Dec 14, 2010

Because It's Cold

I'm basically a soup nut. Anyone in my family will vouch for this, seeing as my favorite food growing up was my Grandma Jo's homemade vegetable soup (strangely containing beef...). There is just something so cozy and comforting to me about sitting down with a steaming bowl of soup and a small spoon (another quirk, I hate soup spoons. We'll leave that for another time). But aside from this love of soup, I am also cold. Always. Well, aside from two weeks ago when I was on a Caribbean cruise. So needless to say, between my fond childhood memories and the desire for warmth, soup is a big hit in this house.

On the way home tonight, I heard that the "feels like" temperature for tomorrow morning is -4 degrees F. Yikes. That settles it. Time for soup.

This one is so easy that I had to post it. It's one of those "one dish wonders" as I like to say, where you barely have any dishes to take care of once dinner is prepared. The prep is minimal so it isn't a huge time constraint, which is always a plus. I don't usually go for the open-can-make-recipe types, but this tastes good. Period.

Santa Fe Soup

1 lb hamburger
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can of diced tomatoes (my recipe suggests Rotel, but I just use regular Hunt's, better yet the fire roasted if I can get my hands on them)
1 can chili beans (your desired spiciness)
1 can whole kernel corn
1 tbsp chili powder
1/4 to 1/3 lb velveeta mexican cheese ("cheese" used loosely...)
1/2 c ketchup
1/2 c water
1 tsp garlic powder
Cayenne to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Brown beef with onion, season with salt and pepper; drain fat (this will cause your house to smell like a diner, which isn't the worst thing). Add tomatoes, corn, and chili beans (with liquid) to pot. Also add chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne as desired, ketchup, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. While simmering, add cubes of velveeta cheese until the desired consistency and flavor is achieved.

A few notes: cook all of this in the same pot and save yourself a few dishes. Remember that "spicy" seasonings tend to grow as you simmer, so taste and adjust the flavor after the soup has been simmering a while. Also, the original recipe calls for a pound of velveeta which I find to be overkill. I used 1/4 lb cut in small cubes (melts faster) and it gave the soup good flavor, color, and consistency. I normally object to velveeta but it works well here. Use your judgement.

Nov 12, 2010

It's Time

I am one of those crazy holiday people. It's easier if I just shoot straight with you. In 2009, I started listening to Christmas music in August. This year, I restrained myself a bit and waited until the beginning of October.

While I tend to pull the holiday music into summer and fall, food is a different matter. I wait until the weather and changing seasons dictate certain recipes. It just feels wrong to make them at inappropriate times. Keeping that in mind, it was a relief for me when the leaves started to change colors and drift to the ground. It was autumn. Well, almost. We made gingerbread waffles and the seasons officially progressed.

These gingerbread waffles are something to look forward to for most of the year. I really only make them in late fall and winter, so we enjoy them while we can. They are thick and substantial, with almost the denseness of a large cookie. If you aren't a fan of molasses or gingerbread, I still think you should give them a fair shake. I usually call them pumpkin waffles by mistake, just because that seems to be the predominant flavor. All the traditional autumn spices come together with the pumpkin and give a very "thanksgivingish" feel to the morning. Or evening. Who doesn't love waffles for brinner?

Gingerbread Waffles
adapted from Rachael Ray (makes 6 waffles in my belgian waffle iron, although we usually cut the recipe in half)

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
Waffle toppings...if any at all!

Preheat your waffle iron, and be sure to use non-stick spray before loading in the batter.

In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs and brown sugar until a bit frothy. Then add pumpkin, milk, molasses and melted butter (making sure the butter isn't too hot to scramble your eggs).

Stir the wet into the dry ingredients until moist, taking care not to overstir. Fill the waffle iron and bake until lightly brown.

Oct 7, 2010

"The Rest of the Story"

It's been swirling around in my mind for quite a while now. To be honest, it's been since the beginning of this blog about 9 months ago.

What exactly is the purpose of this? Is food something to be dwelled on as an attempt to distract us from some unpleasantries in our lives? Perhaps a connection can be made. A place where food, smells, methods, and traditions can take us that few other things can.

Memories. Distinct, treasured, wonderful.

The way I approach specific ingredients, smells, dishes, and preparation methods links me to something that I couldn't bear to do without. Memories of my grandparents.

