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Category Archives: General Rambling and Such

Fair Day!

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Well, we did it. We had our day at the New York State Fair. Excuse my slip. I mean the Great New York State Fair. It was hot, crowded, and slow to get around, but it was still greatWhat’s not to love about the fair?

Painted horses, spinning round and round, up and down.

Crazy wind men, mesmerizing as they flap through the air.

Time to smell the roses (or other assorted potted plants).

Shopping, shopping, shopping.

The annual sand sculpture…

…and the sand sculptor, hard at work.

The ferris wheel, glowing in the clear evening sky.

Buildings full of prize-winning cows and rabbits, horse shows, butter sculptures, giraffe-feeding, and free Styx concerts. These are all valid reasons for attending the fair. But there’s one main draw for me. Fair food!

Gyros, oozing with Tzatziki Sauce.

Corn dogs, a sweet and savory meal on a stick.

Chocolate-Vanilla Twist Ice Cream, a sweet treat for my sweet kids.

But, I didn’t eat a gyro, or a corn dog, or ice cream. And I didn’t eat the bloomin’ onion, salty butterfly fries smothered with cheese, or fried dough sprinkled in sugar, all of which my family enjoyed. I was saving myself, exercising my most remarkable fair day self-control ever, for this year’s grand-daddy of fair food offerings; Nick Tahou’s Garbage Plate.

Nick Tahou’s is a well-known Rochester, New York joint, famous for its greasy, sloppy, and delicious Garbage Plate. My college days are marked by more than a few 3 a.m. garbage plates. I hadn’t had once since, until our fair day, that is. Boy, did it bring back memories!

The Garbage Plate. A messy mound of deliciousness. Bed of french fries and macaroni salad, topped with two, hot cheeseburgers, then smothered with Tahou’s signature, greasy-beefy hot sauce, chopped onions, and mustard. Other options include hamburger, white or red hot dogs, Italian sausage, or chicken tenders for the meats and baked beans or home fries for the sides.

This year is the first year that Nick Tahou’s has made an appearance at the fair and I certainly hope it’s not the last!

Here piggy, piggy.

Some time later in the evening we found our hunger again. This time, a huge ear of sweet, roasted corn on the cob, brushed with cajun butter, satisfied my cravings.

A creepy clown lured us towards his fried dough van…

…where he tempted us with Funnel Cakes and powdered sugar.

The grand finale of the evening came in the form of twinkie, dipped in batter and deep-fried, until the outside took on a crispy golden brown and the inner cake and cream blended together to create a deep-fried twinkie heaven.

Until next year, dear fair…

In other news…

I’m currently the proud owner of my first domain. You can now find The Gourmand Mom by going to http://www.thegourmandmom.com, which will take you right back here to this site!

And…

I’ve set up an email account specifically for The Gourmand Mom, so to contact me with any questions, comments, or feedback about this blog, you can email: thegourmandmom [at] yahoo [dot] com

Winner Winner Lamb Dinner

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Yesterday was Mr. Gourmand Mom’s birthday. (He’s probably not going to appreciate me calling him that.) As the day approached, I began asking him for his birthday cake requests. There was no need to ask what he wanted for dinner. That answer was predictable. Greek Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce, his favorite dish and a fair request, considering that I’ve hardly made them since beginning this blog. As far as the cake went, he insisted he didn’t want a cake at all.

So this is what we sang Happy Birthday to…

To see the complete recipe for my Greek Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce, click here.

But, I’m a firm believer that everyone needs dessert on their birthday. So we also picked up these little treats from Coldstone Creamery…

In other news…

I’ve been keeping a little secret from you. Partly because I wanted to confirm what I should or shouldn’t share and partly because I still can’t believe it’s for real. Perhaps you remember a couple months ago, when I posted this picture…

And this picture…

You may remember me mentioning that the pictured dish was my first entry into a recipe contest.

