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!)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Babies and Banana Bread

This weekend I was in charge of the food for sister-in-law NS’s baby shower. There were going to be 13 ladies present and I was nervous as anything about doing it. I get all worked up about entertaining for large numbers and I am not very good at cooking in other peoples kitchens and the party was at my sister-in-laws place. As a result I went for a simple menu that allowed me to do most of the prep at home and didn’t involve a lot of cooking.

Bagels with lox, fresh tomatoes and red onions
Fruit Salad (provided by my mother-in-law)
Green salad with bok choy and tomatoes
Nana’s Banana Bread

My Nana’s banana bread is sacred in our household. When bananas get brown, I peel them and throw them in a zip lock bag in the freezer. Then when I get three, I’ll pull together a loaf for JR and it keeps him remembering why he married me – my Nana’s banana bread. It’s not something I can describe, just think of the best banana bread you have ever had and here is the recipe.

Nana’s Banana Bread

½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 crushed bananas
2 cups bread flour
1 t baking soda
¼ t salt
¼ cup walnuts (optional)

- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Cream butter and sugar, add eggs, flour, baking soda, nuts.
- Mash bananas in a separate bowl and add last, mixing until they are just mixed in.
- Bake 1 hour in a well greased bread pan (or half hour in muffin tins)

Ginger Carrot Slaw - Another Summer Salad

A couple years ago my company merged with another and went from 35 people to ~85 people in a day. It was difficult to know everyone and there was very much an “us” and “them” mentality. I decided in order to try and smooth things over and get people talking we should have a pot-luck lunch. It was a brilliant idea (I am so modest) which we pulled off a couple days before Christmas. A ton of people brought in dishes, so many that we had leftovers for the lunch the rest of the week.

It was also fun because people brought a lot of different types of food from all over the world. There were curries and cheeses and special Pakistani pastry puffs but the only recipe I took away from the event was the Carrot and Cabbage slaw that my friend MG made. It’s a recipe he got from a raw food website that combines shredded carrots and cabbage with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, fresh ginger and lemon juice.

It’s one of the few recipes I make big batches of year round. It’s great to bring it to work for lunch every day for a week and only gets better as the flavors soak in. This past week, the farm share we have been enjoying, delivered both carrots and cabbage and I couldn’t stop myself from whipping this together. I used cranberries instead of the normal golden raisins, and I actually liked it better. Make it next time you want something last a couple days, I promise you will enjoy it.

5 carrots, grated
2 cups shredded red cabbage
1-cup raisins
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds

2 tsp honey or maple syrup
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp grated ginger
4 Tbsp olive oil or sunflower seed oil
dash of salt

• Toss together salad ingredients in a large bowl
• Dissolve the honey in the lemon juice, add the grated ginger, olive oil, and salt
• Pour the dressing over the salad and toss
• Allow to marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes to 24 hours

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Great Friends Give Fresh Vegetables

You might have heard that I have not had any luck with growing fresh vegetables or that I crave them something fierce. What you may not know is that I was really worried that Boston would not have the variety of fresh vegetables I have become accustomed to and that they would be hard to come by, was I ever wrong! I also happen to have some great friends and colleagues who keep me in my habit and supply me with fresh veggies.

Last Wednesday, I was given a first batch of veggies from a colleague as part of a trade I have arranged. MG, who read about my lettuce woes and promptly rubbed it in that he has a beautiful garden, brought me summer squash and cucumbers. We have made an arrangement that he will keep me in tomatoes and other vegetables this summer, in exchange for a batch of my BBQ sauce.

That same day, I picked up H&CK’s farm share from Red Fire Farm. They are on vacation this week weren’t going to be able to eat all the veggies. So for 2 WHOLE WEEKS they are letting us pick their share. This past week we got, tomatoes, beets, blueberries, lettuce, kale, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, green beans, potatoes, peppers, fresh basil and broccoli! Today I picked up garlic, lettuce, tomatoes, basil, eggplant, watermelon, blueberries, squash, peppers, carrots and corn.

It’s beautiful and tasty and I didn’t even tell JR about half of it so I could horde it all for myself to eat in beautiful salads for lunch. I got home from picking it up last Wednesday and promptly made myself a tomato, basil and mozzarella salad that was delicious.

Then on Saturday, I picked JB up at 10AM and we went up to the farmers marketing in Somerville. We have been doing this pretty much every weekend we are both in the city and it’s been awesome.

The market keeps getting better and better. Since I had so many vegetables from the farm share, I didn’t let myself get too much and settled for photos. I did buy some bok choy for salads and a couple tomatoes, I couldn’t help myself!

It turns out finding fresh veggies isn't so difficult! I am thinking about joining the farm share next year and will keep enjoying the farmers market as long as I can.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Homemade Ketchup

After my smashing success with homemade BBQ sauce, I decided to try homemade ketchup. The recipes all seem pretty simple and how could it not be better than the stuff in the bottle right?

I just finished making it, and have it cooling waiting to go on some stellar burgers and oven fries (if I can find my camera, I will take a photo, I promise). The thing is, I think it's too sweet. I added a whole bunch of extra vinegar and it still seems really sweet.

I am going to try it out, and will post and update after I have eaten it on something other than a spoon. If you are interested in taste testing it for me and live close by, let me know. I am more than willing to share in exchange for your thoughts.


We had the ketchup last night and it was good, not as remarkable as the BBQ sauce is, but good. JR liked it a lot more than I did, but then I generally like things that are more tart.

I did do the oven fries with fresh rosemary, which basically means they tasted amazing any way you sliced it. There are some other recipes out there that have more spices in them, I think I will give it another shot to see how they compare.