This lucky girl was blessed with 3 sets of grandparents. My mom's parents divorced and remarried long before I was born, so I knew all six as nothing less than full-fledged grandmas and grandpas. This post isn't about all six of them, though I love them all dearly. It's only about two of them. My dad's parents: Grandpa Floyd and Grandma Jo.

Grandpa Floyd and Grandma Jo lived on a nice-sized plot of land. Just small enough so they could always call the grandkids in for lunch with the big metal bell which hung just outside the back door. Just large enough to provide a variety of excellent hiding places for hide-n-seek, bloody mary, and seven steps around the house. This land also included a large vegetable garden, which was my grandpa's project all summer. I spent some of my summer days helping Grandpa Floyd in the garden, and I owe him for all the garden knowledge I have. More precious than this knowledge are the memories that gardening brings to me. When I go to the local greenhouse, I remember our trips there to pick out seeds. When I taste a fresh carrot, I remember us digging them out of the garden, rinsing them off in a bucket of water and enjoying them right then and there.

Luckily, the brain does well with memories--especially those linked to smell. For this very reason, I grow tomatoes. Have you noticed that tomato plants themselves have a smell? It is fresh, light, and yet a bit humid. Every single time I got into my garden and smelled the tomato plants, I was taken back to my childhood and all the great things that went with it. I did more work with the tomatoes than any other plants in my grandpa's garden, mostly because he was color-blind and couldn't distinguish red from green. This not only provides difficulty for traffic lights, but also picking tomatoes. He and I were always happy to work together to pick all the ripe tomatoes and bring them in to Grandma. And if it was around lunch time, Paul Harvey would be playing on their kitchen radio. And Paul would agree with me, that this indeed is "the rest of the story".

The Process

Let's just skip over the part where I acknowledge how long it's taken me to finally finish this topic. Here is how I turned my san marzanos into sauce.

Step one, you find the first tomato of the season and celebrate a little bit. Come on, that's one cute tomato.

Next, you gather your batch of tomatoes. Remove the stems and wash them. (Note to self: remove the PGA championship parking pass from the picture next time)

Gather whatever seasonings you'd like to use. For some batches, I used fresh basil and oregano from my front porch. Other times, I did straight-up tomatoes. Both were great.

Next, bring a pot of water to a simmer. Place 7-8 tomatoes in the water at a time, and wait for the skins to "pop", like this one. Place on a cookie sheet until the tomato cools down. Peel the skin off and discard.

Run the tomatoes and seasonings through a food processor until the desired consistency is reached. Some batches I opted for chunky, others super smooth.

Add the pureed tomatoes to a pot (my dutch oven worked great for this!) and simmer on med-low heat for several hours or until desired thickness is reached. For most of my batches, I reduced the sauce by half to really concentrate the flavors.

Lastly, admire your sauce.

I made quite a bit of this, and now my freezer is full to the brim with san marzano sauce to use in late fall and winter. I've only sampled it once on pasta and it was delightfully simple. This weekend there are plans in the works to turn it into pizza sauce with the help of some carrots, onion, and celery finely pureed and sauteed.

Well, that is mostly all I have on this topic. I'm sure you are well-aware of my strange obsession with a local pizza place that honors these tomatoes. That obsession played a large part in my decision to grow these plants. For the final decision'll just have to wait.

Aug 26, 2010


Eek, has it really been a month since I posted about my tomatoes?

Well, it's been busy around here. And while I wait for my husband to upload some of the newest and greatest pictures, here's what's been going on:

Sauce has been made!

It is quite something to take a plastic grocery bag outside with me and fill it halfway with tomatoes every time I go out to pick them. Sure makes all the prior effort worth it. But, it isn't all fairies and lollipops in the garden. To be sure, there has been some rot. Apparently there is a fungus or bacteria around this area that makes it difficult for san marzanos to grow. I've probably lost about 30% of my tomato crop to this. Invetiably, there will be a multitude of tomato plants growing in our swamp next year as I just toss the rotten ones in that direction. Another negative is that some animal has been taking large bites out of the low-hanging tomatoes (which are usually the big beautiful ones!). My hope is that said animal wonders over to the ripening habeneros and takes a bite.

Negatives aside, I really am having a blast. I've made 2 batches of sauce, and this weekend should mark the 3rd. I took picturs of the whole process and will share soon. For now, here's the summary.

Batch one:
2 quarts of sauce, made simply from tomatoes with fresh basil and oregano

Batch two:
1 quart of sauce, simply tomatoes. I simmered this much longer than the first batch so it got very thick and rich. I wanted a batch of san marzanos in their purest state. The samples I snuck were delicious.

