Two for One – Restaurant & Recipe Review: Tania’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca

Over the last several years I’ve developed a deep appreciation for Mexican food.  I love the complex, but fresh flavors.  I welcome the contrasts in textures between smooth and creamy (like mole or guacamole) and crisp and salty (like a crisped tortilla, flaky from a little oil and heat). Oh how this comforting food makes me almost sigh, ‘mmm mmm mmm,’ while I’m eating it!

This past Saturday Jeff and I took one of our weekend afternoon rides for produce.  We pick a direction and roam back roads in search of small produce stands with deliciously fresh offerings.  Sometimes we go with no plan in mind and see where the wind takes us; but Saturday Jeff had a little nugget in his hip pocket – Tania’s Mexican Restaurant & Store at 2180 Carlisle Road in Aspers.

In the midst of shopping for fresh corn, green beans, tomatoes (to tide us over until the ones in our garden ripen), cantaloupe, etc. we stopped for a late lunch – that turned into linner or dunch.

Although neither Jeff nor I speaks much Spanish and none of the staff we encountered spoke much English, we managed to order everything we wanted and then some.  Having never had horchata (a traditional Mexican drink made with rice, vanilla and cinnamon) before, Jeff suggested ordering one to share.  It was a good call!  The horchata was like the best rice pudding in liquid form.  And it reminded me a little of chai, which I love.  Being on the sweeter side, we saved it for “dessert” and drank it in the car after we left Tania’s.

While we decided what to order, a basket of warm chips and a dish of thin, tomato-ey, flavorful salsa was delivered to our table.  We nibbled on the chips dipped in yummy goodness as we perused the menu.  Jeff ordered 1 green chicken tamale, beef tacos and a side of guacamole.  I ordered the spicy pork & pineapple tacos and a side of Mexican rice.  Of course, we shared it all and were in heaven as we ate.

I like tamales, but Jeff LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS tamales so I only had a small bite.  It was comfort food in a perfect little package.  Each order of tacos included three 4 1/2″ tacos so I took one of Jeff’s tacos and he took one of mine.  I put some of the spicy red sauce that came with the tacos on the beef taco and it was delicious.  The sauce gave it a nice heat and although there wasn’t a lot of complexity to the beef/onion mixture it was really good.  The flavors were strong and clean and homey.  My spicy pork & pineapple tacos were much more complex in flavor.  The spicy (but not too spicy) rub on the pork was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the pineapple.  It was like a taste explosion in my mouth and I really appreciated that the meat in both the beef and pork tacos was cut small enough that you didn’t have the awkward slide of filling onto your chin or down the front of your shirt when you bite into them!

The sides were just as good as the main event.  The guacamole was simple, fresh and creamy, yet it had just the right amount of chunky avocado pieces to make it texturally interesting.  And the rice – oh, the rice!!!!!  You may remember that Jeff isn’t the hugest rice fan – having tasted his attempts at making rice, I understand why!  While he is an excellent cook in so many areas, rice is not his forte.  However, rice making is the forte of whoever makes the Mexican rice at Tania’s!!!!  When you first look at it you may be tempted to think it is going to be dry and boring – but do not rely on this deceptive first impression or you will miss something wonderful.  So wonderful, in fact, that I know in the coming weeks I will wake up in the middle of the night craving the rice.  The grains were moist but not soggy, perfectly separate from one another.  Clearly the grains were not simply cooked in water – there was a great flavor of something lovingly toasted and cooked with chicken broth and/or tomatoes.  And dotting – but not overpowering – the perfectly done rice were garlic, onions, peas and carrots.

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It was an exceptional meal followed by a trip through the aisles of the attached store.  We made our purchases and were shocked at how low the prices of our lunch and grocery items were.  It was a phenomenal value and I would highly recommend it.

Now for the recipe.  On Thursday Jeff and I went to the library for a rare trip where we could spend time between the shelves picking out books and DVD’s without rushing.  Normally we stop at the library on the way to or from somewhere else and just run in for what we need or drop our books in the outdoor book return.  But, I was able to look at books in a leisurely manner and checked out three cookbooks (I know, it’s an addiction – “Hi, my  name is Janice and I’m a cookbookaholic!”).

In preparation for an upcoming Mexican meal, I borrowed the book “tacolicious” by Sara Deseran.  Although my menu is set, I thought I’d get some inspiration from this book and I was not wrong.  One thing caught my attention immediately – Cantaloupe-Ginger Agua Fresca.  While on our produce mission on Saturday we found some perfectly ripe cantaloupes so on Sunday I made the agua fresca.

It was scrumptious!  And it was super simple to make. I had ginger in the freezer (as I always do), sugar in the baking cabinet and a lemon in the fridge.  The hardest parts (which were not at all hard) were cutting the cantaloupe and defrosting the ginger.  Once that was done it all came together in a matter of minutes.  The only change I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of sugar so that the agua fresca would taste more like the perfectly ripe cantaloupe and less like sugar.

GCAF

It was a home run! Bright and fresh and a beautiful color. And I am so glad I didn’t put the full amount of sugar in it or it would have been too sweet for my taste.  I will definitely make it again, perhaps trying a little more ginger in it the next time.

I’d give both the restaurant and the recipe (revised to include less sugar) 5 m’s out of 5.

mexican mmm

 

Wherever the Music Takes Us, Kitten…

I’ll warn you now…..this is going to be a packed post.  I’m going to try to tell you all about our trip to Maine in one sitting – a big undertaking, but one that will give you all the highlights about where we stayed, what we did and – most importantly – where/what we ate!

My last post was about the beginning of the trip – the first part of Day 1.  But it didn’t give you any insight into the end of Day 1; so I will start there and continue through the end of the trip!

Day 1 (halfway through):

  • after we picked up Jeff in Nanuet we hit the road and made our way to Darien, CT and dinner at Estia’s Back Porch Cafe.  The decor at Estia’s is funky and comfortable and the food is DELISH.  Nate ordered French Onion Soup and a side  of French Fries – he was obviously in a French mood!  Jeff, wanting to recreate the superb meal we had at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Long Island last summer, ordered fish tacos.  And I ordered the MTK Tuna “Burger” that came with a side of spicy Asian slaw.  I didn’t taste anyone else’s food; but I was incredibly happy with my choice.  My sandwich was served on a toasted English muffin and included an enormous tuna steak, crusted with sesame seeds and cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was so big that Jeff had to finish it for me, which I’m sure didn’t disappoint him.  The spicy Asian slaw was the perfect accompaniment to my sandwich.

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  • After dinner we drove to and checked into the Hyatt House in Shelton, CT.  Because we were full and it was on the early side, we needed a walk.  So after a few minutes of settling into our room (which included a bathroom, bedroom and a living room/kitchenette combo with a pull out sofa), we got back into the car for a short drive to the campus of Yale.  We walked around campus and New Haven for about 2 hours – happy to stretch our legs and digest a bit.