Well, the recipe contest was for Bertolli Ristorante, the company which produces delicious pasta sauces, olive oils, and surprisingly fresh-tasting frozen pasta meals. The idea of the contest was to create a recipe inspired by one of Bertolli’s pasta sauces. I chose one of the sauces in their Vineyard Collection; the Fire Roasted Tomato with Cabernet Sauvignon. Inspired by the rich tomato flavor in this very yummy sauce, I created my dish, Braised Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms and Brown-braised Onions.

And guess what…

It won the grand prize in the meat category! I couldn’t even believe it when I first got the call. I won the very first recipe contest I’ve ever entered. I certainly never expected that to happen! I can still hardly believe it.

Wondering what I won?

The grand prize includes:

  • A trip to NYC to attend an exclusive event hosted by Chef Rocco Dispirito, where my dish will be featured on the menu
  • $500 spending money
  • A signed copy of Rocco’s newest cookbook, Now Eat This: 150 of America’s Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories
  • Premium 10-piece cookware set
  • A year’s supply of Bertolli Pasta Sauce

Sounds awesome, right??

Here’s where it gets really interesting. I’ve been speaking to the good people who are organizing the exclusive event. Turns out that the event will take place immediately following the Zac Posen fashion show, as part of New York City’s infamous Fashion Week. The event will be hosted by both Rocco Dispirito and Zac Posen at the gorgeous Lincoln Center, which is currently undergoing a transformation in preparation for hosting NYC Fashion Week. We will have seats at the show and then move across the way into a courtyard area for the Bertolli Ristorante afterparty, where my dish and the winning dishes of the other four categories will be served. We can expect a few celebrities and many members of the media to be present at the event.

Wow! Sounds very exciting.

The only small problem, as I put it to my parents, is that I’m barely fashionable enough for the grocery store. As I was selecting bananas the other day, I made a quick evaluation of my look. Terry shorts with an elastic waistband. Well-worn t-shirt from Target (with a tiny hole on the side). Sandals. Chipping polish on my toe nails. Hair in a ponytail, loose hairs surrounding my face.

Oh Boy. I’m in a much better condition for attending (or participating in) a pie-eating contest than a NYC Fashion Week event. It’s not that I don’t care about how I look. It just plays second fiddle to my homemaking responsibilities. Somehow, when I imagined my life as a stay-at-home mom, I fancied myself as the June Cleaver type. Handle the housekeeping and children with ease during the day, then greet my husband in the evening, immaculately dressed, hair perfectly coiffed, with a fresh baked apple pie and glass of brandy in hand. Turned out to be more of a stretchy shorts kind of job.

This gourmand mom is going to require a serious makeover to get herself in suitable condition for a NYC Fashion Week event. Currently accepting applications for a fashion consultant.

Seriously though, I am so thrilled about winning the contest and the exciting prize that Bertolli is providing. Within the next couple of weeks, my recipe will be posted so you can try it out. I’ll be sure to share the link when it’s available. In the mean time, wish me luck as I try to put together a suitable Fashion Week worthy outfit, learn how to apply makeup, and walk without stumbling in heels. I’ll definitely keep you updated!

EDITED TO ADD: The winning recipe for Braised Lamb Shanks with Mushrooms and Brown-Braised Onions can be found by clicking HERE.

Another Report from the Windy City

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Yet another lovely food-filled Chicago day. We started the day at Charmers Cafe, yet again, for another bagel sandwich. Today’s selection was a sesame bagel with corned beef, eggs, and swiss. Yummy, yum, yum.

Then, we hopped on a train headed downtown.

We stopped by the Chicago Hershey’s store for a peak and drooled over the candy-topped dessert selection.

Then, we wandered our way down the Magnificent Mile of shops. Bought tea. Did not buy a $300 tea set. Bought toys for the kiddies. Eyed a sweet knife at Williams-Sonoma. Totally intrigued.