Why nothing but plain 'ol tomato sauce? Because I have a hard time committing, ok? Truth is, I wanted to leave it as a blank slate as much as possible. Then, when we have a craving for san marzano sauce this winter, we can pull it out of the freezer and do what we want with it. Marinara, pizza sauce, pasta sauce, pomodoro, vodka sauce, etc.

We did make some fresh salsa with several of the tomatoes, just to use up some peppers we had (japalenos, serranos, habeneros). A quick pulse of onion, tomato, and peppers and we were good to go.

Jul 20, 2010

My Precious

No, I haven't turned into Gollum (Smeagol). I'm not delicately passing an engraved ring through my wiry fingers. But, I am hovering over my precious treasures.

26 tomato plants.

Wait...26 thriving tomato plants.

OK...26 thriving San Marzano tomato plants!

Maybe you are wondering...what the heck lady, it is the end of July. Why are you first posting about your garden NOW?

It was entirely intentional. You see, I am selfish. I didn't want you to get any good ideas from mine, and start your own San Marzano plants. Ha!

The timeframe for garden planting around here is typically Memorial Day weekend. Counting backwards per the directions on the seed packets, I started my San Marzanos about 7 weeks before they would need to make the move outdoors.

Having never started any plants indoors before, I went a little overboard. I thought "I'm sure some won't come up, so I'll just start with 30 and see where that goes. At least I will end up with a few plants to put outside." Turns out I was wrong as all 30 plants came up. Well, actually 60(ish) came up, as 2 seeds were in each mini-pot. I then had the not-so-fun job of playing Sophie's Choice with my tomatoes...which should survive? After snipping the weakest links, I committed myself to making these tomatoes the best they could be. (In case you are doing the math, I did say 26 plants, not 30, at the beginning of the post. I gave 4 to my dad :-)

I had more of an investment than just an average girl with her little plants. These babies are the star of the show at Il Ritrovo, a restaurant I posted about here. This is hands-down my favorite restaurant for many reasons, one of which is the sauce that goes on their pizza. Granted, they use DOP certified San Marzanos from Campania itself, so mine will be lacking in some respects. They don't have the soil of Mt. Vesuvius to nourish them, but instead a swampy backyard in rural Wisconsin. Regardless, I am sure proud of these plants. They are thriving and are now more of a tomato "hedge" than anything else, as I planted them much too close together and harvesting them is going to be a beast.
If the world were my oyster and I could do anything I wanted, I'd probably tear up my entire back yard for these babies. Then, I'd start a sauce company and make large vats of the delicious red sauce. I'd can it and sell it to local organic stores, and make some sweet sun-dried tomatoes for myself. But in all seriousness, I am going to make sauce with it. I've never canned before, so I will probably freeze my product and maybe sell some to people I know. We'll see what happens. Either way, don't get between this girl and her San Marzanos!

Note the above picture...the plants are now as tall as the stakes. Still flowering. They are UNSTOPPABLE!

Jul 11, 2010

Fishy fishy

Thanks to a kind co-worker, I was gifted with 4 lbs of fresh fish filets. I was extremely eager to get them home and cook them, because fish filets like this take me straight back to childhood. We took many family vacations to a lake in Minnesota when I was younger, and the catch of the day was the supper of the night. We'd normally dine on panfish, and that is exactly what my co-worker gave me. Upon inspection I saw it was blue gill and crappie, and began to salivate. Delicious! Just how should I prepare these, I wondered? I wanted almost a zero failure risk, because wasting these would just be wrong.

I went for a pretty fool-proof and delectable method-fry it! These were small filets, so I heated up 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan to 350 degrees.

For the coating, I tried two methods on two different nights. The first time, I tried an egg wash, and then a dredge. Second time, sans egg wash. In my opinion the egg wash didn't make much of a difference, seeing as the fish are begin with (I patted them with paper towel to minimize this a bit). It's up to you. For the egg wash, just beat 2-3 eggs together in a bowl.

The dredge was made with half all-purpose flour, and half corn meal (I think it adds a nice texture, and browns nicely). I seasoned it with salt, pepper, paprika, onion salt, and a lemon pepper spice mix that we had in the cabinet. This was mixed together in a pie plate so the filets could be dredged easily.

The fish filets were covered in the dredge, and placed in the oil with tongs. 1-2 minutes on each side, and they were done. We put them on a cooling rack and then paper towel, so any excess oil could drip off.