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  • My dad has often joked that Jeff needs to eat approximately every 15 minutes, so it wasn’t surprising to me when he wanted to pick up a pizza at Frank Pepe’s on the way back to the hotel.  His reasoning – “I only had fish tacos at Estia’s.”  Clearly he had forgotten about eating half of my sandwich!  But I love his enthusiasm and couldn’t turn him down.  So he went into Frank Pepe’s while Nate and I stayed with the car.  I tasted the pizza, which was lukewarm by the time we got back to the room.  I’d definitely be interested in trying the wood-fired pizza at Frank Pepe’s when it’s right out of the oven – based upon the coolish taste I had, I’ll bet it would be amazing!  After our quick “snack” we dropped into bed with a plan to be on the road between 8:00 and 9:00 am.

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Day 2:

  • Although I am usually hassled for sleeping late, I was up and ready to go by 7:30.  We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and got on the road.
  • We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire (for about 5 minutes) and finally arrived in Maine around noon.  Our first stop, Bissell Brothers Brewery.  Don’t worry, we weren’t corrupting a minor – Jeff just wanted to get some beer to bring back to PA to share with his BFF, Craig.

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  • After a short stop at BBB, we made our way to hotel (The Hyatt Place – downtown Portland) and, although our room wasn’t quite ready, we dropped off our bags and made our way to Commercial Street to wander through Portland.  We strolled through some shops, made a stop at Harbor Fish Market to order some fish to pick up on Tuesday before leaving Maine, and a stop at Nine Stones Spa for me to pick up my birthday gift from my mom and dad.  Thanks for the Kai perfume, Mimi and Pop-Pop!!!!

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  • Next we walked to the Portland Fire Department to see if Nate, a volunteer fire fighter, could get a shirt for his collection.  He struck out on the shirt, but was able to talk with the chief and see the FD.

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  • In need of a reprieve from the heat, we made a stop at The Thirsty Pig for a beverage and a nosh.  Our bellies were getting hungry, but we didn’t want to ruin our appetites for dinner at Fore Street.
  • After a quick snack, we checked into the hotel, showered, changed, relaxed and walked to Fore Street on Fore Street for dinner.  We were a few minutes early for our reservation so we started with a drink in the bar…..Nate had a fizzy blueberry juice, Jeff a Manhatten and me a glass of Albarino.  After being shown to our table and taking a quick look at the menu, we ordered appetizers.  Nate had a salad of mixed greens with a yummy vinaigrette and over the top croutons made from homemade bread crisped to perfection.  Jeff had Wood-Fired Pork Belly with Allium Hush Puppies, Horseradish Mayo and Sunflower Shoots.  I had the dish of the night – Jet Star Tomato Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese & Butter Pastry.  We shared our appetizers with one another, ooh’ing and aah’ing as we ate.  Although I could happily have stopped after my appetizer, I just had to listen to all the recommendations I received from students to try the Wood-Fired Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter – so I ordered those for my entrée.  Nate ordered the Marinated Natural Half Chicken with Duck Fat Fried Sourdough and Wilted Greens, which we all agreed was incredible and still talked about days later.  And Jeff ordered Garlic Scape, Sweet Corn and Ricotta Salata Ravioli with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and Smoked Squash, which he billed as very good but not excellent.  He has since told me, “I was jealous of Nate’s chicken to be quite honest with you.”  Because our meals had been so good, we had to try dessert.  Jeff ordered the Mini Ice Cream Sandwich with Hazelnut Coffee Ice Cream and Nate and I shared the Chocolate Custard Tart with Raspberry Coulis and Basil Ginger Ice Cream.  The tart was incredibly rich – just what you’d want when you have a chocolate craving – and the ice cream was a wonderfully interesting combination of basil-y freshness and gingery warmth.  It was a darn-near-perfect meal – the food was inventive and delicious and our waitress was friendly and attentive.  The only thing that bothered me was that our waiter in the bar used phrases like “what are WE having to drink” and “OUR table’s not ready yet.”  That’s just too touchy-feely and a bit condescending for my taste.  But, as Frasier and Niles would say, the only thing better than a perfect meal is a perfect meal with one tiny flaw you can pick at all night!!!!!

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  • After dinner we set out for a walk to aid digestion, but decided to cut it short when it began to rain.  We hit the hay in preparation for another early morning – the start of our kayak/camping trip.

Day 3:

  • After a quick breakfast at the hotel and a quick checkout, we loaded the car, stopped for Jeff’s beloved ice block, made a quick stop for fizzy juice at Bow Street Market and made our way – with much enthusiasm – to LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School for the start of our kayak/camping trip.

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  • We met our guides – Ros and Pete – and our fellow islanders for the weekend, including (I apologize if I spell any names incorrectly):
    • 4 members of a family having a boys weekend – Terry, Bryan, Kiegan and Brendan
    • a couple from the Allentown area (near where I grew up) – Andrew and Angie
    • a couple from New Brunswick – Andre & Johanna
    • three brave women flying solo – Lorri, Ennie & Laurel
  • Including Jeff, Nate and I we made a group of 16 who would partner up and paddle tandem for the weekend
  • We had our orientation, packing session, lunch-making, lessons, stretching and finally headed to the dock to embark on our adventure.
  • After leaving Flying Point we paddled around Sister Island, Upper Goose, and Lower Goose and finally made our way to camp on The Goslings.
  • We chose our campsites, set up tents and “the restroom” and began exploring the island while we waited for dinner.  We had wine/beer/fizzy juices and got to know our travelling companions.  Then we sat down to a yummy lobster and steak dinner – Nate’s first lobster experience.  Except for someone touching his food – he seemed to enjoy it!
  • After dinner, the dishes were done and we trickled, one-by-one, to the beach for sunset and dessert – Pete’s specialty – Pineapple Upside Down ?Pudding?  It was supposed to be a cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven; however the mix was gluten-free, which if you’re not used to it, can mess up your camp cooking skills!!!!  However it tasted great and less-than-firm-texture didn’t stop anyone from eating it! Of course, having it served at sunset on your own private island didn’t hurt either!

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  • Then one-by-one we trickled off to bed – tired from the sun, the wind, the paddling and the early start.

Day 4:

  • Jeff and Nate (and perhaps others) got up early to watch the sunrise.  Except for the pics Jeff shared with me I missed it, but was glad for a little disco nap.  As those who know me might expect, sleeping without air conditioning isn’t my thing.  Combine that with Jeff’s snoring and it’s a recipe for not much sleep.
  • The blueberry pancakes Ros and Pete made fueled us for a long day of paddling.  After breakfast we did the dishes, played some cards, had a little island time, packed our lunches and got ourselves prepared to hit the water.
  • It was a hot, but gorgeous day for paddling.  We left the Goslings, paddled around Little Whaleboat and then made our way across the channel to Whaleboat, where we stopped for lunch.  After lunch we polled the group and decided to paddle all the way around Whaleboat, which is a long, beautiful paddle!  For our hard work, we were treated to an eagle sighting and Nate got some great pics of it!!! After conquering Whaleboat, we took it easy paddling back to the Goslings.

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  • Somewhere along the line, some of the group members started playing cards – Golf – while others hiked the island, hung out on the beach, got to know one another, swam or napped.  Dinner – chicken fajitas – was served, dishes were done, sunset was watched on the beach, brownies were eaten “in the kitchen” and one-by-one we trickled to bed – exhausted from a hot day in the sun paddling our little hearts out!

