Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy, Comfort Food: Lasagna

Anytime someone asks me what my favorite meal is, or what my last meal would be, I say lasagna. I think it is consistently my favorite food. Sometimes I flirt with thinking pizza is my favorite, sometimes I think my favorite is braised lamb shank or grilled lamb chops, and sometimes I am convinced there is nothing better than homemade macaroni & cheese with breaded chicken tenders. But most of the time, it's lasagna. It has a lot going for it: pasta, cheese, tomatoes. Yum!
Sunday morning while I read the paper and enjoyed my morning tea, SP made the marinara sauce. He makes very good marinara sauce. Every time he makes marinara and/or lasagna, it's a bit different. It just depends on our mood. This time, he chopped onion, carrots, celery, and green pepper to saute. Then he dumped in the cans of tomato goodness. Added some sliced baby bellas. Added some dried oregano and fresh basil (well, frozen basil, since we froze the fresh basil to use over the winter). No meat this time.
The house smelled so good! In late afternoon, he put the lasagna together, carefully layering noodles, sauce, and a ricotta-mozzarella cheese mixture. The top layer is a sprinkling of grated parmesan. By the 4th quarter of the Steelers game, we were shoveling in delicious bites of lasagna while cheering.
Of course this meal called for some wine, Coppola Claret. It tasted especially good yesterday. I took a couple photos of some leftover lasagna this morning (photo above & below) because I wasn't sure how my Steelers love/Patriots hate plus 3 glasses of wine plus drooling over my favorite food plus the evening kitchen light would impact the food photos I took Sunday evening.
I love that my favorite food gives us leftovers for another 3 meals this week plus a meal in the freezer. Four lasagna nights in one week. So happy!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

CSA #29

CSA #29 - only 3 weeks left!
~2.5# potato medley, Golden Harvest Farm, CF
~ 3# Braeburn apples, Dawson’s Orchards
~ Swiss chard, Nu Way Farm, CF
~ red savoy cabbage head, Weeping Willow Farm, CF
~ curly parsley, Crighton’s Farm
~ 1# red onions, Crighton’s Farm
~ winter squash, Weeping Willow Farm, CF or Matthew’s Farm
~ French breakfast radishes, Nu Way Farm, CF
~ butterhead or oakleaf lettuce, Clarion River Organics, OG

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Roast Lemon Chicken

Steelers games at 4 pm present a bit of a problem. We want to watch the game, but usually on Sundays we start cooking between 4 pm and 5 pm. Last Sunday, our solution was to put the game on, turn it up loud so we could hear it in the kitchen, and get together something that was 'hands off' after it started cooking: roast chicken. Specifically, the Roast Lemon Chicken that we frequently make in the cooler months.
We've made it before, so I won't talk much about it other than to say that this chicken cooks in 45 minutes since it roasts at 450 degrees and the lemon & chicken broth keep it moist while it roasts and then make a lovely gravy/broth with fresh parsley. You can see the juiciness in the top photo - it ran over the cutting board, into the groove, and overflowed a bit since we had a mess on the counter after dinner!

We also roasted a bunch of CSA veggies form the veggie bin: leeks, peppers, and eggplant:
We made brown rice (for SP) and white rice (for me), but I didn't bother with any rice photos since rice is not very photogenic! Thanks to the rice cooker Googer gave us, we no longer have to hover over pots of rice, watching for overflows and checking to see if all the water is absorbed. So nice & hands off!

So we got to watch the game and have a tasty meal with minimal kitchen time.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ever since I saw how wonderful the biscotti turned out in the new oven last weekend, I've been wanting to bake more cookies. For some reason, I am focused on cookies, not pie or loaf cake or bundt cake. It has to be cookies.

But I was craving the Harvest Loaf Cake I usually make every October. Pumpkin, spices, chocolate chips. I could have turned it into Harvest Mini Cupcakes, I suppose, for a more cookie like size. But I wanted cookies. Sometimes, I don't understand my brain. There was no reason to not make a loaf cake or mini cupcakes. It was just that for some inexplicable reason, I had to have cookies.

