Saturday, June 30, 2012

Delicious & Stinky

It's summer and right now, we are experiencing some really hot days. Hot weather always makes me lose my appetite a bit. It makes me want lighter meals. Cooler meals. It makes me want to not cook, to make SP grill everything. Of course right now it's so stinking hot that neither of us wants him outside grilling.
Pesto came to mind. Simple. Quick. And we have a lot of happy herbs on the deck.
The basil on the left is what we grew from seed. The basil on the right is the plant we bought at Home Depot. They are turning into little basil trees!

The third pot of basil, grown from seeds.
Using angel hair for the pasta also cuts down on the amount of time you generate heat in your kitchen! It only takes 3-5 minutes to cook. I wanted the pesto that we made last year, the Pesto di Noche.
The recipe was in Saveur Issue #140 last summer. I like that the basil does not need to be blanched first like some pesto recipes. I like the crunchy, earthiness from the walnuts. The tang from the sun dried tomatoes. The sharp bite from the cheeses.
 We made half a batch and of course omitted the garlic.
This year we remembered to save a bit of the pasta water for flavoring/thinning the pesto. So good! Even thought we thinned it a bit with the pasta water, it was still thick enough that we thought it would be a nice thing to make for a party but instead of mixing it with pasta, spread it on crostini.

As for SP, when I mentioned pesto for dinner, he immediately remembered that we had garlic scapes from the CSA in the refrigerator and that I had a Garlic Scape Pesto recipe from the same issue of Saveur. So that's what he wanted. We made half a batch.
 The garlic scapes are pureed with cashews and parmesan. We added some fresh chives, too.
Most of my readers know that garlic often bothers my stomach so I try to avoid it. But what I usually don't mention (complain about) is that garlic smell disgusts me. SP calls my nose Super Sniffer because he cannot believe how I pick up smells or that I can be so repulsed by certain smells. He was in so much trouble a year ago when one night I got home from afternoon tea with a friend and discovered he had cooked mussels for himself. The smell was everywhere and it made me gag! I kept a napkin pressed to my nose all night and banned him from ever cooking those vile smelling things in the house again. I just don't like seafood smell.
I also don't like meat smell when I'm in the meat section of the grocery store. All that raw meat... all of it... just smells gross. Just like the seafood section smells gross. It is perhaps a good thing that SP does nearly all the grocery shopping because I cannot stand to spend much time, if any time, in the meat/seafood areas picking out meat. If we are at the store together, I will hang out in the bakery or tea aisle while he goes off to get the meat.
Back to the garlic scape pesto. Potent! Stinky! SP said it was delicious but he liked my walnut-basil pesto better and would only make the garlic scape pesto again if we had garlic scapes from the CSA and even then he would probably prefer to cook the scapes with some greens.
Along with the pestos, we made a salad of CSA lettuce, CSA cucumber, sun dried tomatoes, and green olives.

The garlic scape pesto was so stinky that I put every single part of the food processor in the dishwasher, which I never do. Usually the food processor parts are hand wash only. I also was afraid of lingering garlic scape stench emanating from the dishwasher, which had just been emptied that morning, so I loaded everything we had pulled out for cooking, I mean everything, every bowl, pot, lid, colander, salad spinner, and then some into the dishwasher and turned it on right away.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Coffee "S'mores" Pie

I think I've mentioned before that SP and his friends from college gather every so often to play games. Sure, they sometimes play Clue or Boggle, but there are also what I consider 'strange' games. Actually, I no longer think of them as strange since I've been living with a whole closet full of the games for four years now, but back when we first moved in together, I was astounded not only at the number of games, but the titles. I think when SP showed me, I raised my eyebrows and shook my head.

Anyway, I call these gatherings 'Geek Game Night.'
Chilling in the refrigerator
It had been quite some time since SP had been at a Geek Game Night gathering. Last Saturday, we ended up hosting one. It was a last minute decision and involved much debate about where in the house to play the games. The sunroom isn't air conditioned, the dining room doesn't have good lighting for board games (so says SP), and the basement is in mid-remodel mode plus the cats lived down there and a couple of his friends are allergic to cats. Even though the cats have been gone for 1.5+ years, the lingering cat hair and dander in the carpet & furniture will bother people allergic to cats. Fortunately, it was not a super warm night, so we set up some tables & folding chairs in the sunroom.