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Day 5:

  • It was a dark and stormy morning…..well it was!  So dark and stormy that we were instructed to batten down the hatches and stay in our tents until the storm blew over.  After the wind and rain subsided briefly, we broke down our tents, packed our equipment and personal belongings and headed to “the kitchen.”  Pete and Ros served coffee (hallelujah) and began making breakfast.  Some of us played cards while we waited.  Others enjoyed the beach and a swim for the last time on this trip and others sipped their coffee.  Somewhere along the line it started to pour again so we all tried our best to fit under the tarp and stay dry.
  • After breakfast, still riding the storm out, the dishes got done, cards got played (and soaked), camp was packed up and we all readied ourselves for our paddle.  We wanted to be ready to jump  into our boats and paddle like crazy once the rain stopped so that we could make it back to Flying Point before the rain began again.
  • Once the rain ceased, the last step before leaving the island was to dismantle “the restroom.”  That done we all headed for the beach, quickly packing our boats and getting into the water.  By the time everyone was settled and on the bay, the sun was shining brightly so Pete and Ros decided we didn’t have to rush back to Flying Point.  We would keep our eye on the sky and paddle as much as we were able.  We left the Goslings and headed between Upper and Lower Goose Island, then toward William’s Island, detouring around Sow & Pigs to Pettingill for a brief stop, and back around William’s Island to see the eagle’s nest. Finally, we headed back toward Flying Point – the weather still cooperating.  As everyone else was making their way into the dock, Jeff and I stayed further out with Ros and, in the quiet, were able to see a seal pop up very near to us.  He was so close we could see his whiskers.

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  • Just as we were pulling up to the dock at Flying Point, Jeff and I got a terrific surprise!  Kevin, one of our guides from last year’s trip, was paddling near the dock.  We had hoped to meet up with him at the Bath Fire & Rescue, where he works; but weren’t able to make the timing work.  So being able to talk with him for even a few moments was a gift.
  • The folks on the dock who helped us out of the water waited patiently as we caught up with Kevin for a few minutes.  Then we unloaded our kayak, made our way up the dock and back to the Outdoor Discovery School, turned in our borrowed equipment, had our team debrief and ate a quick lunch for the few folks who weren’t rushing to get on the road to home.
  • Finally, happily exhausted and ready for a shower, Jeff, Nate and I began our short trek to The Embassy Suites in South Portland – our home for the next two nights.

While I thought I could get through the whole trip in one post, I am tired from reliving the first part of our grand adventure.  If I got any of the paddling routes wrong, I hope Ros or Pete will correct me in the comments below.  When you’re doing the paddle you think you’ll remember; however we were able to cover so much “ground” (and frankly, I just turned 48 so the memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be) that I may have gotten some of it wrong.

I will catch up on the end of Day 5 and finish our adventure through Day 8 in my next post!  Thanks for reading!!!!!

It Ain’t My Mamma’s Potato Salad

Picnic season is upon us…..the temperature and humidity are both climbing, the sun goes down later and it’s the season of long weekends, vacations, graduation parties, and other outdoor festivities.  That means it’s picnic food time!

This is the time of year – you know, between Memorial Day and Labor Day – that you can be out cutting your grass and jealousy slowly (or maybe not so slowly) creeps over you as you smell what ever deliciousness is on your neighbor’s grill.  According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC) – this is peak hot dog season.  Between Memorial Day and Labor Day American’s consume approximately 7 billion (with a B) hot dogs – 150 million on Independence Day alone (that’s over 10,000 miles of hot dogs)!

What do we typically serve with our grilled hamburgers and hot dogs?  Some of the most popular options for picnic sides are fruit salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn on the cob and, the star of today’s show, potato salad.

Although there are probably millions of recipes out there for potato salad, I will tell you quite confidently that my mamma’s potato salad is THE BEST!  It’s creamy and flavorful and both soft and crunchy – it has the perfect balance of flavors and textures……WHEN SHE MAKES IT.  That’s the sticking point – it’s only perfect when she makes it.  She has generously shared her recipe with me and I’ve made it and it has been good – even great – but not like hers!

Why am I telling you this?  Because we recently had a family dinner and, unfortunately, Mimi had to work so she couldn’t be there.  She graciously sent all the fixings, washed and prepped, for a delicious tossed salad (which in our family is not your traditional lettuce, tomatoes, croutons – it’s more a work of culinary art).  I had asked her to make the salad for dinner before I got the request that we have hamburgers and hot dogs.  Had I known that would be the menu, I would definitely have asked her to make potato salad!

But, these hardships in life [read this as it was intended – dripping with sarcasm and gratitude for my situation] teach us to adapt.  I knew I couldn’t serve Mimi’s Potato Salad to this particular crowd because they’ve all had it before and they’d know it was a sad imposter of the fabulous original.  So I decided to go an entirely different way (I know, surprising that I would do that).

I pulled out a potato salad recipe that I had developed for a class.  Here’s what I did:

The night before I assembled the potato salad, I:

  • smoked the potatoes
  • crisped and the bacon
  • hard-boiled the eggs
  • mixed the dressing

Before I continue, I should tell you a bit about a stove-top smoker, which is what I used to smoke the potatoes.  If you don’t have one of these in your culinary arsenal, you should! It’s a great tool for adding flavor without adding fat and is also a wonderful way of giving winter foods the taste of summer without grilling or smoking outside in the snow (which, of course, I have been known to do).

The stove-top smoker can be used on an electric or gas stove top, a grill or a camp fire/fire pit.  When you purchase it – and I just happen to know where you can buy a stove-top smoker –  the smoker is bright and shiny and pristine; however, the longer you use it, the more it will start to look like mine.  The smoker consists of four parts:

  1. Base (into which you add approximately 1 Tbsp of smoking chips, which come in a wide variety of flavors) 2
  2. Drip Tray (keeps your wood chips dry while smoking)
    3
  3. Rack (keeps your food elevated so that it is surrounded by smoke)
    4
  4. Lid (keeps the smoke trapped inside the smoker for maximum flavor)
    5

Generally speaking, you will add raw foods to the smoker and during the process of smoking they will become cooked.  What foods can you smoke?  The sky is the limit!  I’ve smoked chicken, seafood, veggies, cheese for pizza (you have to put it into a ramekin or you’ll have a mess), chickpeas for hummus, etc. etc. etc.

Back to the potato salad.  I assembled it the day of the picnic; however you could assemble it the day before to give all the flavors a chance to marry with a great result. Had i planned better, that is just what I would have done.  But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….

So back to the assembly. Because I had prepped some of the ingredients the night before, assembly was a breeze.  I got out my cutting board, my favorite ceramic knife, and set to work.

First, I cubed the smoked potatoes, which had been refrigerated over night.

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I chopped the hard-boiled eggs, which had also been refrigerated overnight.

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I crumbled the crisped bacon, which again was refrigerated overnight.

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I minced the celery – including the leaves, which add great flavor and color.

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And I minced the sweet onion.

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I measured my shredded WHITE cheddar (I could go on a rant here about orange cheddar, but I won’t.  Suffice it to say it is my last resort).