Eventually, our bellies rumbled and we began wandering in search of food and drink. We landed upon an adorable European-style café on the lower level of The Peninsula Hotel called Pierrot Gourmet. An outdoor table awaited our presence.

We started with the Golden Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Apples and Candied Walnuts in an Herb Vinaigrette.

Champagne for me.

A basket of perfectly doughy multi-grain bread with fresh butter was brought to our table. So we ate it.

We also ate Warm Pretzel Fondue with Beer Cheese Sauce and Whole Grain Mustard.

And then we had Cheese Spätzle with Caramelized Onions.

A Tenderloin Slider with Red Onion Jam and Tarragon Mustard Cream also found its way into our bellies.

Did I mention the dessert selection? Given my druthers, I’d have ordered one of everything. But we practiced restraint and chose a Chocolate Obsession cake and an Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Tonight’s our last night in Chicago. Might catch a movie. Tomorrow we head back to the land of ‘Cuse. We’ve had a wonderful time in Chicago, but I desperately miss my little boys. Ready to get home for their snuggles!

Pizza, Pork, and Beer…Chicago Style

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Another day in Chicago. Another happy belly.

We started the day with another bacon, egg, and cheddar bagel from Charmer’s Cafe in Rogers Park, near our friends’ home. Hard to go wrong with that choice.

Then, we headed downtown and hopped on one of those double decker tour buses. First time we’ve ever done a bus tour and it was fun.

We saw buildings.

And more buildings…

And, you guessed it, more buildings…

Chicago is really proud of its buildings.

We saw cool a stainless steel bean-shaped sculpture.

And even got to watch an orchestra rehearsing in Millennium Park.

Then, we settled down at Bella Bacino’s, for some Summer Sangria…

Chicago Stuffed Pizza…

And Warm Nut-Crusted Goat Cheese Salad with Garlic Toasts and Ligonberry Vinaigrette.

Sorry Chicago, we still think New York pizza has you beat.

That evening, we found our way down to The Publican, where we enjoyed a family style feast.

We started with the King Salmon Lox with Tomatoes, Cucumber, Onions, Blackberries and Fromage Blanc.

Then there was the Potted Rillettes with Strawberries and Sourdough.

Next came the Little Gem Salad with pig’s ears (yes, pig’s ears) in a buttermilk dressing.

And, I won’t forget the delicious, salty Frites topped with Organic Fried Eggs.

We also had the most tender flank steak.

By this point, the sun had gone down and the lack of proper lighting made it hard to get good pics, but we also enjoyed Lamb Sausage with Fingerling Potatoes and Tzatziki Sauce, a huge bowl full of mussels steamed in butter and garlic, and a dish called Feijoada which featured pork tenderloin, pork shoulder, chorizo, kale, and cranberyy beans. A. Maze. Ing.

Great meal. Great day.

And now we’re off for more adventures!

And the Adventure Begins…

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Well, we’re off to the land of wind and Oprah. Chicago, here we come! The in-laws are staying with the kiddies while we run away for a few days of sleeping in (to the late, late hour of 8am, I am sure) and overindulging in food and wine. We have been asked what we are planning to do in Chicago. Going to see Oprah? Probably not. Eat pizza? Probably yes. To be honest, we haven’t planned much of anything. We’ll be staying with old friends, enjoying their company and a home-cooked meal tonight! Very excited to see what Nina will be cooking up for us. Tomorrow night we’ll be having dinner at a gastropub, which specializes in beer and pork. Awesomeness. In between, we’re thinking we might just catch one of those double-decker buses and see where it takes us. As I said, we haven’t really done much research or planning for this trip. This will surely be an adventure.

In other news, today marks the one week countdown to the Grrrrreat New York State Fair!! I’m absolutely buzzing with excitement. Bring on the deep-fried goodies and overflowing bowls of butterfly fries smothered in cheese; my once-a-year deep-fried feast. Oh yeah! I. Am. Ready.

Time and wireless-access providing, I’ll be posting updates from Chi, Chi, Cago!