Dinner was easy: we ordered pizza (sausage & green pepper) from Pizza Milano. We brewed lots of iced tea and his friends brought soda. As for snacks... we decided to make some Rice Krispies Treats since we had some of the cereal and a bag of marshmallows to use. But then, I remembered a recipe from the most recent issue of Bon Appetit (July 2012). Coffee S'mores Pie. Rich. Decadent. The kind of dessert that the two of us would not be able to finish on our own. But with friends helping...
 So in addition to Rice Krispies Treats, we made Coffee S'mores Pie.

The crust: a blend of graham crackers, Nutella, chocolate, sugar, cream, & butter.
The pie: ground coffee, chocolate, butter, & cream.
The topping: meringue (egg whites and sugar)

It's easy to make. A no bake pie, but a bit time consuming since the crust needs to chill for an hour before adding the filling. The coffee has to steep in the cream for 5 minutes. And the egg whites need to be whipped for a while. but using a stand mixer makes this easy.
Sadly, our meringue quickly deflated and became runny. Sunday evening, we scraped off the meringue and for the rest of the pie, we topped it with whipped cream.The crust is delicious - just 2 tablespoons of Nutella really adds a nice flavor to a chocolate graham crust. The filling is delicious, but dense and rich. lots of coffee and chocolate flavor. This is not a 'big slice' kind of pie but a 'little slice' kind of pie because it's so rich - one friend said it was like eating a truffle. The meringue looked great right after we made it, topped the pie, and browned it with the creme brulee torch, but it quickly fell and became runny, so it was yucky. Edible, but not delicious, light, & airy. Disappointing.

I briefly thought about putting marshmallows on top and browning them with a creme brulee torch instead of meringue to give a more s'mores feeling, but I am glad I quickly dismissed that idea because marshmallows on top would make this way too sweet. I really like it with the whipped cream on top and I think that if we make this in the future, I'd skip the meringue in favor of whipped cream.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Strawberry Jam

Last week I took my pile of ripped out recipes and organized them. The whole process is great for rediscovering dishes I want to try and dishes I'd love to make again. A couple of months ago, we made Vanilla Cloverleaf Rolls, but we did not make the Strawberry Jam that was suggested to serve alongside the rolls. Suddenly, given that it's strawberry season and we've been enjoying local strawberries, plus the amazing strawberry jam  had at Meat & Potatoes in May, I had an urge to make the rolls again and the strawberry jam. So we did.
The jam is super easy to make, it just takes a bit of time to simmer and thicken. We divided our jam into two glass jars. We put one in the freezer (it's only about half full) and the second (full jar) is for enjoying this week.
I am not sure I will be able to go back to eating store bought jam/jelly/preserves in a jar. This simple, homemade jam is so good. It's strawberries, a Granny Smith apple, sugar, and lemon juice.
The pectin from the apple helps to jell the jam and makes it a bit tart, but not too tart. The strawberry taste still shines through the apple taste/pectin. SP smushed just enough strawberries; there was just the right amount of strawberry chunks, but it wasn't so chunky that it fell off the rolls. It also wasn't too runny.
What else did we enjoy with the rolls & jam for Sunday dinner? We tried a new wine.

Toasted Head Untamed White, which is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Moscato. We both liked it. I liked it more than the straight Viognier we tried a few weeks ago.

There was pork cooked on the grill rotisserie:
The only thing we did to season it was rub Penzeys Mitchell Seasoning all over it in the morning and let it marinate all day. 

The pork was maybe a bit well done, but not dry or tough. SP cooked it a bit longer to make sure there wasn't any pink to bother my stomach. The seasoning was smoky, salty, paprika-y. It's sold as Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning but we put it on the pork and it worked nicely. 
Of course we also had vegetables. Leftover grape tomatoes from last week with CSA lettuce and Homemade Poppy Seed Dressing:
And grilled zucchini. I love grilled zucchini. I can't believe we never ate zucchini when I was a kid - it's now one of my favorite vegetables.
This was actually a fairly easy dinner. The rolls are easy to make, you just have to check on them a couple of times during the day. The jam is easy and we made it while having breakfast. We seasoned the pork during jam/breakfast time, too. I think the pork took about 1.5 hours on the grill but during that time we enjoyed our wine on the deck on a beautiful late afternoon.
As usual, the best part of our Sunday efforts (aside from tasty food): leftovers for 2-3 meals during the week, so easy week night dinners. We like grilled veggies cold and cooked pork cold, so there's no need to even reheat anything.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Firsts & Failures

It's officially summer!