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I diagonally sliced the scallions – both the white part and much of the green.  I stop where the green begins to get dry.

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And I whisked the dressing, which had been mellowing out in the fridge too.

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Finally, I put all the ingredients (except for a few of the sliced scallions) in a LARGE bowl and gently tossed it until it was well mixed.  I tasted it for seasoning and adjusted as necessary.

To finish, I scooped it into the serving bowl and scattered the top with the reserved sliced scallions and slid it, covered, into the fridge until my guests arrived!

recipe_image

It AIN”T my mamma’s potato salad, but if you want a fresh spin on potato salad with unique flavors and textures, this should definitely make it to your picnic-side-dishes list!

 

Before all you fellow grammar-nerds ask or complain – yes, it damn near killed me to use the word ‘ain’t’!)

 

Loaded Wood-Smoked Potato Salad

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: Smoke salad summer

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, smoked and cut into large dice (see note below)
  • 4 large eggs, hard-boiled
  • 8 slices bacon, crisped and crumbled
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
  • 6 oz shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 6 scallions (white and green parts), diagonally sliced
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground smoked black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Instructions

Note: To smoke potatoes

Place approximately ½ to 1 Tbsp. smoking chips in the bottom of the smoker tray.

Insert the drip tray.

Cover the rack with aluminum foil and spray the foil with cooking spray.

Place rack in smoker.

Place the potatoes in a single layer on the rack.

Cover the smoker with the seamless lid.

Place over medium to medium-high heat until potatoes are fork tender – approximately 20 minutes (white potatoes typically need a few more moments than sweet potatoes).

Assembling the potato salad

Cut smoked potatoes and sweet potatoes into 1″ dice and place in a large bowl.

Peel and dice hard-boiled eggs and add to the potatoes.

Add the crumbled bacon, diced celery, diced onions, shredded cheese and all but a few of the sliced scallions and gently stir to combine.

In a separate bowl whisk together all dressing ingredients until well combined.

Pour the dressing over the potato mixture and gently stir to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Top with reserved sliced scallions, serve and enjoy!

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Philadelphia in 36 Hours or Less

I cannot believe it’s Saturday already.  I’ve been wanting to write this post all week, but I’ve had a busy one so I’m just getting around to telling you about the trip Jeff and I took to Philly last weekend.  We went to celebrate my birthday (happy birthday to me – several days late) and to visit our still-really-new niece and nephew (congratulations to Vanessa & Justin on the birth of Tyson & Dylan).

Our journey began on Sunday morning after I finished making a lovely French country pate.  We hit the road at about 10 am and were making our first stop in Philly for lunch.  Jeff has been wanting to try a restaurant called South Philly Barbacoa and, since he never steers me wrong when it comes to food, I happily agreed to go.  Jeff read about South Philly Barbacoa in the May 2016 issue of Bon Appetit.  Adam Rapoport wrote about his recent trip to Philadelphia in an article entitled 32 Hours in Philly

SPB Storefront

We were pretty lucky finding a parking place only 1 block from the restaurant.  The restaurant is located in an area with all on-street parking so finding a space can be hit or miss.  The address for South Philly Barbacoa is 1703 S 11th Street, Philadelphia.  As we walked up to the restaurant, I knew from the whimsical exterior that I’d love it.

And I wasn’t wrong.  The restaurant is bright and cheery, but doesn’t have enough tables for the demand so we had to wait.  I’m not sure if ordering is always done at the counter or if we ordered that way because we happened to be waiting by the counter; but either way, standing near the counter built great anticipation for our taste buds and allowed us to peek at what was going on in the back.  Orders were being filled, tortillas were being made and there was much bustling of the staff.

We each ordered two small pork & lamb tacos and we added some condiments at the counter before proceeding to a finally-available table.  When we sat down, we got a glass of delicious a pineapple juice to share.  After snapping a few photos, we dug into our tacos.  As I was eating the first one, I was thinking that if I could only use one word to describe them, it would be delicious…no, it would be heavenly…..no, it would be comforting…..Clearly, they cannot be described with just one word.

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As I took the first bite of the second taco, I realized that there is a single word that could describe them……and that word it……..”holycrapthat’sspicy!”  I believe it was the pickled onion/pepper condiment that was the culprit.  I had just a bit of the condiment on the first taco and significantly more on the second one. After just one bite of that second taco I was sweating, trying to catch my breath and, to quote Cam from Modern Family after he tells Gloria he can spice her under the table any day, “I feel like I ate the sun!”  Even though it took a considerable amount of time for my tongue to return to normal size and to stop throbbing, I really did love the food at South Philly Barbacoa and will definitely give it another try!  I barely tasted the sweet tamale that Jeff ordered, so next time I’ll eat that before I burn off all my taste buds!

After lunch we wandered through the Italian Market – stopping at some of our favorite IMG_4048shops and enjoying one another’s company.  From there we headed to the hotel for check-in, which we were disappointed to learn would be delayed by at least an hour.  So we ran (ok, walked) a few errands – Jeff wanted to stop at The Art of Shaving to get some shaving cream and I needed to do an exchange of MAC lipstick at Macy’s. Then we went for a drink at the hotel bar.  Finally, after Jeff calling the front desk twice, we were able to check into our room with just enough time to shower and get dressed for dinner.

JamoneraSince it was technically my birthday celebration I was able to choose the restaurant.  (This is not a complaint, simply a fact – it usually has to be my birthday for me to get to choose the restaurant)  Initially I picked Barbuzzo (my favorite in Philly); but then I decided to really branch out and try one of their sister restaurants – Jamonera.  Being a Sunday evening, we were able to select their Sunday Tapas Tasting Menu.

If I’m being honest, after the first two dishes arrived, both Jeff and I were skeptical about whether the tapas tasting would fill us; however by the sixth dish we were slowing down and still expecting 4 more dishes.  The following is a list of what was offered for Tapas Tasting on our visit:

  • Charcuteria – cantimpalo chorizo, pickles, baguette
  • Grilled Ramps – salboxtada, spring onions, grilled bread
  • Manchego & Marconas – membrillo, marinated sheep’s milk cheese, pimenton
  • Scallop Crudo – pickled rhubarb, orange, Thai chilies, baby fennel, housemade lavash cracker
  • Cherry & Jamon Ensalada – housemade maraschino cherries, jamon Serrano, arugula, basil miticrema, marcona almonds
  • Papas Fritas – smoked garlic aioli, brava salt, housemade sherry vinegar hot sauce
  • Cantimpalo Tortilla – potato and egg omelet, mustard aioli mesclun greens
  • Crispy Calasparra Rice – sugar snap peas, manchego cheese, pickled mushrooms
  • Almejas – grilled Manilla clams, chistorra chorizo, saffon broth, local greens, parsley-almond picada, pickled ramps, grilled bread
  • Grilled Gulf Shrimp – gallega spice, castelvetrano olive puree, grilled plums, haricot vert, lemon

Wow!  What a menu.  The flavor combinations were unexpected, interesting and delicious.  In my opinion, the best dish of the night was the Crispy Calasparra Rice with pickled mushrooms – true comfort food.