A Lesson about Little Bread

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My husband has been complaining lately. His gripe is with the size of the bread I buy him, which he claims is too big for the amount of tuna in the pouch, which he prepares each day for lunch.

The bread is so HUGE that my tuna is barely a spread between the two slices, he argues.

Then, make half a sandwich, I reply. It is normal sized bread.

Exhibit A

But he persists. On and on about the gigantic bread. I can’t listen to it anymore. So, I go to the supermarket with my ruler in hand. Ok, not really. But, I did spend a lot of time in the bread section, holding one loaf up to another and scrutinizing the weight and dimensions of each loaf. And I found a suitable loaf of wheat bread.

Exhibit B

My husband returned home for his lunch that day to discover the new smaller bread. He held it in front of me and said, This is what I’m talking about, in that I told you so tone of voice.

I don’t like that tone of voice. No siree, I do not.

So, I went shopping again today. And I found my husband some even better bread.

Exhibits C & D

And then I made my husband lunch.

I’ve got a recipe coming up later for you. In the mean time, if you happen to find yourself with a package of tiny toasts, a little piece of smoked salmon, dollop of creme fraiche, and sprig of dill makes a great snack.

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese

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Today’s a very special day! Right now, at this very moment, you are reading my 100th blog post! Wow! One hundred posts! Where in the world did the time go? It seems like just yesterday that I was spending all of my free time tending to my imaginary mafia.

Change a diaper. Beg for untraceable cell phones and illegal transaction records. Play legos. Save up enough Thai Baht to buy a Nguhea Sniper Rifle. Clean up the play-doh that’s been rubbed into the carpet. Try to collect the last faberge egg for my Moscow collection. Console a crying baby. Spend 24 million rubles on a musk ox. All in a day’s work.

Then, I abandoned my mafia and entered the blogosphere. Now I alternate between toys, cooking, temper tantrums, food photography, snuggling, recipe writing, laundry, editing, bath time, and menu-planning. I suppose that being The Gourmand Mom is a much more productive role than Mafia Wars Mom.

So, you may be wondering what else has changed during these past 100 posts.

Well…

Writing recipes feels a whole lot easier than the first few posts that I fumbled through. I hope they’ve become easier for you to follow.

I’ve baked more bread products than I ever did in my pre-blog life. In fact, I had to buy a new cover for my dining room table, since the old cover seemed to be harvesting yeast which my three year old so kindly scattered across the table.

I’ve gained back a couple of the pounds I worked so hard to lose. Going to have to fix that. But it’s been for a good cause and I had fun doing it. Perhaps I can file for some sort of blogger’s compensation for my troubles?

My love of cooking has been completely reinvigorated.  Having a forum for sharing recipes and stories about food has been truly fulfilling for me. Thank you for being my audience.

Having an audience has forced me to add even more variety to my cooking. Since I’m guessing you don’t want to read about the same recipes every week.

My children have become the most skilled toddler sous chefs. I think I need to find little aprons and chef’s hats for them.

Through practice, my photography has become more purposeful. Now, rather than taking a hundred pics to get five that are post-worthy, I take about fifty. Though I’m still quite the novice photographer, I’m getting better at judging lighting and approximating camera settings.

It’s been a fun hundred posts. I’m looking forward to writing a hundred more!

In honor of such a momentous occasion, I’ve been saving something special for you. My favorite food in the whole world is macaroni and cheese (or ‘Ronis and Cheese, as my little guy calls it). And I don’t discriminate. I love ALL macaroni and cheese, whether it’s frozen, from a box, or made fresh from the finest cheeses. I like it baked or creamy. I like it smothered with cheese and bread crumbs or not. Just give me any macaroni and some form of cheese and I’m a very happy girl.