These would have made great fish sandwiches, but we just ate them plain with our favorite condiments on the side. It didn't disappoint.

Jul 1, 2010

Chelsea Market

I decided to take this blog off the shelf and blow the dust off, since it's been a month from my last post. Here are some pictures of Chelsea Market in NYC.

This is Eleni's, an adorable bake shop

"Looks good enough to eat" definitely applies!

This chowder was in The Lobster Place. It was as delicious as it sounds.

Seafood mania!

I had to get a picture by the Food Network sign.

The outside of Chelsea Market

Jun 1, 2010

What, You Wanna Cookie?

I feel so behind on this blog. I have folders full of pictures on my computer, recipes and posts swirling around in my head...but the weather is beautiful. And I've been busy putting in my veggie garden (ha, that's another post)!

Well, here is something. Actually, it's way more than something. It is, in all reality, the best cookie I have ever eaten. I'm salivating a bit right now just thinking about it. Darn it, why don't I have any cookies in this house!?

This cookie is an absolute must-buy if you are in NYC. Totally worth it. $4 and 8 oz. of delicious, chewy, moist-inside-firm-outside goodness. And don't read over that 8 oz. comment without really thinking about it. It's kind of a monster. A meal of sorts, in fact the kind of meal that I could really get used to. That is, if my goal was to look like Jabba the Hut. It is buttery, rich, and fall-apart delicious. If you are concerned about the calories, just buy a few for your friends and carry them home with you. The weight of the bag alone will be a workout sure to burn off that 8 oz. of delight.

Levain Bakery, a little hole-in-the-wall of a place, makes 4 varieties. Chocolate chip walnut (my choice of indulgence), oatmeal raisin (the only kind I didn't sample), chocolate peanut butter (oh yeah!), and dark chocolate chip (oh honey hush!). The three I tried were all fabulous. And no, I did not eat 24 oz. of cookie. I stole some samples from my sister and mom. And almost got my fingers bitten off in the process. Still worth it. I saved a cookie to bring home to my husband. Four days later, when he was able to eat it, even he agreed it was the best cookie he's ever eaten. That says something.

I know some food blogs can be all dramatic and romanticize foods that are solidly mediocre. This isn't one of those times. Do yourself a favor and stop by. Send me a sample...I'll help pay for the extra postage :-)

Levain Bakery
167 W 74th

May 19, 2010

Eye Candy

I'm back from NYC!

I know this is a food here's a tasty dish:

Stories and (food) pictures to come! But I felt that Ashton Kutcher should be shared first.

May 13, 2010

Noticably Absent

Sorry for my recent absentee-ism. I promise, I have a good reason. I've been busy. Planning a trip. To New York City!

I am headed out tomorrow morning with my mom and sister (girls' weekend!) to see NYC for the first time. My mom has visited a couple of times and thought it would be fun for the girls to all go together. I'm pretty excited. Actually, that is a vast understatement. I've been perusing food advice through books, blogs, and the internet for quite some time. I've come up with a list of "must do's", and "like to do's". Armed with my camera, an empty stomach, a mediocre-at-best sense of direction, and two willing family members in tow, I hope to discover some great eats and shops!

I promise to bring back some good pictures and stories. And if you are in the mood for it, watch for us on the Today Show on Monday morning. We hope to be in the mob outside with either a neon orange or green sign.

Back on Tuesday!

Apr 29, 2010

Stovetop Pear Crumble

Let's just get this out in the open...I don't like to bake. I will do it (with a box mix) or for a special occassion (husband's birthday, etc.) but never for fun. I find that a lot of food blogs focus on dessert items, probably because they are so delicate and beautiful. While that is all fine and good, I never actually use any of those recipes. I like the stove top. Give me some pans and spatulas, some things to fry, and I'm a happy girl.

This dislike of baking has a down side...I like to EAT those baked goods! And they don't just appear on the counter all by themselves. Anyway, long story short, I had seen this recipe a long time ago. I guess it was rolling around in the back of my brain while I was in the grocery store, because I saw pears and thought "Oh, I'll make a dessert with those! Maybe something with oats!". So, I can't take complete credit for this, but it was a pretty successful first attempt at something new.