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The service was attentive, but not intrusive. And a special thanks to our The Companyserver for running across the street in the rain for my favorite dessert – it’s a birthday tradition. The cocktails hit the spot. But the company – oh, the company was the best part!!!

Monday morning we got up early for room service coffee followed by a steamy walk in the city – can you say humid?  We persevered through the sticky streets, got a little exercise, snapped a few photos and found a cute spot for take-out breakfast.  I still cannot believe I was able to convince Jeff to order food from P.S.&Co., a vegan and gluten-free coffee-house/bakery.  P.S.&Co.’s website explains that they “aim to provide the cleanest, most delicious food that helps you feel incredible.  Our chef-driven menu is healthy in blueprint and decadent in taste.  No multisyllabic additives or peculiar preservatives.  We hope you’ll find our delicious, plant-strong food and beverages as a gateway to feeling and living your best life.”

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My first priority was a coffee – cold-brewed with filbert nut milk.  Then we got down to selecting breakfast.  I ordered coconut yogurt and a nut & seed bar.  Jeff ordered a breakfast sandwich and a brownie.  We walked back to the hotel to enjoy our breakfast and shower before driving to West Chester to see Vanessa, Justin and the babies.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I put sugar in my coffee (insert gasp here!).  I tried to go without, but that’s a habit that will be VERY hard (if not impossible) for me to break. Other than the coffee needing sugar, the rest of our purchases were delicious.  The coconut yogurt was not actually yogurt but a fauxgurt made from coconut and it was really yummy.  The seed and nut bar was quite tasty, if a little crumbly.  Jeff’s breakfast sandwich (on gluten-free bread) was really yummy and I have to admit that even the bread was good.  And the brownie – although not quite the texture of a typical brownie – hit the chocolate spot!

Shortly after breakfast, Jeff posted the following to his Facebook page – “Breaking news……I just ate a gluten free, vegan breakfast AND I actually lived to tell about it. I don’t see this being a trend, but baby steps are important. Now, onward to find a steak for lunch.”  He did not, in fact, have a steak for lunch!

Excited to See the Pak PackAfter a quick shower and repack, we were excited to get on the road to see the twinies.  There is truly something soothing about holding babies! And with twins it’s “two babies, no waiting!”  After ooh’ing and ahh’ing over Dylan & Tyson and switching who held whom, Justin returned from a morning of golf and we were all out the door for ‘dunch,’ or was it ‘linner?’

Jeff and I offered to bring food to the Pak pack, but they were all ready to get out of the house.  So we loaded into two cars and drove the short distance to Iron Hill Brewery.  We had a nice, quiet meal and then took a drive to see the not-too-distant-future home of the Pak pack.

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Finally, with full bellies and temporarily satisfied baby-holding-desires, we began the journey home.  All in all it was a wonderful, if short, trip to Philadelphia.  We ate some wonderful food, got our city-fix and spent time with one another and the Philly-pham.  Less than 36 hours later we were back at home!

Becoming a Better Cook

One of the things I like best about working at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School is the variety of items that make up my “job description.”  Among many others, one of the things I am responsible for is maintaining our Facebook page.  I know you’ll probably feels sorry for me when I tell you that that means I spend part of my day on Facebook looking at recipes, reading articles about cooking, sharing photos of food, responding to comments from our followers, commenting on other FB pages, spending time on Pinterest, posting new products that come into the shop, etc.

Yesterday, while I was enjoying my lunch I was also hanging out on Facebook where I found a great article from epicurious entitled 57 Things You Can Do to Be a Better Cook Right Now.  I skimmed through the article and then sent the link to my personal email so that I could read it more thoroughly later.  And that’s just what I did.

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There are so many good tips – some that I’ve shared in my classes and on the blog.  I found that, as a matter of course when I am cooking, I do all but 5 of the things the article recommends.

So, what are the 5?  And why don’t I do them?

  • 5. Four words to live by: chicken thigh family pack.
    I must confess that although I know that cooking with chicken thighs rather than breasts yields a ton of flavor and, because they contain more fat, they have a tendency to dry out less I simply do not care for the taste of chicken thighs.This is something I’ve tried to “get over.”  In fact, about once a year I like to try all the things I think I don’t like to see if my tastes have changed and sometimes I find – for some things – that they have.  For example, in the last several years I’ve started eating chicken livers, Brussels sprouts and Castelvetrano olives.  It used to be that I didn’t like ANY olives, but I am coming around.

 

  • 7. Join a CSA.
    I am so incredibly fortunate to have a husband who loves to garden.  So by the time August rolls around I am usually up to my eyeballs in all the fresh produce I can use (a good problem to have)!  I have absolutely nothing against CSA’s and sometimes I consider joining just to try things that Jeff doesn’t grow; but over the years he’s really expanded his garden and there isn’t a lot that falls into that category!

 

  • 19. Save the schmaltz.
    I have never saved chicken fat.  Not for any reason in particular, just because I haven’t done it.  But I do save bacon fat from time to time.

 

  • 35. Don’t toast your toast. Fry it.
    If I am eating toast – which isn’t a frequent thing on my plate – then it does go in the toaster.  I find the toaster less messy and I can skip the butter or oil and use those calories for chocolate!  I have, however, been known to “fry” a muffin from time to time.  Muffins are not something we have in the house often (although many years ago I went through a season of insomnia and was known to bake muffins VERY early on Saturday mornings.  Fortunately, I sleep like a baby again!) but when there are muffins here I like to cut them in half, slather them with a “healthy” amount of butter and put them buttered-side down in a hot skillet until they turn golden and crisp. Mmm mmm mmm!

 

  • 53. Air-dry your chickens.
    To date, I have not air-dried my chickens – I also don’t count them before they’re hatched.  But I will definitely be giving it a try to see if it really does produce crackly, crunch, golden-brown skin!

And what are my 5 favorite tips from the article?  That’s going to be difficult to answer because (1) there are many good tips and (2) it kind of depends on what you’re making….

  • 1. Buy an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
    If I have to guess when a piece of meat or fish is done, I usually over cook them.  Using an instant-read thermometer has DEFINITELY improved my cooking!

 

  • 4. Get your knives professionally sharpened.
    Working with a sharp knife is incredibly important from a safety standpoint and from an efficiency one.  And I happen to know where you can get your knives sharpened.  Dan at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School will do a great job sharpening your knives.  The current cost for sharpening is $3.95 per blade or $19.95 for 6 blades.  We recommend calling the shop before you come in to make sure he’s in – especially if you’d like to have them sharpened while you wait!  You can call us at (717) 243-0906.

 

  • 15. Keep your parmesan rinds and freeze them for later.
    Parmesan rinds make an excellent addition to homemade stocks, soups and sauces.  It’s a great way to use a part of the cheese that is often considered waste and it will add a new level of flavor and saltiness to the foods you slip it into.

 

  • 22. Find the biggest mixing bowl you can and buy it.
    My friends in the prep kitchen refer to me as being “volumetrically challenged” and I am.  I can never select the right size bowl for a task, which means I’m often washing more bowls than necessary because I chose one that was too small the first time.  Start with a much bigger bowl than you think you’ll need and avoid unnecessary bowl washing!

