Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ribs, Veggies, and Baguette

This past Sunday marked a return to grilling. Grilling is something we haven't been able to enjoy much thus far this year because it seems that whenever we plan to grill, mother nature does not cooperate! We were really excited that the rain was holding off (even if it was uncomfortably humid). I know the above photo does not have anything to do with grilling -- it's more that I want to share our latest wedding gift! It just arrived last Friday, and BAGUETTE! was all we could think as soon as we saw what it was. It's a beautiful, bamboo bread cutting board with crumb tray. When we moved in together, SP had a bread board with crumb tray, but the tray was missing one side so it really didn't function too well!!! When we did our wedding registry, I added one and now we have a functioning one.

So of course Sunday afternoon when SP was getting ready to go out to do a few errands, I chanted "BAGUETTE! BAGUETTE!" until he got the hint! He got home around 3:30 pm with a baguette from Panera and proudly informed me that even though the baguette basket was empty when he got there, he asked and they told him if he waited 5 minutes, he could have a fresh, right out of the oven baguette. Ohhh yes please! He knows how to make me happy! Since Panera is 2 minutes down the hill, the baguette was still quite warm when he got home. Who are we to waste a perfectly warm baguette (by letting it cool)?

So at 3:30 pm we got out our new bread knife (thanks Googer!) and our new bread board (thanks E&R) and our flavored olive oils and dipping bowls and enjoyed an afternoon treat.It would have been even better with a glass of wine, but we (well, OK, I) had a few glasses the night before at the wedding, plus I had some awful swimmer's ear/ear wax issue going on and couldn't hear out of my right ear/felt like I had an awful head cold, so I stuck with tea all day. Next time, there will be wine and cheese with the baguette and dipping oil. Maybe we'll even get adventurous enough to make our own baguette???

On to the grilling part of this post!In an effort to empty out the freezer a bit, we thawed the rest of the ribs we bought in April. SP cut the remaining ribs in half and slathered half in the leftover, homemade BBQ sauce for him and the other half in the remainder of some Sweet Baby Ray's bottled BBQ sauce for me. That used up 2 containers in the refrigerator!!

We had lots of vegetables, too. We had 2 huge zucchini, one from the CSA and one that SP bought at Simmons Farm. Here's the super huge zucchini next to one little snap pea from the CSA:Here's what his grill looked like:Note the skillet of snap peas in olive oil sauteing on the burner off to the right. Lots of zucchini - in fact, we grill so many veggies that I think we might need to get another grill tray!

While he manned the grill, I stayed cool inside in the a/c and sliced a tomato and some fresh basil. Our pot of basil on the deck is really taking off - I hope that since it's in a pot on the deck and not in a garden that it doesn't succumb to the basil blight we heard about. I used of the rest of our balsamic syrup when I drizzled it over the tomato & basil.Here's my ribs:Mmmm messy goodness! This was a very tasty meal with the added bonus that we cleaned out the freezer and refrigerator a bit! All the CSA/farm veggies tasted so darn good - I can't believe this is only our (well, my) second year enjoying a CSA box. The veggies really do taste that much better than store bought ones. Best part of this meal - easy clean up and all the mess was outside on the grill, not in the kitchen!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

CSA Week #12

This week's CSA box: carrots, cauliflower, zucchini, head lettuce, blueberries, blackberries, Allegheny cheese, snap peas, basil, candy onions, cucumber.What is Allegheny cheese (from Hidden Hills Dairy)? According to this week's CSA newsletter, it is "Based on a recipe for an Italian style cheese traditionally made in the summer in the plateau region of the Dolomites. Ours is adapted to our wintertime whole milk in the rolling foothills of the Alleghenies. This cheese is a farmers’ market favorite."