So I figured surely there is a Pumpkin Chocolate Chip cookie recipe out there that uses all of the Harvest Loaf Cake ingredients, only in cookie form. So I started Googling. It was easier than I expected. Usually I read recipe after recipe after recipe in the search results, searching for the best one for whatever I want to make. But this time, I looked at the first result and didn't look at other recipes. Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies on foodnetwork.com, recipe from George Duran.
I made these Sunday afternoon while SP was doing yard work. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, pumpkin, vanilla. Mmmm it smelled so good from the first spice jar I opened. As usual, I was generous with the cinnamon.
I also used semisweet chocolate chips, not milk chocolate. These turned out so good. A spicy, pumpkiny chocolate chip cookie. They stayed nice and thick/rounded, they didn't spread out like pancakes like our last chocolate chip cookie experience. Moist. They're good when they're warm, but even better once they have cooled. There was a lot of sampling during the first quarter of the football game. And after the game. We both are gobbling these up quickly. They're that good. And they make the house smell so good.
In my experience, homemade and store-bought pumpkin cookies can get kind of moist, wet, and slightly squishy over time - and then they stick to each other. I was a little concerned about the longevity of these cookies and the potential for stickiness. So I made sure they were completely cooled. Sometimes I get a little anxious to put my cookies in containers and they might still be a wee bit warm, but not this time. I also put pieces of waxed paper between each layer and I didn't press down/squish them in. At Christmas, when we bake a lot and cookie containers can get a little scarce, I sometimes cram them into containers. But it's not Christmas, so there are lots of containers around. I went ahead and used 2 large containers for these. As of Monday evening, they did not have any of that wet/moist/sticky stuff starting, so I am hoping they stay more like chocolate chip cookies and not like my past pumpkin cookie experiences.

I think I like these better than the Harvest Loaf Cake. These might be my new 'make every October' pumpkin & chocolate treat.

Friday, October 21, 2011

CSA #28

Week #28:
~1# broccoli, Weeping Willow Farm, CF
~1# roma beans, Sunny Meadow Farm, CF
~ 3# cortland apples, Kistaco Farm
~ 1/2# Gouda Gold, Hidden Hills Dairy
~ 1/3# vates kale, Nu Way Farm, CF
~ 1 bunch leeks, Blue Goose Farm, CNG
~ 1.5# blue potatoes, Clarion River Organics, OG
~ 1/2# sweet green carmen peppers, Weeping Willow Farm, CF

Thursday, October 20, 2011

1st New Oven Meal

Our first baked treat in the new oven was something new: Spiced Biscotti. Our first meal? Nothing new, but one of our favorites: Paula Deen's Pork Tenderloin with Root Vegetables.
Even though I read the manual and all about using the oven probe, we used our other meat thermometer. The tenderloin was cooked through and still quite juicy. Juicer than I remember it ever being. That's a good thing, especially for re-heating during the week. It's as tasty as we remember: soy, ginger, brown sugar, red wine, cinnamon, honey.

We also roasted butternut squash and red kuri squash, from the CSA. After roasting, SP scraped the flesh out and mashed it with some sage and butter.
He really liked it. I thought it was just OK, but squash prepared like this has never been one of my favorite foods. It makes me think of baby food!!

We also roasted a large casserole of CSA beets, carrots, potatoes (all the kinds that were building up from the CSA), CSA onion, and rosemary.
They roasted for 1.5 hours at 350 but were not as well done and crispy brown as past roasted veggies/potatoes. This is what makes us think our old oven tended to be hotter than what we thought. The potatoes weren't yet crispy, the carrots were still quite firm, and the onion wasn't that nice brown color.
Tasty, but next time, we'd give them another half an hour or roast them at a higher temperature.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spiced Biscotti

It's funny how during the five weeks we were without a working oven, all I could think about was baked goodies and dinners cooked in an oven. I had a huge list of cookies I wanted to bake. Then the new oven arrived and suddenly, I couldn't decide which baked goodie to make, nothing sounded good, and all my dinner ideas involved the grill or crock pot.