Today is a special day though, so a special macaroni and cheese is in order. And I’ve got just the thing to turn something sort of pedestrian into something elegant and worthy of a celebratory meal. That’s right… Lobster!! Lobster makes everything fancy. Now, once we throw lobster into the mix, we need to pay special attention to the cheese selection. Now would NOT be the time for American cheese or Velveeta. They’ve certainly got their place in the world of mac and cheese, but it’s definitely not here. Now’s the time for smooth cheese with grown-up flavor. I’m using three of my all time favorite cheeses; Gruyere, Fontina, and Brie. You can substitute other cheeses, if desired. Try gouda, chevre, provolone, asiago, or sharp cheddar.

Our sauce starts as a basic Bechamel Sauce, which is simply a white sauce, made with milk that is thickened with a roux. (Check out my roux guide by clicking here.) The thickened milk is then seasoned with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bechamel is one of the five French mother sauces, meaning that many other sauces can be made with a base of bechamel. To our bechamel, we’ll melt in the delicious cheeses. Finally, we’ll toss the macaroni with the sauce and warm lobster meat. If you feel like racing lobsters, go ahead and buy some live lobsters, steam them, and collect the meat. Or, do as I did and buy a container of frozen lobster meat. You grocery store may also sell lobster tails, which can be steamed.

Before we get to the recipe, I want to let you in on a little secret. I made the macaroni and cheese on Saturday when we had people over. And I actually sort of botched it. Not a complete botch, but a definite error of convenience. My prime focus at the time, was on the burgers. My intention was to submit the burger recipe for a contest. So, I wanted to be able to devote all of my attention towards working out the timing and flavor balance of the burger components. Then the storm came, which totally turned the burger plan upside down. Anyway, I prepared the macaroni and cheese earlier in the afternoon and stuck it in a baking dish, figuring that I’d bake it in the oven to reheat with a little extra cheese melted on top. As I should have anticipated, the pasta drank up most of the sauce during the baking. It was still very flavorful, but not the creamy mac and cheese I’d intended.

Never fear though. The recipe I’m writing for you does not include a baking step. So, your macaroni and cheese will be creamy and delicious. If you do want to prepare it ahead of time, I’d recommend tossing the pasta with just a bit of sauce. Then, refrigerate the bulk of the sauce and the pasta separately. You can reheat both and combine, along with the lobster, when you’re ready to eat.

This is good, good stuff. If there were a way to send food through the world wide web, I’d send you each a taste and a glass of celebratory champagne. But since that’s not possible yet, I’ll share my recipe instead. Then you can whip yourself up a batch of fancy ‘Ronis and Cheese.

Lobster Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 box Pasta, such as Campanelle
  • 1/2 cup Gruyere
  • 1 cup Fontina
  • 1/2 cup Brie
  • 3 cups Milk
  • 3 Tbsp Butter
  • 3 Tbsp Flour
  • 1/8 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp Cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1 pound Lobster Meat

Directions

Cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside. In the same pot that you cooked the pasta, whisk the butter and flour together over medium heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. This is your roux for thickening the milk. It should have a pasty consistency. Remove the roux with a spatula and set aside. Add the milk to the pot. Bring the milk to a simmer. Then, begin to whisk in the roux, whisking until smooth. Allow the milk to simmer with the roux for a few minutes until it begins to thicken. Whisk constantly. Add the nutmeg, cayenne, and salt. Turn down the heat to low. Add the cheese and stir until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Add the lobster meat and the cooked pasta to the hot sauce. Stir for a minute or so until it’s well combined and hot.

I hope you’ve been enjoying this blog during these first one hundred posts. Let me know how you’ve liked it so far and if there’s any way I can serve you better! Thanks for reading!

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

Bright copper kettles and stuff in my kitchen

Shiny steel All-Clad pans, sharp Wusthof knives

These are the things which make cooking so nice.

When I’m chopping…

And sauteeing…

And I’m browning meat,

I simply make use of my favorite things…

And then we sit down to eat!