 

  • 51. Keep your vegetable scraps.
    Those people who have come to my classes (or those folks who work behind the scenes at them) have heard me say countless time to save your veggie scraps.  And they’ve also heard me tell about how frustrated Jeff gets when he tries to put something in the freezer and there is no room because it’s filled with chicken carcasses and veggie “ends.”  But, when he eats something that I’ve made with my homemade stock he is reminded that fighting for freezer space is worth it!

I hope you read the epicurious article and get some helpful hints.  I’d love to hear what your top 5 favorite tips are from the article!!!!  Leave a comment below!

 

 

FYI: The featured image for this post is actually a screen shot of the article on epicurious’s site.  You know I like to give credit where credit is due.

Moroccan Kimchi!??!

If you’ve been reading for a while or you’ve known me for any length of time you know I’m always looking to try something new – so a few weeks ago when the Fermentation Creation food fermentation kit arrived at the shop and Dan gave me one to play with I was in heaven.

Fermentation Creation Label

The timing was no coincidence – although I didn’t know the Fermentation Creation was on the way, I have been doing a lot of reading about the health benefits of fermented foods and I had just purchased a delicious container of Kimchi from one of the local Asian markets and used it in a funky Kimchi Stirfry recipe.

I should confess that I’ve never made Kimchi before.  I’ve never made sauerkraut before.  In fact, other than beer, I’ve never made anything fermented before.  But I’m not one to let a little thing like inexperience stop me!

I unpacked my fermentation kit and here is what I found:

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents

Fermentation Creation Kit Contents Up Close

I visited Fermentation Creation’s recipe book online and took a trip to the grocery store for the ingredients.  I purchased Napa cabbage and daikon radishes.  I thought I had everything else I needed in the pantry, so I began washing, cutting and chopping the veggies.

Kimchi Veggies

A quick lesson in julienning daikon radishes and carrots.  First, peel the veg you wish to julienne.  Then cut it into pieces the length you desire for your finished julienne.

Cutting Daikon Radish 1

Since the daikon radishes and carrots are round, you want to create a flat surface so you can safely work with it.

Cutting Daikon Radish 2

Next, with the newly exposed flat side down, cut the halves into planks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 3

Finally, cut the planks into match sticks.

Cutting Daikon Radish 4

Cutting Carrots

After I got all my veggies cut, I salted them and put them in a colander (in the sink or over a bowl) to drain.

Napa Cabbage Daikon and Carrot

Salted Veggies Draining in Sink

While the veggies drained (for a very lllooonnnggg time) I prepared the marinade which included chopped red onion, kosher salt, Sambel Oelek Chili Paste, minced ginger, sugar, and lime juice.

Making Marinade 1Making Marinade 2

Sambel Oelek Chili Paste is an Asian condiment made of fiery red chilies, vinegar and salt.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Sambel Oelek – but I was too far into the process to be deterred.  I did have Harissa – which is a Moroccan condiment made from spicy chili peppers, paprika and olive oil.  So I threw caution to the wind and added the Harissa along with some rice vinegar.

Making Marinade 3

After the veggies had drained for the very lllooonnnggg time, I rinsed them, squeezed them dry and packed them into the jar.

Filling the Jar

Finally, I poured the marinade over the veggies and followed the instructions to cap the jar and place the airlock in place.

Airlock

Well, if I thought I had to wait a lllooonnnggg time for the salted veggies to drain, I was in for a rude awakening.  The hardest part of making my Moroccan Kimchi was waiting for the fermentation to happen.  Every day I stared longingly at the jar on the counter wishing I could open it and give it a taste.  However, I read that it is ideal to let your Kimchi ferment for two weeks.   So I waited a rrreeeaaallllllyyy lllllloooooonnnnnnggggg time.

Finally, today, I opened the jar.  I was filled with excitement, desire and a bit of reluctance – what if my Moroccan Kimchi experiment was a bust?  What if Harissa was the worst choice I could have made?  What if I waited two weeks only to find out my Kimchi was a failure?

Finished Kimchi 1

Finished Kimchi 2

Finished Kimchi 3

Fortunately, my reluctance was unfounded.  The kimchi is terrific.  IMO, it has just the right amount of heat – that is to say a lot, but not so much that it blows the top of your head off or scorches the roof of your mouth – and just the right amount of vinegariness (is that a word)!!!

To paraphrase Martha Stewart – “Moroccan Kimchi…it’s a good thing!”

 

Saturday’s Pizza on the Big Green Egg

I spent the day on Saturday at The Kitchen Shoppe hanging out with folks who were learning about the Big Green Egg.  I’ve written about the BGE in previous posts and believe I have explained that to call the BGE a grill is the understatement of the century.  Yes, you can grill on the BGE, but you can also do sooo much more – you can bake, smoke, and roast too.

On Saturday, I was cooking pizzas on the BGE.  My assignment from Dan, our BGE guru and my boss, was to do an INTERESTING pizza.  Other than those traditionalist who only eat their pizza with red sauce and cheese, the pizza was well received.  So much so that I was asked to post about it on the blog.

On the BGE

So here’s what I did:

  • The Dough – I used Gran Mugnano ’00’ flour in my old-favorite pizza dough recipe – Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough (see below)
  • The Toppings – Stonewall Kitchen’s Fig & Ginger Jam (replaced the sauce), julienned prosciutto, crumbled blue cheese, arugula (lightly dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper) and a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • The Temperature – between 600 and 700 degrees F
  • The Tools – pizza peel coated with a healthy layer of corn meal, pizza lifter (like a giant, round spatula), pizza cutter
  • The Charcoal – a mix of Wicked Good Jake’s Blend and Big Green Egg
  • The Time – about 6 to 10 minutes – until the desired doneness is achieved

Before Being Fully Devoured

In addition to the pizza, folks who came out for the Big Green Egg lesson with Dan also ate pulled pork, spice rubbed chicken, BBQ salmon, and 1 1/2″ thick steaks cooked at 700 degrees F.

The food was delish, the weather was cooperative and the company was wonderful.  What’s your favorite pizza on the Big Green Egg?????


Jimmy & Jeff’s Pizza Dough

by mmm mmm mmm

Keywords: pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 tsp)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)
  • 3 cups “00” flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup warm water (115 degrees F)

Instructions

Combine yeast and sugar in a bowl large enough to hold approximately 2 cups of liquid. Add 1/4 cup water, stir and let bloom (about 5 to 10 minutes).

While yeast blooms, place 3 cups of flour and 1 tsp sea salt in to bowl of a food processor. Whirl to blend.

After the yeast mixture blooms, add the honey, olive oil and 3/4 cup warm water. Stir with a whisk.

With the food processor running, add the yeast mixture through the feed tube.

Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the work bowl and forms a ball.

Remove the dough from the food processor and knead for a few minutes to remove air bubbles. Dough should be soft and elastic.

Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

Let rise for several hours. The longer the better. You can let the dough rise overnight in the refrigerator with great results.

After the first rise, punch the dough down, divide it in half, form each half into a ball and let it rise again for about an hour (or more if necessary).

Shape the dough and top it with your favorite ingredients.