Maybe I felt that our first baked treat had to be extra special. I don't know. Somehow, trying to erase the memories of those dry, hard madeleines and super flat chocolate chip cookies didn't seem appealing. Maybe I was afraid it was us, baker error, and not the oven. What if we had suddenly lost our baking skills?
I flipped through all our cookbooks. I didn't know what I wanted, I just knew I wasn't seeing anything I wanted, but then I found it: a Spiced Biscotti recipe in Baking Illustrated. It just felt right. The warming fall flavors of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Being able to dunk the crisp cookie in hot tea.

Much like in Cook's Illustrated magazine, Baking Illustrated always talks about how they arrive at the final recipe and what they were looking for in the dish. I learned that the fat content influences the crispiness of biscotti. Some biscotti contain butter, which makes them more cookie-like (softer) but still crunchy. Most use eggs only. Some use egg whites only, which makes for a very dry & crispy biscotti. This recipe used 2 eggs plus 2 yolks. These are crispier than past biscotti we've baked. SP can crunch right through an undunked biscotti, but I prefer to dunk mine.
The dough is quick and easy to make. No need for a stand mixer or hand mixer. Kind of like making muffins: whisk all the dry ingredients. Whisk the sugar and eggs together. Add vanilla and dry ingredients. Shape into logs and bake. Cool a bit, slice, and bake slices.

I don't know if it's the new oven or our baking, but these turned out amazing. I sort of wish I could taste more cinnamon than the clove flavor, but these are spiced biscotti, not cinnamon biscotti. They cooked nice & even - no extra browning on any sides. They even took the entire 35 minutes to bake - not like recent past cookies we made that were browned and near burning after only half the baking time.
These are definitely a hit in our house. They might even make it onto the Christmas Cookie list.

Spiced Biscotti
recipe from Baking Illustrated

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground white or black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together dry ingredients. In another bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and egg yolks until a light lemon color. Stir in the vanilla. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg mixture, just until combined. Divide in half and shape each half into a 13x2 inch loaf. Bake about 35 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time, until just starting to crack on top. Cool for 10 minutes. Lower the oven to 325 degrees. Cut each cooled loaf into 3/8 inch slices. Arrange on baking sheet and return to oven. Bake 15 minutes, turning cookies over halfway through baking time, until crisp and golden. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The New Oven

This past Saturday was a big day. It was 'new oven delivery day.'

Let's take a look at the old oven. It was actually a pretty nice oven. Jenn-Air. Convection settings. It didn't look super old and out-dated. It was one of the 3 black appliances, so it wasn't the odd one.
Of course, it had issues since the day we moved into the house 3.5 years ago. Sometimes when igniting a burner, there would be a 'power interruption' that would cause the front panel to blink and we'd have to re-set the time. Sometimes when igniting one burner, others would spark. The home warranty people never did figure that one out (of course in our opinion, they didn't try too hard). Then there was the strange way the oven door opened sometimes - like a hitch in the hinges. Turns out this model has hinge issues that result in the door not closing all the way, which could be why our front control panel got very, very hot. Hot enough that I burned a finger touching a button one day.

One day we squirted some citrus scented de-greaser on the cooktop and some of it ran down the front, stripping the shine on the front panel and actually removing the painted symbols/words near some of the burner knobs. I was so unhappy with the permanent drip marks and missing symbols/words. We tossed that cleaner out right away.

And then of course there was the day, 5 weeks ago, when the heat sensor died. 'F3 error! Call technician!' Lots of beeping. The front control panel was so hot I thought it was going to burst into flames.

So we went to many appliance stores, did online research, consulted Consumer Reports, and picked a new oven. It was back-ordered so we had to wait a while, but it was worth the wait. Meet our new kitchen appliance, the lovely, gleaming GE Cafe Gas Range:
We love our new oven. There are 5 burners. The middle one is oval shaped and there is a non-stick griddle pan that can replace the middle grate for making pancakes or grilled cheese. The lower drawer is not just a warming drawer, it's actually a small baking drawer - it's electric, not gas like the main oven, and it can heat foods from 140-450 degrees. The front right burner is one of those turbo charge 'boil big pots of water super fast' burners but it also has a nice super low 'simmer for a long time' setting.

The interior is so clean! Three shiny racks that easily slide in & out! (The old oven racks didn't easily slide.)
Thus far, we are quite happy. Some cooking & baking on Sunday revealed that our old oven was not properly calibrated - it must have run high so when we baked cookies at 350 it was probably a lot higher. That explains our recent baking disappointments.

