey the flavor, and textures, and tastes that were done so well. They have a chefs menu ($150-180), which we didn’t do, but which I fully intend to within the very near future. If you have a special occasion and want something amazing, O Ya is a must.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

5 Things That Scare or Intimidate Me

I cook and eat a lot, but there are some things that intimidate me enough that I stay away from them. Here are my top 5 (on this Wednesday morning.)

1. Squid & Octopus Suckers – I have a hard time eating any squid or octopus that still has the suckers on it. They make me think of those plastic suckers that you can stick to windows or your refrigerator and I truly believe that they will suck on to the back of my throat and never come loose. If we order calamari I only eat the rings without any suckers and let JR risk the inevitable coughing and hacking that would come with a sucker in his throat.

2. Poaching Eggs – I love eggs benedict and this amazing dish that they serve at Dizzy’s in Park Slope, but the thing they have in common and the reason I don’t make them at home, is that I am afraid to make poached eggs. Apparently I am not the only one, but unless I go out and buy an electric egg poacher I am wary that this is a skill I can master. It seems complicated and too likely to lead to disappointment.

3. Cuisinart Mandolin – I was so excited to get my Cuisinart mandolin as a wedding present and now it totally intimidates me. I tried to use it once and it was a disaster and it hasn’t come out since (it’s been over a year!) I really want to make Swedish Cucumbers, a fantastic salad that demands super thin cucumbers. I recently learned that my Great Grandma makes it by using a vegetable peeler and peeling the cucumber slices. This sounds tedious, but I will probably try it soon to keep from breaking out the mandolin.

4. Ordering Tuna – I love fresh tuna but I hate having to send it back when it’s over cooked. I tend to order anything but the fresh tuna when we go out to eat because it always breaks my heart when they serve it and it’s so over-cooked it might as well have come out of a can. I don’t like sending food back at restaurants because then everyone at the table is eating without me, then they have to wait while I eat, and most of all, chances are good someone is going to spit in my food! So in the end, I deprive myself of fresh tuna in restaurants, which is really sad.

5. Pie Crust – Who doesn’t love a good apple pie? It’s one of the few deserts that JR enjoys and yet I steer clear of making them because the crusts scare me. It seems like an awful lot of work, and I am pretty sure I will manage to punch a thumb through it after I have rolled it thin. Also it’s something people are (for some reason) picky about. Personally, I have never met a crust I haven’t enjoyed, but lots of people are more particular.

(Thanks to Google Images and the Photographers for the the photos!)