I have been collecting kitchen gear for as long as I can remember. I’d already begun a decent collection before I left for college. For years afterward, my birthday wishlist involved pots and pans. I got a knife one year for Mother’s Day. I asked Santa for a stainless steel colander. My collection has been built slowly over time. I’ve spent months collecting gift certificates at holidays and saving up for a prized item. I love diamonds and pearls as much as the next girl, but as far as shiny things go, I’d rather have a good knife or a pan. There are always more items on my wishlist, but at this point, I’ve got a pretty functional cooking collection. I love it all, but there are certainly some items which get more regular use; the items I couldn’t cook without. If you’re looking to build your cooking equipment collection, perhaps you’ll find some useful tips here.

These are a few of my favorite things…

Knives

A couple good knives will change your culinary world. Sharp, high quality knives are safer to use than any dull knife. Most of my knives are Wusthof or Henkels, because I like the way they feel, but Shun and Global make excellent knives too. It’s a personal preference thing. You have to get your hands on the knives and see what feels good to you. Look for forged knives (not stamped) made of high-carbon stainless steel, with a full tang (that piece of metal that runs from the blade all the way through the handle. I like a knife with a good amount of heft. Of all the knives in my knife block, my Santoku knives (Japanese chef’s knives) and my long, serrated bread knife get the most use. If I could only have two knives, those would definitely be my keepers.

Pots and Pans

Oh, my darling pots and pans! Don’t ask me about my pots and pans, unless you have a lot of time on your hands. I could talk for hours about them. All-Clad should pay me for the time I’ve put into raving about their cookware. My pots and pans are the prized gems of my collection. I’m an All-Clad girl through and through; copper-core, given my druthers. I’d rather save my money for one good All-Clad pot than fill up my cupboard with a collection of something else. In my opinion, this cookware is as good as it gets. Truth be told, these pots and pans are not cheap. But, they will last you forever. You’ll pass these pots and pans onto your grandchildren. Seriously. Don’t worry about trying to buy a whole collection at once. You’re better off buying a pot or pan at a time based on your needs. Whatever you choose, look for cookware that’s sturdy with solid construction. Avoid pots and pans with a disk base, which will be more likely to warp if overheated. I’ve had that happen more than once in my pre-All-Clad days. I’d recommend that most of your pots and pans are a high quality stainless steel, which is most durable and won’t interact with foods. Look for cookware that is oven safe, since it’s a really convenient thing to be able to move a pan from stove top to the oven. I’m leery of non-stick surfaces due to health concerns, though I do keep at least one non-stick pan on hand for omelets. My favorite cookware, the All-Clad Copper-Core line, features a five layer construction with the durability of stainless steel on the interior and exterior sandwiching layers of highly conductive, even-heating aluminum and copper. It’s also handy to have a good cast-iron skillet, grill pan, and dutch oven on hand. Le Creuset makes excellent and beautiful enameled cast-iron cookware.

Instant-read Meat Thermometer

This is one of those items that I think belongs in every kitchen. I use mine almost every night. It takes the guesswork out of determining if your meat is cooked, helping to ensure that things are cooked safely, without overcooking. To use an instant-read meat thermometer, first remove the meat from the heat. If you’re measuring something large, like a roast, remove the pan from the oven. If you’re measuring something smaller, like a chicken breast, lift it slightly from the pan with a spatula or tongs, before inserting the thermometer. You want to be sure you’re measuring the temperature of the meat, not the heat in the pan, oven, or grill. Insert the thermometer into the center of the meat. Make sure that it doesn’t poke out the other side or make contact with the hot pan. Read the temperature, then remove the thermometer and continue cooking, if necessary.

Assortment of Bowls

Sort of an obvious one, but I love my bowls! I’m partial to the bright ceramic ones, but the stainless steel bowls are definitely most versatile. I especially LOVE my huge stainless bowl, which is invaluable when I’m making big batches of salads for parties or mixing up cookie dough.