Bake in a hot oven (500 degrees F) or cook on the grill.

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In Deep Shishito

OK, true confession time…..I began writing this post on December 4th.  I know, I know….it HAS been a while since I’ve written.  But in my defense, Christmas time in retail is REALLY busy!

So let’s pretend it hasn’t been 44 days since I started the post.  I KNOW you can grant me the grace of using your imagination!  Read on – with love and forgiveness in your hearts!

I cannot believe my stomach is actually growling as I type these words – if you had asked me on Sunday, I would have told you I was too full to EVER EAT AGAIN!

Jeff and I were running errands in Hershey after church and we were both hungry…..when he asked me where I wanted to go I told him I was hungry for a burger.  Of course, ever prepared, he steered me toward Grantville.

I know I’ve shared this previously, but for purposes of this story I need to reiterate that Jeff is a BBQ guy.  He LLLLLOOOOOVVVVVEEEEESSSSS bbq. I tolerate his bbq fetish, but do not readily admit to being a BBQ gal.  Oh, I know, I’ve written about bbq – particularly during our trip to Texas (see Always Bet on Blacks) – and I usually enjoy the bbq restaurants I begrudgingly go to with Jeff, but for some reason I have (or more accurately HAD) it in my head that bbq is not really my thing.

Today, in part due to a fabulous burger experience, I am proud to admit that while I wasn’t paying attention I’ve become a bbq gal!

I write all this to explain that I was less-than-enthused when Jeff suggested a bbq joint when I said I was hungry for a burger.  The mean-spirited, hangry part of me wanted to dig in my heels; but the part of my stomach that knows Jeff very rarely steers me wrong when it comes to food won out.

Shakedown Sign

While we were driving to Grantville Jeff explained to me that he had heard that Shakedown BBQ has some amazing burgers.  So I waited to pass judgment until I tasted them.  I passed the time on the ride looking at Shakedown’s burger menu – there were some truly interesting burgers on the menu, but the one that caught my eye was named In Deep Shishito (IDS).  Having just learned about shishito peppers in the last year and being a lover of pickled ginger, the IDS sounded too good to be true.

The description:

“Bacon – Cooper – Shishito Peppers Wikipedia – Grilled Onion – Pickled Ginger – Asian BBQ Sauce – Habanero Mayo – Cilantro – Texas Toast”

I know, it’s not your traditional burger, but my mouth was watering just thinking about it.  So we ordered one IDS and one The 98 to share.

The 98, Chris’s riff on the Big Mac, is described as follows:

“Bacon – Cooper – Lettuce – Tomato – Onion – Pickles – 1000 Island – Texas Toast”

While we were waiting for our food, we introduced ourselves to Chris – the owner – and told him about our BBQ quest in Texas.  He shared that he had been to the same places we had gone and then some – and not just in Texas but across the country.

Chris brought us a piece of Shakedown’s brisket to try and it was heavenly.  Not since Black’s in Lockhart, Texas had I tasted such a wonderful piece of brisket.  It melted in your mouth, had just the right smokiness and the sauce was a perfect complement to the meat – spicy, but not too and tangy, but not too.

The brisket, however, was forgotten as soon as I took the first heavenly messy bite of the In Deep Shishito.  It was the messiest burger I’ve ever eaten – and I mean that as a complete compliment!  It was also the tastiest.  It was like bbq and asian food had a party in my mouth!

The 98 was good – really good – but in my never-to-be-unshared opinion, it had nothing on the IDS!  Had I not tasted the IDS, I would have said The 98 was a great burger (and it would have been a completely truthful description) but the IDS just completely outdid (and outdoes) every other burger I’ve ever eaten.  It is an explosion of flavors – most of them a seemingly unlikely combination of tastes – of the absolute best kind!

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After we finished eating, Chris generously took us on a “tour” to the smokers.  We talked more about bbq and raved about the food.  I told Chris – and I mean it – that often when we go to restaurants we are disappointed because we can make at home what we had eaten and it is as good as, if not better than the restaurant version for a fraction of the price; but that this restaurant visit did not disappoint in any way.  The food was fresh, tasty and passionately prepared.

Fast forward to today (January 17th) and another trip to Shakedown.  Jeff and I took my mom and dad to have the Shakedown BBQ experience.  Of course I raved about the IDS the entire way from our house to Grantville!

We arrived and the first question my mom asked when we pulled into the parking lot was, “This is it?”  Ok, I should explain it’s a tiny place.  And I will also tell you that both times we were there, it was chilly inside – this is not a complaint, simply a note so that you can plan accordingly for your trip to Shakedown.  Today I wore jeans and a sweatshirt and only my hands were chilly.

Of course, once your food arrives and the burger juices are dripping down your arms, you won’t care what the temperature is inside.  And even better, if you order the IDS – which I cannot recommend highly enough – your mouth will be on fire.  The combination of “every 10th shishito is a hot one,” the Habanero mayonnaise and the warmth of the pickled ginger light the best kind of fire on your tongue!

In Deep Shishito

Mimi’s assessment – “unique, juicy, messy, who ever thought of putting pickled ginger on a burger – genius! And French fries – to die for.  Great pulled pork – not too much sauce so you can taste the complex flavors of the smoked meat. The real deal.”  Mimi had the pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on it.

Pop-Pop’s assessment – “among the best burgers I’ve ever had and probably the best French fries I’ve ever had. The only burger I can think of that rivals this one was at The Village Whiskey (about which I’ve previously written) in Philadelphia.  The homemade thousand island dressing was awesome.” Pop-Pop ordered The 98.

Jeff’s assessment – “amazing. Bangin’.”  Jeff had a special – the Reuben.  I will add to Jeff’s assessment of the reuben – truly the best Rueben I’ve ever had – the smoky flavor of the corned beef brisket was delectable.  And – some of you will understand this – this reuben is wwwaaayyy better than Reuben’s Reuben (what happens when you put a narcissist in charge of snack time)!

The fries that we all raved about – beer battered bbq rubbed fries.  Need I say more?

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Of course, Chris came out to the table and chatted with us for a few minutes.  He talked about changing the menu and my heart skipped a beat.  I said, with obvious concern in my voice, “No – not the IDS – please don’t take it off the menu.”  Chris began talking about the limited availability of shishito peppers in the winter and I think I stared to pass out.  If you taste the IDS, you’ll understand why my blood pressure spikes at the idea of not being able to get an IDS when I’m craving one.  It’s a bit of a masochistic experience – a bit of the gratification of the IDS comes from the “painful” heat from the shishitos, Habanero mayo and pickled ginger.

We oohed and ahhhed through our meal – sharing bites of everything on the table. Then when we were finished, we mopped off with wet wipes and dried off with paper towels.  We bussed our table and on the way out I told Chris – with 100% seriousness – that am not above groveling for him to keep the In Deep Shishito on the menu.  Today is the first day of the week and I can already tell you the IDS will be the best thing I eat all week!

Shakedown – follow the smoke to one of the best meals you’ll ever have! And check them out on Instagram & Facebook.

Have you been to Shakedown?  Please share your experience below!  If you haven’t, what are you waiting for – you need to go ASAP!!!