We are calling it our baby. When we got home Saturday night, SP grabbed the small bottle of stainless cleaner and spent a good half an hour lovingly shining and cleaning it of delivery fingerprints. He carefully blows dust from the cooktop surface when he sees it. Sometimes we just sit there and gaze at it.

I''m sure in a month after we've slopped oil and sauces and batter all over we won't be so careful. It's kind of like the new hardwood floors - in May & June we were super duper careful, but then we dropped a couple of things and in one place put quite the dent in the new wood, and while we still try to be careful, we aren't quite so scared to do things in the kitchen for fear of 'hurting' the wood floors.

But for now, we are treating the new range with kid gloves and enjoying the newness and shininess.

Also, it did such a nice job on the treat we baked yesterday afternoon that I was inspired to make my Christmas Cookie list. I can't wait to bake holiday cookies in the new oven!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

CSA #27

CSA Week #27:
~1/2# mustard greens, Nu Way Farm, CF
~1.5# prune plums, Dawson’s Orchards
~ 1.5# white sweet onions, Crighton’s Farm
~ eggplant, Nu Way Farm, CF
~ flat parsley, Goose Creek Gardens, CNG
~ 1# green bell peppers, Nu Way Farm, CF
~ butternut squash, Clarion River Organics, OG
~ 1.5# red potatoes, Weeping Willow Farm, CF
~ 1/2 gallon apple cider, Kistaco Farm
~ 1 bulb garlic, Clubhouse Gardens
Since we have a pot of parsley and since I don't eat garlic, we gave them to GP. We cut the eggplant and squash in half, so hopefully we will roast them this weekend when our new oven arrives!!!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fall Getaway Part 3

Monday - our last day of our mini vacation. We got an early start on the day because there were a lot of things we wanted to see and do, plus we wanted to get home at a not too late hour. The first order of business - breakfast. Usually we stay at Hampton Inns and they have a free breakfast. SP usually heads down to the lobby and brings food back to the room for me. But the Hampton Inn in Gettysburg didn't get such great reviews, so we decided to stay at the Wyndham, which doesn't have free breakfast. So we headed toward the center of town in search of a cafe we had driven past several times and looked up the previous night: Cafe Saint-Amand.

It's very cute inside. A fireplace, light yellow walls, wood floors, wood tables & chairs, shelves filled with trinkets, black & white framed pictures of Paris. We seated ourselves and started looking over the menu. We both decided to have some hot tea since there was still a bit of a chill in the air. Our server brought hot water in a small glass bottle and placed a tray of Stash tea bags on the table. I chose Orange Spice and SP chose the Jasmine Green Tea. There also was green tea, raspberry, earl gray, chai. mint, and maybe a couple of others. A nice selection.
Surprise surprise - I decided to have the breakfast sandwich! Bacon, egg, and cheese on a croissant with a side of fresh fruit:
Sadly, my croissant sandwich lacked the cheese, which is a big bummer for me. I didn't want to try to flag down our server because I was hungry and we didn't want to linger too long, so I just sighed and ate my bacon & egg croissant. It was quite filling, lots of egg & bacon. The croissant wasn't as buttery & flaky as I expected, but SP pointed out that they had toasted it, so maybe toasting took away some of the butteriness & flakiness.
SP decided to try a crepe. He ordered the Crêpe de Poulet a la ratatouille (chicken and vegetable crêpe). It had "tender chicken breast, roasted Provencal vegetables, garlic, thyme, and muenster:"
Here's the inside - he pretty much inhaled this crepe before I had a chance to take a photo of the inside.
He chose pasta salad as his side and he said it was very tasty and had a balsamic dressing. He liked his crepe, but would have preferred a buckwheat crepe like at Paris 66. I liked this crepe better.

He also ordered a side of sausage, which our server forgot to put in and we had to remind her so it arrived after we had finished our meals:
Good sausage. Not too seasoned.