Colanders and Strainers

I love pretty enameled colanders, though admittedly the stainless steel ones are more durable. There’s really no reason for anyone to have as many colanders as I do, but I love them. The conical shaped strainer is called a chinois (pronounced shin-WAH). It’s a very fine mesh strainer, great for straining sauces or stocks.

Baking Sheets

Nothing too exciting about these. Just a couple of sturdy aluminum baking sheets, which get a tremendous amount of use.

Salt and Pepper

So, maybe salt and pepper doesn’t seem to go along with the other items on this list, but somehow they belong here. I keep my little canister of kosher salt sitting next to the stove. It gets used in almost every single thing I cook or bake. Salt is a flavor magnifier. A touch of salt can make a dramatic difference in the flavor of a dish; turning something bland into something spectacular. Don’t neglect your salt. Keep it handy and use it often.

Immersion Blender

I hardly use my small kitchen appliances; partly because they’re out of the way and I don’t have a more convenient place to store them and partly because I like be hands-on when I cook. I honestly love chopping, slicing, kneading and whisking until my arms are sore. I have just about every small kitchen appliance in the book; large and small food processors, hand-mixers, stand mixers, ice cream makers, coffee grinders, espresso machines, and blenders. But they are all lonely and neglected. Out of all of the small appliances I own, the one that gets the most use is my immersion blender. It’s a relatively inexpensive addition to any cooking collection. It doesn’t take up a lot of space and it’s easy to clean. I use mine for smoothies, blended soups, pureeing vegetables and fruits, making sauces, and lots of other things.

Good cookware doesn’t make the cook, but it sure helps!

I love talking about cooking equipment, so if you ever have a question, just ask!

Peasant Bread and Ale

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I have a bad habit of immediately dismissing things that are over-hyped or forced upon me. If you tell me a hundred times that I have to read Twilight, it’s going to end up at the end of my reading cue. Insist that I plan a trip to the South Pole and you’ll find me at the North. Try to convince me to watch your favorite tv show and I already don’t like it. I’m stubborn. I’m sure I miss out on some great stuff due to this personality flaw, but it’s just the way that I am. I don’t like people telling me what I should do.

So, I had mixed feelings when Oprah chose Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth for her book club selection a few years ago. I panicked, worried that people would skip this book due to the hype. (I sometimes forget that not everyone is as willfully stubborn as I am.) You see, by the point that Oprah announced this book as her book club selection, I’d already read it three times. It’s one of the very few books I’ve ever read more than once. That’s how much I love Pillars of the Earth. It is the book I recommend to anybody asking for book recommendations. I lend my copy to friends and buy new copies once the old ones are too worn.

Set in 12th century England, Pillars of the Earth follows its characters and their descendants through conflicts of good versus evil, lust, love, greed and power struggles between family, church, and politics. It’s epic. It’s gripping. It’s the kind of book where as you reach the last hundred pages, you’re torn between reading faster to find out what happens or slowing down so that you can delay the end. It’s the kind of book that leaves you wondering about the characters for weeks afterward, as if they are family members you haven’t heard from in a while.

But, I don’t want to insist you read it, lest you’re like me and rebel against people telling you what you should do.

Oh, never mind. I can’t help it! You just have to read Pillars of the Earth! Trust me. You won’t be disappointed. It’s worth the hype. Do it!

Some of the best advice my dad ever gave me was to always read the book before you see the movie. Once you’ve seen the movie, your image of the book will be colored by the director’s interpretation. I have never been steered wrong by this advice. I’ve always wanted someone to make Pillars into a movie, but worried that it would be impossible to capture the grand nature of the book in just a few hours. Well, that’s exactly why you need to hurry up and read the book. This Friday, Starz is premiering their mini-series of Pillars of the Earth. My sister, who writes for an entertainment website, has previewed the mini-series. She’ll be posting her review later this week, but has been very enthusiastic so far. From a fan of the book, that’s a really good sign! You can read her preview of the series by clicking here and keep your eyes out for her review later this week.