Everything looks so good - I can't decided what to eat first, although the berries will be eaten tonight since when I divided the container, I noticed the berries are very easily smushed! It's nice to not have any kale/chard/collards - some of my less favorite things. Plus, I was getting tired of all the leafy greens. It's nice to have just one bunch of lettuce!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Wedding at Heinz History Center

Yesterday, one of SP's friends got married. We did not attend the full mass ceremony in Forest Hills, but we did attend the reception at Heinz History Center. The reception was held in the Great Hall, which is where the vintage vehicles are on display (Conestoga wagon, stainless steel Ford, etc.). SP and I arrived around 4:30 pm and were able to enjoy the museum for a while before the 5:30 pm reception. We took advantage of being early to snap a photo of the centerpieces (above) and the wedding cake:Around 5:30, guests were ushered up to the 4th floor for cocktail hour. There was a bar set up and I chose a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (there also was a bottle of Merlot and a bottle of Yellowtail Shiraz; I cannot remember the whites other than there was a Chardonnay and a Pinot Grigio). SP had a beer (Sam Adams) and again, I can't remember what, if any, other beer options there were. There also was a table set up with cheese, crackers, and fruit: After enjoying a couple glasses of wine and lots of cheese (smoked gouda and the havarti dill were my favorites) and meeting lots of his friends for the first time (these are his 'roller coaster' friends, so lots of people from out of town), we were ushered back down to the Great Hall for dinner. Everyone had a roll and ball of butter:
The roll was tasty, if a bit hard on the exterior for me, and one of SP's friends raved about the delicious butter. Servers brought everyone a salad: Bibb letuce with gorgonzola, candied walnuts, and dried cherries:A very tasty salad. At this point, I was starting to realize that everyone at our table was a bit of a foodie! Everyone really like the dried cherries instead of the more common dried cranberries or craisins and as one guest put it about the cheese, the stinkier the cheese, the better.

Next came the meals. When we RSVP'd, we had a choice of salmon or chicken. Pretty obvious what SP and I chose! Chicken for me:I really, really enjoyed the smashed red potatoes and asparagus with balsamic and shaved parmesan, but I was surprised the chicken was breaded, and presumably fried not just baked; I had expected it to be a plain breast, maybe seasoned with salt and pepper, and the sauce on top. The sauce was a sun-dried tomato-leek cream sauce. My chicken was a bit dry/tough to cut (of course, for some reason I frequently struggle to cut meat, so maybe it was just me) and I didn't finish it.

SP had the salmon:Like me, he loved the potatoes and asparagus. His fish was tasty, if a wee bit overcooked, and he scraped off the breading on top.

Soon enough it was time to cut the cake, serve coffee, and bring out the cookies! It's Pittsburgh, so of course there were cookies - 200 dozen for 100 guests. We took several photos of tray after tray of cookies:Their wedding cake was only 3 tiers, but once the cake was cut and served, there were 4 kinds of cake - ? Maybe the tiers were just for show and the real, edible cake was never on display? There was carrot cake, chocolate cake, red velvet cake, and a white cake with lemon icing. I can't even remember all the cookies I ate - chocolate chip, pizzelles, little cherry cheesecakes... There were to-go boxes for guests and we returned home with a box of cookies.

I think the Heinz History Center has an exclusive agreement with Common Plea Catering for events hosted at the History Center. I've never dined at The Common Plea restaurant. The History Center is a unique place for a wedding reception. We had fun boarding the trolley and hanging out in it for a while. It was nice to wander through the museum.

It was a very nice wedding and we had a lot of fun - my only regret is that despite being very, very close to the convention center and driving around it several times, I did not spot a single Furry.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Grilling: Pizza & Burgers

It's Saturday morning and I am finally getting around to writing about what we made for dinners last week - and starting to think about what we should make for this coming week. Thanks to a busy, errand-filled day last Saturday and the Father's Day gathering last Sunday, we didn't have time to do any 'ahead of time' meal preparation like we normally do. Our meals for the week were burgers (ground bison for SP & ground beef for me) and pizza (whole wheat crust for SP, white for me).

The Tale of Two Pizzas: We really wanted to try grilling pizza, but the weather Wednesday evening did not cooperate. We were forced to make our pizzas inside.We had made the pizza doughs in the bread machine Tuesday night. This time, we added fresh basil and oregano to the doughs. When we made the pizzas on Wednesday, we forgot to pre-bake the crusts for a bit before adding the sauce and toppings, so the centers were a wee bit wet. Also, we didn't stop to think that fresh basil sprinkled on top and then baked in the oven would turn into crispy basil. Oops. Crispy, brownish basil:We still have technical difficulties sliding the pizzas on/off the paddle and stone, even with sprinkling flour on all surfaces. Look at the hole SP made in my pizza when he couldn't get it off the stone and on the paddle:Oh well... it tasted good! Lots of sliced tomato, kalamatas, fresh mozzarella, a bit of feta -- and some fresh, unbaked basil sprinkled on top (although the crispy basil didn't taste too bad, but the fresh, bright green, non-crispy basil is much better).