I've been blogging for 3+ years now. I still enjoy sharing our food adventures. I still enjoy reading other food bloggers' food (and other) adventures. But I find that I have less & less to say these days. I think the problem is that our meals are kind of... cyclical. Or maybe I should say seasonal. Plus, we have our favorite meals, the meals that we really enjoy and feel compelled to make when their 'season' rolls around. Much like pumpkin, cinnamon, and apples dominate our dining and baking in autumn, ice creams and salads and lots of grilled veggies dominate our summer eating.

I haven't written much lately because we've been eating meals that we make every summer, meals that I've blogged about for the past 3 summers. This is the 4th summer for the blog.

I stopped photographing and blogging our weekly CSA goodies because, frankly, I got bored doing that. It's much easier to put the CSA stuff directly into the refrigerator rather than pull it out of bags, arrange it, photograph it, re-bag it, clean the counter/floor where dirt and stray bits have fallen. This is our 4th year of CSA goodies, and if you click back through the past 3 years of CSA posts, you'll have a good idea of what we've been getting. So far, it's still mostly greens, which we turn into salad, or we grill (kale chips), or we saute (collards).

Over Memorial Day weekend, we made our first grilled, boneless leg of lamb of the summer:
 Delicious, moist, tender, mustard & rosemary flavors.
We served the lamb with our first platter of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil drizzled with balsamic syrup:
This week we are enjoying our first Grilled Zucchini & Red Pepper Fattoush, possibly my favorite summer salad that we make. We also are enjoying our first batch of Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream, my favorite of the ice creams/sorbets we make.

We've also had a few failures. Maybe not complete failures, but disappointments. Over Memorial Day weekend, we made the first Fruit Tart of the year. SP had  just finished pulsing the dough in the food processor and I was looking at my past posts on the Fruit Tart when I realized that in every single post I wrote that we should remember to grease the tart pan. I started to tell him, I was reaching for the tart pan, but I was too late. he had already started pressing the dough into the pan. We let it go, after all, non-stick tart pan. Of course we learned our lesson.
When it was time to serve it, the bottom tart pan piece would not pop up out of the tart ring. The crust crumbled and fell apart.
 It was a mess. Crumbs all over the kitchen. An ugly tart.
 Ugly piece of tart.
My parents thought it was very tasty, and I have to agree, it tasted as good as it had in the past. It was just... a mess. So disappointing.

Then there was some salmon that got grilled too long and not even a tasty sauce of yogurt, mayo, sour cream, lemon, dill, and cucumber could save the fish. Bleah. Fail.

In an effort to use up some food in the freezer, we had a night of burgers. Turkey burgers and ham burgers. As in ground ham. It was leftover from when we made my grandma's Pork Balls at Christmas (ground pork and ground ham in a mustard-vinegar sauce). I always loved my grandma's ham loaf (ground ham shaped like a meatloaf). So I figured we'd just turn the ground ham into a patty and grill it.
The ground turkey burgers are on top. The ground ham below. What a mistake. The ground ham did not want to form into patties, not even when we finally added an egg. They turned out dry. Crumbly. Too charred. Not very flavorful other than ham salty. I kept trying to dip bites of ham into the salad dressing to add flavor.
It doesn't look all that awful in the photo, but trust me. Do not try to make a ground ham only burger. Huge fail.

And then there was the Baily's ice cream we made in May. My mom really likes Baily's ice cream and I started craving some, so since she was coming into town, we decided to try making it. Basically, a vanilla base with Baily's added. 
It wasn't very good. Too much vanilla flavor and too little Baily's flavor, but adding more Baily's would have made it too strong. We ate about half, the other half hung out in the freezer for a month, and then it was tossed in the sink to melt away. Another failure. At least the pizzelles were good, even though SP used triple sec instead of anise. I know, that doesn't sound like an easy error, but the printed recipe we use (pizzelles with butter, not vegetable oil) actually calls for 'triple sec or another liquor/extract.' We always use anise extract, but I never wrote a note on the recipe sheet, so he used triple sec. He was trying to be a good husband. I had been complaining about not having any dessert and that maybe we should make pizzelles, which usually means I measure the ingredients, he makes the batter, and I 'bake' them in the pizzelle maker. One morning before getting me up he found the recipe and made the batter all by himself. Since I wasn't there to help in making the batter... and since I never wrote a note on the recipe... he used triple sec. They were tasty pizzelles, I just prefer pizzelles with anise flavor.