So, now you’re probably wondering what all of this chatter has to do with food. And I promise, this does have to do with food. You see, some of the main characters in the book are exceptionally poor. They travel from village to village seeking work and begging for meals. When they’re lucky, they find charity at the castle or priory. Otherwise they’ll beg food from a passing monk, trade their limited possessions, or even steal. Each time, they are often presented with the same meager meal; a chunk of bread, cup of ale and maybe a piece of dried venison or cold bacon, if they’re lucky. Now maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t help but salivate every time I read about these impoverished people eating their simple meal. I wish someone would give me a chunk of bread and jug of ale. I’ll even skip the dried venison.

So, in honor of the upcoming premiere, today we’re having peasant bread and ale.

Bake the bread. Take a swig from a jug of ale. Then, head out to the bookstore to buy Pillars of the Earth. Start reading now, because it’s long and it’s going to take you awhile. In fact, you may need to call in sick a couple days this week. Then, subscribe to Starz, if you don’t already have it and clear your Friday evenings for the next several weeks!

Trust me. Have I ever led you astray?

Peasant Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 packet Active Dry Yeast
  • 2 cups Warm Water (about 115 degrees)
  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup Rye Flour
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 3 Tbsp Salted Butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp Fresh Rosemary, chopped
  • Olive Oil and Cornmeal, for the baking sheet

Directions

Combine yeast and sugar in a bowl. Pour in the warm water and stir until dissolved. Add the flour and salt. Stir to combine. Cover the bowl with a moist towel and allow it to rise for one hour.

Now would be a good time to run out to the book store to buy Pillars of the Earth.

Lightly coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Sprinkle some corn meal over the oil. Divide the dough in half and form two rounds. Place the dough rounds onto the baking sheet. Allow the dough to rise for one more hour.

Read a bit while you wait. Just wait until you meet William Hamleigh!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush the melted butter over the dough rounds and sprinkle with the chopped rosemary. If desired, use a knife to cut a crosshatch in the dough. Bake the bread for about 25-30 minutes.

This would be a good time to call Starz about your subscription.

Once your bread is baked, pour yourself a cold glass of hoppy ale. Break off a piece of that warm bread and keep reading.


I’m Baaaack!

Posted on

So nice to see you again! You’ve been missed.

We were away for a long weekend on Long Island to celebrate the wedding of a wonderful friend.

Our weekend had a rocky start. We ended up in the Emergency Room on Saturday morning with my littlest guy, whose allergic reaction to amoxicillin was worsening. My sweet little baby awoke covered in angry looking hives with swollen hands and feet and bright red swollen ears which protruded from his head. He was less than pleased with the visit to the ER, but the docs took good care of him and we headed back to my parents’ house with our puffy baby. A few doses of steroids, lots of extra snuggles, and an early bedtime brought the smile back to his precious face.

Snuggling my sick little guy

That evening, we enjoyed a delicious dinner with my parents and brother; grilled marinated chicken and hanger steak, corn on the cob, potato salad, and garlic bread.

Fresh herbs from the neighbor's garden, which were put to good use in the marinades and potato salad.

Sizzling chicken

Grilled hanger steak, garlic bread, corn on the cob, and potato salad

On Sunday, we attended a beautiful wedding for a beautiful globe-trotting couple. It took place on a riverboat!

The Lauren Kristy Riverboat

Bacon-wrapped pineapple - Bacon makes everything better, doesn't it??

Wedding Cupcakes!

The wedding was full of thoughtful little touches, laughter, and love. It’s evident how perfectly matched the bride and groom are. We wish them a lifetime of love and happiness.

Before we started for home on Monday morning, we met up with my Grandma for breakfast at her regular spot. I order my usual corned beef hash with two eggs over-well and rye toast. It’s always the perfect way to fill my belly for the ride home!

Now we’re back home and I’m ready to cook!

Check back later for something tasty…

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