Friday night the weather cooperated and we were able to try grilling pizza. We grilled the doughs for a bit before adding the toppings. Here they are on the grill - same toppings as Wednesday night.But this time, we remembered to put the fresh basil on at the end!No crispy basil. The grilled pizzas had a crispier crust then the oven ones. Definitely crispier in the center but the outer circle of dough wasn't as poofy/doughy as the oven pizzas. I'm not sure which I like better - both are good. I think in the summers we'll grill pizzas since that keeps the temperature in the kitchen down! (Using the pizza stone in the oven we usually heat the oven to 400-425.)We also had our first grilled burgers of the year! One day Giant Eagle had a sale on ground bison, so SP bought some. He used it for his burgers, melted Swiss on top, and ate it on a toasted whole wheat bun.I had ground beef for my burger, unmelted Colby cheese, and ate it on one of those squishy, cheap, white burger buns (untoasted) that SP hates. Mmmm!We added sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, and some combination of relish/mustard/ketchup.They were tasty and quick - and we actually got to grill them outside. We grilled all the burgers at the same time and for subsequent leftover nights, we reheated them in the microwave.

Basic Pizza Crust:
2 tsp yeast
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup plus 2 tbsp water

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Father's Day Desserts

In addition to a couple of appetizers, we took dessert to the Father's Day gathering. Our dessert choices were mostly influenced by our desire to use some of our wedding gifts. We wanted to make a cake so that we could try out the new cake keeper/carrier (pictured above) and we wanted to make something in the ice cream maker (which was a gift from Z).

CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE Way back in December 2003, I cut out a recipe from Bon Appetit for Cream Cheese Pound Cake. I've been wanting to make it for years, but it always seems to 'lose out' to other desserts. Every time I mention my Cream Cheese Pound Cake recipe, SP chimes in about his Cream Cheese Pound Cake recipe from his childhood and how his mom used to let the kids make it themselves and they loved it. He always wants to use his recipe, I always want to try mine. Truthfully, they are very similar.Well, this past weekend, his recipe 'won' - I'd like to say it 'won' because I'm a wonderful wife but truth is, my recipe requires placing the cake in a cold oven, turning the oven on to 200, and increasing the oven temperature every 15-20 minutes for an hour and then baking at 300 for an hour longer while in his recipe the cake bakes at 350 for 45 minutes and I needed to be able to reheat the Greek food in the oven and a 200 degree oven just would not do! (I didn't want to microwave the Greek food because microwaving doesn't always reheat things nicely, especially things with phyllo dough).The one thing about his recipe is that it calls for self-rising flour. We had to 'google' how to turn all purpose flour into self-rising flour -- you can see our newly added note on the recipe card. Once you figure that out, this is a very easy recipe.SP made the cake batter while I got to grease and flour all the ridges in the bundt pan. Fun.The cake took a bit longer than 45 minutes. It was poofy and nicely golden when the toothpick came out clean.Thanks to my amazing greasing and flouring skills, the cake came out of the bundt pan intact - no hunks missing/stuck in a ridge: The cake was quite tasty. I thought it might be a bit dry after my first few bites, but then the bit of dryness disappeared. Yummy cream cheese taste.

STRAWBERRY SORBET

We decided to make a strawberry sorbet to enjoy with the cream cheese bundt cake. We used the recipe from the booklet that came with the ice cream maker. While I made the simple syrup (1 cup water and 1 cup sugar), SP washed, quartered, and pureed a quart of strawberries with fresh squeezed lemon juice.He strained the puree into a container and then mixed in the cooled simple syrup and some corn syrup.We refrigerated it overnight, churned it in the ice cream maker Sunday morning (adding vodka as the liquor to help with freezing, but it still got very hard!), and tossed it in the freezer for about 4 hours before heading over to his dad's place.The final sorbet was very tasty with a very strong strawberry flavor. I thought it might have been a tad too sweet. It made me very thirsty! Next time we make a strawberry sorbet, I think I'd like to find a recipe that uses a bit less sweetener - the simple syrup plus corn syrup seems a bit much.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Father's Day Appetizers

Last Sunday was Father's Day. To celebrate, SP's dad had everyone over to his place - but all he planned to do was relax and drink beer. It was up to us to provide the food and do the cooking. In addition to dessert, SP and I decided to make a couple of appetizer goodies: olive tapenade and pimiento cheese spread.