Stovetop Pear Crumble
Serves 2-4
1/2 stick butter
1/3 c brown sugar
1/2 c quick oats
2 ripe pears, sliced into 4-5 pieces each (peeled or not peeled, it's up to you)
A pinch of nutmeg
Vanilla ice cream (optional...but come on, you know you want to)

Heat a large pan on medium heat. Add the butter and allow to melt. Next, add the brown sugar and incorporate with the butter. Allow this to remain on medium heat until it becomes a type of thick syrup (if it looks a little dry, add a bit more butter), about 2 minutes. When the mixture is gently bubbling, add the pear slices. Allow the pear slices to heat up for 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring every so often to coat the pear slices in the sauce. Sprinkle a pinch of nutmeg over the pears.

Add the oats, a bit at a time. You want the oats to soak up all the sauce, and to be fully coated in it. Stop adding oats when the sauce is absorbed, and the oats are clumping together (it ends up having a praline-like taste).

Remove from the heat, and serve immediately over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Apr 20, 2010

Spring Chowder (and the only way I eat asparagus)

I realize that the words "spring" and "chowder" seem to be going in completely different directions, but hear me out. I normally think "chowder" and my stream of consciousness goes something like this: sausage, hearty, fall, cozy. I think spring and the words "light, sunny, flowers, fresh" come to mind. How do we reconcile these things? For me at least, the solution was...leftovers.

My sister had a baked potato BONANZA fundraiser last week: hence the leftovers. We took home a large ziploc bag of cooked broccoli florets as well as several baked potatoes. What to do with these giant things? I did what I usually do for inspriation. Go to the grocery store when I'm hungry. I picked up some milk, heavy cream, and (believe it or not) asparagus.

For those that don't know my dislike of asparagus, here it is. My Grandpa Floyd had a great big garden, and one of the things that he would always grow was, you guessed it, asparagus. Sounds great, right? A grandpa sharing his lovely home-grown vegetables with his kinfolk. Wrong! This is a vegetable that I DO NOT like. Not to mention the added pressure from my parents (asparagus-lovers) that "Grandpa grew this fresh, you should eat some!". Sorry folks, not my thing. So due to that, I've avoided that veggie like the plague.

Until...they were roasted. I went over to a family friend's house for dinner, and when given the menu report I heard the vegetable on the menu was asparagus. Well...I should be polite I suppose. I will eat a few bites and then quickly move on to the other offerings. I was sorely mistaken. This asparagus was roasted on parchment paper in the oven, drizzled with olive oil, salt, and freshly grated parmesan cheese. My whole asparagus world changed that day.

Back to the chowder. I had determined that I would use the potatoes and broccoli to make some type of chowder. But I wanted a little extra. So, I grabbed that beautiful asparagus, roasted it in the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, and went to work. The result was a hearty, yet healthy solution to my leftover dilemma. It resembled a homemade "cream of" soup, but with some nice substance added in. Creamy, light, but somehow still rich because of the broth. And a little zip to boot.

Spring Chowder
Serves 4
2 large potatoes, baked and chopped into bite-size pieces (I left the peels on, do whatever you want)
2 c broccoli florets, cooked
1 c asparagus, roasted (see below)
1/8 c freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 c heavy cream
2 c milk
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp sage
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or go bold and add some more!)
Salt and pepper to taste
(you will also need an immersion blender, or a regular blender will work fine)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place asparagus on parchment paper (easy clean-up!) and drizzle with olive oil. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly grated parmesan (the more the better for the oven it turns into an AMAZING thing!). Roast for 15 minutes, allow to cool and then chop into bite-size pieces (about 1 c).

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Put the 2 remaining tbsp of olive oil in the pot and roast the garlic until "california tan" (thanks, Guy Fieri for that term!). Add the butter and flour in equal parts and allow the flour to "cook" for a minute to get rid of the "floury" taste. Stir to incorporate the butter and flour together. Ta-da, a roux! Turn the heat down to med-low and add the heavy cream. Note how the roux thickens the will do the same thing when you add the milk. Toss in half of your potatoes, broccoli, and asparagus. Slowly add about 1 c of milk and allow the mixture to heat up and thicken.

Time to immerse and blend! If you are using a stand blender, take care not to burn yourself while pouring the mixture in and out of the blender. Blend to a smooth puree...this is the "cream of" part I was referring to.

To this creamy broth add the rest of the potatoes, broccoli, and asparagus. Add your seasonings and the rest of the milk, and keep on medium heat until everything is up to the same temperature (tip: err on the side of too runny for the broth...the potatoes can act as a thickening agent, and leftovers always thicken up as well).

Serve with some bread to sop it up, and enjoy!