We got a piece of pumpkin roll to go and ended up eating it at home later that night. It was good. Cream cheese filling.
It was a tasty breakfast, filling, a nice tea selection, relaxing, and a friendly server. It would have been better if my sandwich had contained the promised cheese and if SP's sausage hadn't initially been forgotten. But we would go back.
Cafe Saint-Amand on Urbanspoon

We walked around Gettysburg for a bit, wandering in & out of some shops, before heading west to The Historic Round Barn & Farmers Market:
Apparently, not too many round barns exist today, so those that do are special. This one was built in 1914 and is a 'barrel barn' not the '5+ sided polygonal' type of round barn. Today it is a farmers market. We wandered through. There are a lot of apple varieties. A lot. Varieties we had never before heard of. And other seasonal goodies as well as jams, jellies, syrups, pickled goodies, lots of cookbooks, lots of Amish cookbooks, teas, cheeses...
Our only purchase was some squash!!

After enjoying the Round Barn, we continued west on Route 30, enjoying a beautiful autumn day.
So many pretty colors. We rolled down the windows and let the air whip in.
I tried to take pretty photos through the windshield.
Sometimes I tried to take some out my window. Lots of beautiful rolling hills and farms and colorful trees. And windmills:
Eventually, we arrived at our destination:
As soon as we turned in to the memorial, I think we both got a little quieter and more reflective. As we drove through the park, there was plenty of beautiful fall scenery to appreciate:
There's still a lot of planned construction in the memorial. It's far from finished. I've never seen so many people at a park so hushed. In a way it felt wrong to take photos. Here are the marble slabs, each one engraved with one name of a passenger/crew member from Flight 93:
The slabs are arranged along the flight path. The actual crash site is off limits to the public. After all of the workers involved in gathering evidence from the site were finished with their work, the site was filled in. Today, peering through a towering wood gate, one can glimpse the boulder that marks the spot of impact:
It's really quite something to see. It makes you think, A lot. It makes you contemplative. Reflective. And grateful for how lucky you are and how blessed you are, in spite of your own personal trials & tribulations.

*a brief blog pause seems appropriate*

After walking around the memorial, we continued west on Route 30, enjoying more pretty scenery. We decided to stop in Greensburg for dinner. Blogger Short & Sassy in Suburghia writes about places she tries in the Greensburg area, so we decided to try one. She mentioned in her post that The Parkwood Inn is right off Route 30, so we chose that restaurant.
We decided to sit inside, not outside on what looked like a terrific, huge wood deck. Mostly because it was getting towards sunset and the past few evenings, no matter how sunny & warm it was during the day, we had noticed it seems to get a bit chillier than expected these days as soon as the sun sets.

We ordered our usual iced teas - fresh brewed, yay! SP started off with a salad:
Pickled egg! And small chunks of beets! What a nice treat - something different. The lettuce was iceberg, but it looked like nice iceberg. He ate it all.

I couldn't resist the Provolone Cheese Sticks:
The breading was different than what I am used to, but I still can't quite figure out what makes it different. They were quite tasty.
I got the Steak Hoagie with sauteed onions, mushrooms, and peppers plus tomato and provolone cheese:
It was very good. Huge. I ate half and took the other half home for lunch on Tuesday.

SP got the House Grill sandwich:
It's grilled turkey, grilled ham, and melted American cheese placed on grilled rye bread spread with  homemade cole slaw:
He said it was very good. It must have been - he ate it all. He really likes cole slaw on sandwiches.

We were disappointed that they were out of the Deckers, their homemade potato chips, so we both settled for fresh cut fried with our sandwiches. Not being a big fries person, I only ate 1 or 2 of them.

We'd definitely go back. The sandwiches were big and tasty. Good cheese sticks. A nice salad. Fresh iced tea. We were too full for dessert, though we did have our server tell us the options for the day. I remember a carrot cake, mile high chocolate cake, apple cheesecake, and a Baily's chocolate cake. Service was good, friendly. Our server seemed happy to be at work, not just tolerant of work. Good place right off the road on which we were traveling home.
Parkwood Inn on Urbanspoon

After leaving, we continued west on route 30, into the sunset, and the end of our relaxing, wonderful Fall Getaway. We're definitely going to have to go on some sort of fall vacation next year. Beautiful, sunny, warm days with cool, crisp fall evenings, lots of fall foliage color. Just what we needed to rejuvenate a bit.