As for dining out, the past few weekends have been family dinners with SP's family to celebrate birthdays, so we have dined at Outback & Red Lobster. Neither is one of my 'more tolerable' chain restaurants. Actually, I really don't think much of either place. I had a chicken-bacon-cheese quesadilla appetizer for my meal at Outback because I don't really like steak or fish, I don't order pork when I am out (cooking temperatures, pink inside risks, and usually well done = tough leather at a place like Outback), and I don't usually order messy things like ribs at a restaurant. The last time I was there I ordered the Alice Chicken dinner and it was way too salty, had way too much cheese so it was greasy, and the veggies were drowning in butter. Yuck. So I got an appetizer for dinner. It was OK.

As for Red Lobster, I think the quality for the price is atrocious and I'd much rather spend $20-$30 on a  seafood meal at a place like Bistro 19 or Eleven or Willow or take your pick of places like those in the area. Of course I don't really like fish, so I am limited to shrimp/crab/lobster or a chicken dish. The list of fish specials (like cod, mahi mahi, tilapia, salmon) had half and full portions, but the full portions were almost all priced $20+. I'm also not really a fan of fried seafood (fried seafood always makes me feel gross), or scampi seafood (garlic = bad for me), so after eliminating huge chunks of the menu, I ended up ordering a '4 course for $15 meal.' The creamy potato bacon soup was rubbery, lukewarm, and not especially bacony. The garden salad was iceberg lettuce with a few cherry tomatoes and was just OK. The cheddar bay biscuits, which I remember as being the best thing about Red Lobster about 10-15 years ago, were not as good as I remember and were actually kind of bland and too salty. My shrimp skewers were OK, lots of shrimp, but the Honey BBQ sauce was just so-so. It didn't really look like BBQ sauce, more like a glaze spooned on top and it was yellowish, not red, and it was more like a honey-dijon dipping sauce than honey BBQ sauce. The apple crostata was OK, a little bland and tasted like a Sara Lee frozen dessert warmed in the oven.

So that's the scoop on some successful firsts of the grilling/summer season and some recent failures at cooking and dining out!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bartram House Bakery

Beautiful weather has me spending lots of time in the sunroom and less time in my office. That means less, well, no, time blogging. Since the sunroom is not on the central air/heat, it's not a year round room. Whenever there is a sunroom worthy day, I feel compelled to ignore the computer and chores and just hang out in my favorite room in the house.

Last Saturday was one of the really nice days and we spent the entire day running around. We left at 9:30 am to head south to my hair appointment. As we zipped down 79, some sort of rock/debris cracked into the windshield, right in front of SP's face, so we had to deal with getting the entire windshield replaced this week before this weekend's car inspection. Gotta love those unexpected expenses. I'm sure SP wasn't happy since he had to squint through/around the crack all day!

Anyway, here's the 'menu' from last Saturday:

Hair appointment
1.5 hours of fun because I refuse to let the grays win.
A new place. A bakery/cafe. Yum! Photos below.
Trax Farms
Strawberry Festival time! But, seriously, $5.49 for a quart of berries?!
Because the Boars Head lunch meat at Trax was much more expensive than at Portman's.
Drive Thru ATM
Cash is sometimes necessary.
Hobby Lobby
I'm still searching for home decor for a few spots in our house and I wanted to check out the cross-stitch section. Plus, it's always fun to watch SP twitch and suffer in this kind of store. He truly doesn't care what I do in the house as long as I leave his office and the basement alone. 
Our mint & basil outgrew their pots quickly and we still have home projects on this year's 'to do' list.
Guaranteed to annoy you before you even find a parking space. A necessary evils. OK, maybe not necessary, but... a lot of stuff we use is cheaper there.
Home Depot
Because neither Lowe's nor Walmart had the kind of herb pots we wanted. We knew Home Depot would, and maybe we should have gone there first, but we wanted to check out a few things at Lowe's that we had already checked out at Home Depot.
Gas Station
Gas makes the car run. 
We only needed one item. It bugs me to go to Costco for just one item. It bugs me to go to any store for just one item!
Market District
Because Costco doesn't have everything we want in an appropriate size (like milk and sour cream).
Because it was 6 pm and we were starving.