ROBERT MONDAVI NICOISE OLIVE TAPENADE

Back in June 2003, a friend and I spent a week in San Francisco and Napa. The first winery we went to in Napa was Robert Mondavi. At the end of our winery tour, we got to sample several wines. The final wine we sampled was a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. It was by far the best of the wines we sampled - and of course it was also $100+ per bottle. Needless to say, I did not return home with a bottle of that wine, but I did bring home the recipe for the Nicoise Olive Tapenade the winery served with the wine.I made the tapenade once before - probably back in 2003 so it's been 7 years since I made it!! I love this tapenade. This time, we made a substitution to this recipe - a big substitution! Costco does not sell huge jars of nicoise olives. And to our surprise, Giant Eagle Market District did not have nicoise olives. So we substituted kalamata olives (which Costco does sell in huge jars).This tapenade is very simple: put the pitted olives, capers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and garlic (which we omitted) in a food processor and blend until it's a thick paste.SP liked the tapenade; I didn't think it was as tasty as in 2003 - or maybe it's more that I think the consistency was wrong. It didn't seem to be a thick paste. It seemed more watery than I remember. Maybe because we used kalamata instead of nicoise olives? I'm positive my mom found nicoise at Giant Eagle back in 2003 because we made the tapenade for Christmas Eve at my place and I remember almost accidentally dumping some olives into cookie dough - I was baking and mom was starting the tapenade in my little apartment kitchen and things got a little cramped and crazy. I remember that Christmas more than other Christmases because it was the last Christmas with my grandma.

Or maybe my memory is wrong. Maybe it was watery then, too. Or maybe it tastes better on crostini - we didn't serve the tapenade with crostini. We figured it'd be too much of a pain to slice and toast baguette at SP's dad's place with everything else going on, so we took Carr's crackers instead. It was still a tasty tapenade, but next time I think we'll have to make a trip to The Strip (or Whole Foods) to get nicoise olives so I can see if that is the difference.

GRANDMA KNOWLTON'S PIMIENTO CHEESE SPREAD

The past 2 years, we've spent our vacation time in the south. Most recently in Savannah & Charleston, where I enjoyed some tasty cheese spreads, but also in 2009 we spent time in Dahlonega, GA. In Dahlonega, I was re-introduced to what I think of as a southern thing: pimiento cheese spread. Last fall, Bon Appetit published Grandma Knowlton's Pimiento Cheese recipe plus Southern Living recently published Our Favorite Pimiento Cheese recipe, both of which I cut out and added to my recipe binders.

All of which is to say I've been wanting to make my own pimiento cheese spread. This was a good time to do so since we could share this not very healthy treat with other people and not be faced with eating a mound of cheese spread just for ourselves!I drained a jar of pimientos while SP grated the cheeses. After the pimiento drained, I chopped it a bit so that the pieces wouldn't be too large.Toss the cheeses, pimiento, mayo, cayenne, and black pepper in a bowl:and mash it all together with a fork.And yum! The cayenne adds a very nice touch to the cheese spread. We used the whole jar of pimiento, which was more than the recipe calls for, and we used less mayonnaise than the recipe calls for.

I enjoyed both of these and would make both again. Maybe not again for SP's family since Googer deemed these both too unhealthy to consume and ZSO and SSO don't eat mayo things plus SSO doesn't eat anything with vinegar... I don't think Z liked them much, either... Oh well.

These appetizers are also good on sandwiches - I've been spreading both olive tapenade and cheese spread on my English muffin with turkey lunch meat for my lunch sandwich this week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

CSA Week #11

This week's box of goodies: free range eggs, Red Russian kale, zucchini, head lettuce, thyme, red & white scallions, garlic scapes, snap peas, bok choy, romaine, and sweet cherries.