I can't remember exactly how Bartram House Bakery came to my attention, but it did. There is a location in Wexford and one in Peters Township. Since my hair salon is in Peters, we decided that after my appointment we'd check out Bartram's for lunch.
When you walk in, a glass case of baked goodies greets you. We lingered and checked everything out. Scones, cookies, bars, muffins, cupcakes, croissants, donuts...
Past the display case, to the right, is the counter where you order. The menu is on the chalkboards on the walls plus there are a few specials on paper on the counter.
We shared Tomato Basil Bisque. I really liked this soup! It was a thicker soup than I expected, but had lots of great tomato, basil, and parmesan taste. The lighter color (not red but pinkish) makes me think there was a splash of cream, which I liked.
SP chose a BLT with fried egg sandwich on whole wheat. The bread slices were thick and very tasty. His egg was nicely fried, with runny yolk, and he liked that because he could dip his bread through the yolk to mop up all the yolk.
Once again, I was drawn to the Breakfast Sandwich. I chose croissant, eggs (I think egg whites or maybe some other kind of egg substitute thing is an option, but I am a real egg with yolk person), bacon, cheddar, and tomato.
First off, this was huge! I ate half and we took the other half home. Lots of egg, but it was tasty egg, not cooked too hard/too browned egg. Juicy tomato. Flaky croissant. Lots of bacon. Not greasy. Delicious.
I got one of these S'mores Bars to take home. I ate it Saturday night. Oh my gosh - kind of indulgent with that huge slab of chocolate on top of a crumbly, slightly sweet graham crust. Toasted marshmallows on top. Then some chocolate drizzle and a few chocolate chips scattered on top the marshmallows. Marshmallows are like a guilty pleasure for me. For some reason, every so often, I just crave marshmallows. Or fluff. Oh I love fluff. But back to this - there probably wasn't anything extra special about these marshmallows, but they sure were tasty. I have been wondering if I could replicate this at home, maybe using a creme brulee torch to brown the marshmallows?!
SP got a Blueberry Scone. That is just half the scone. It wasn't quite as dense as some scones I've had, and maybe was a bit more muffin like, but still a tasty treat.
I also got a Pepperoni Roll to go and I ate it Monday afternoon. It was good, but my roll unrolled in such a way that my first few bites of the outer ring were pepperoni less while my last few bites of the interior were very pepperoni filled. The bag got a little greasy from the pepperoni, but the roll itself wasn't too greasy from the pepperoni. I might have liked a bit more cheese, but then again, I almost always am in favor of more cheese.

I also got a Caramel-Cinnamon Biscotti that was good. Softer than some since I could bite through before dunking. A little messy from the caramel on top. Didn't see in the bakery and later wished I had seen that there were walnuts in it, and while I like walnuts, I prefer my basked treats to be nut free. I'm pretty sure SP got something else, too, but I cannot remember.

Anyway, we both really liked Bartram's.

Bartram House Bakery on Urbanspoon

For Saturday's dinner we went to Bocktown. We were just there a week or two ago with our parents. Long time readers know that whenever we stay in Robinson for dinner, 95% of the time we eat at Bocktown. This visit was noteworthy for two reasons:

1. We did not order our usuals
2. We ended up in the back room with a crying baby and 2 loud and misbehaving children

There is nothing like someone putting their wailing baby on their shoulder so that its wailing face can wail right into your eardrum while you eat. I was not happy. Add to that the 2 other children, one who kept loudly uttering 'Owwwheeeee' as he played with his toys and the other who walked all over the bench seating and well, I was super annoyed. If my brother or I had been anything like those kids, my parents would have left the restaurant so as not to annoy other diners. They would have spanked me and punished me for walking on furniture and not being quiet in public.

Anyway... our food:
Soup of the Day, Cream of Mushroom. This was really good. Mushroom filled but not too earthy like I find some mushroom soups to be.

OK, yes, the She Crab Soup is a usual for us! This time it seemed to have a lot more crab than usual.

SP ordered the starter of Stuffed Banana Peppers for his meal. He said they were delicious. I didn't try them.

For my meal I ordered a Daily Special Starter: Fried Green Tomato Salad, with nuts, feta, and bacon. I was really tired after such a long day of running around in what was a bit of a hot/humid day, so I wasn't too hungry and I kind of didn't have much energy for eating. That might have influenced my opinion of this dish. The fried green tomatoes were OK. The breading kind of fell right off when I cut them. They were a bit firm, but also kind of dry and lacking flavor. They would have been better with a  more seasoned breading or a bit more dressing in the salad, or dressing right on top the tomatoes. I think it was supposed to be a creamy parmesan dressing, but there didn't seem to be much if any in the salad. I usually don't like a lot of dressing, but this could have used much more dressing. My bacon was missing, so I had to ask for it, and the small container I got was just OK, a little too dry and hard for bacon, but they appeared to be real bacon bits. Overall, I thought it was just OK. There were a lot of nuts which made for a very crunchy salad and overly crunchy salads annoy me because it takes me so long to crunch through the crunchy parts.
I am hoping for a less busy Saturday this weekend and more sunroom time!