My Sweet Spot

Many years ago I read a book entitled “Cure for the Common Life: Living in Your Sweet Spot” by Max Lucado.  I didn’t know it at the time I read it, but there were big changes coming down the pike in my life!!! Fast forward to today and I’ve found that – somewhat unknowingly – have I put into practice what I learned in the book.

Lucado offers “the big idea” at the beginning of the book when he writes:

“Use your uniqueness (what you do)

to make a big deal out of God (why you do it)

every day of your life (where you do it).

At the convergence of all three, you’ll find the cure for the common life: your sweet spot.”

He illustrates “the big idea” with this diagram:

Sweet Spot Diagram

So why am I writing about this?  Because today I received the gift of one of those rare glimpses of what it means to live in your sweet spot!  I love teaching cooking classes and I enjoy every class I teach, but today was different from many of the other classes in that it really felt like everything came together at just the right time, in just the right way, with just the right people.

Does that mean that today was perfect?  Nope!  There is no such thing as a perfect day.  But it came pretty close and even those minor glitches in the day caused me no alarm or unease.

So how do you find your sweet spot?  Well, Lucado suggests studying your S.T.O.R.Y.  And, based on my experiences over the last many years, I happen to agree.  So what does S.T.O.R.Y. stand for?

  1. What are your STRENGTHS?  In my case, I believe my strength is in teaching – being able to take a concept and explain (either verbally or in writing (which also made me a pretty good technical writer)) it in a way that is understandable to people. Although there will be a few of you out there who share teaching as a strength, I suspect for most of you your strength will be something else.
  2. What is your TOPIC?  My topic is food.  I enjoy working with it, eating it, experimenting with it, etc.  Again, your topic will likely be different.
  3. What are your OPTIMAL CONDITIONS? For each of us, this will be different – some will like a more structured, predictable situation and others a more loose, variable situation.  I like the variety of coming up with different food combinations and playing with my food!
  4. What about RELATIONSHIPS? Do you function best alone or surrounded by other people?  Do you work best as part of a team or as an individual contributor.  I love the interplay between me and my students and I greatly appreciate the support of the team of people it takes to deliver a great class.  It is never simply about the instructor!
  5. What makes you say, “YES!”  It is when your strengths, topic, optimal conditions and relationships intersect that you find your YES!

Today, I was given the gift of my YES!  So here’s a shout out to all the people who came to the class and worked the class.  Without you I doubt my Yes! would have been possible!!!!!

P.S.  The menu for today included:

  • Creamy Bacon Pasta with Coffee Rubbed Scallops
  • Caramelized Onion & Butternut Squash Soup w/ Chipotle Coffee Cream
  • Fennel & Prosciutto Salad with Honey -Coffee Vinaigrette
  • Coffee Crusted Filet of Beef
  • Braised Cabbage with Coffee, Molasses & Bacon
  • Cappuccino Cheesecake

The following is a snap of the soup – it looked too pretty not to photograph!!!!

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A Day Out

Jeff and I love meandering…..and we love it even better when our friend Ron comes along!  So when we found ourselves with a free day on Saturday, rather than spend the day inside doing housework (which trust me our house could really use) we decided to take a ride.

We didn’t really have A destination in mind.  One of my regular students recently told me about a newish brew pub she’d been to so we made the Rusty Rail Brewing Company in Mifflinburg a stop on our itinerary and planned the rest of the day accordingly.

After a less-than-smooth start (tires needed air, car needed gas, etc.) we finally got on the road.  When we set off on these adventures, we typically stick to back roads – winding through the countryside allows you to get some amazing pics and gives you a lot of time for conversation – and Saturday was no exception to that rule.

Our journey on Saturday included a small grocery store, a winery, a greenhouse, a cruise past Middleswarth Potato Chip Factory in Middleburg, a deep-discount grocery (think scratch-and-dent), the brewing company, Peight’s Country Store in Belleville, a side-of-the-road pumpkin stand (or two), and miles of beautiful countryside!!!

The following are some of the pics from the adventure!

SHADE MOUNTAIN VINEYARD & A PUMPKIN STAND ALONG THE WAY

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THE RUSTY RAIL BREWING COMPANY

We ate lunch at the Rusty Rail Brewing Company.  We shared an order of onion rings, I ordered a bowl of chili with cornbread croutons, Ron ordered the appetizer portion rib, and Jeff ordered a roast beef sandwich with French fries.

The food was good, but not quite great.  It has the potential to be great but needs a little attention to detail.  The sandwich needed a little oomph (sauce or a condiment of some sort), the chili needed a little less sugar and the rib (according to Ron) was on the dry side.

The service was mostly good, although when we asked to switch tables – because the one we were seated at was quite wobbly – rather than moving us to one of the many empty tables around us, the hostess and waitress tried several things to un-wobble the table and were marginally successful.  But other than that, we were well taken care of.

The décor was quite fun – theme-y and historical but it still felt current.  There was plenty of natural light and lots of interesting things at which to look.

And Jeff really enjoyed the sampler of beer he ordered.  I – not being much of a beer person – had a few sips from the flight and liked what I tasted!

With a few tweaks, The Rusty Rail Brewing Company could get an A from me!

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ALONG THE JOURNEY

After lunch, as we continued our sojourn, we came across a field of wildflowers that reminded me much more of spring than of fall.  We stopped for a little while so Ron and I could snap some photos.  Then we continued on a little ways and came across a pumpkin stand at which we could not resist buying a few pumpkin to add to the decorations on our front porch.

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We took a very remote, very scenic road through Bald Eagle State Forest and, although I was widely criticized for how slowly I was driving, I enjoyed being in the mountains and seeing the sights!  There’s something about the air up that high that clears your head and makes you forget everything below.

We ended the day in The Big Valley – a regular stop on our journeys with Ron.  We drove around the valley and enjoyed seeing the sights in the somewhat dreary weather. It’s funny, we anticipated a warm, sunny trip but we hit everything from rain to snow to some bright, juicy sunshine along the way. But no matter the climate, we enjoyed one another’s company.  A day with friends is a great day in any weather!

Something’s Brewing…..

No, it’s not a witch’s brew….although there ARE those who would insist that if I am involved in the process it IS a witch’s brew!!!  It’s actually a pumpkin beer.

Now, I must confess right off the bat that I’m not much of a beer person.  I like a cold one every now and then – especially a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat on a hot summer day after cutting the grass – but I am by no means a microbrew, craft beer or even a mainstream beer aficionado.  However, I always jump at the chance to learn something new and I love kitchen (or in this case part kitchen, mostly garage) experiments!

So when my handsome husband, Jeff, and his friend Craig invited me to participate in the process of their latest beer creation, I grabbed my camera and went along for the ride!  In this experiment, Craig is the beer Batman and Jeff is Robin.  So what does that make me?  Perhaps Batgirl-twice-removed!?! A sidekick, but not the one everyone knows and certainly not one with Batman’s powers.

Anyway, enough of the comic metaphors…..let’s get to it.

This all started when Jeff told me Craig had asked him about what spices to use for a pumpkin beer.  Of course, asked for my two cents, I put in about $1.99 (i.e., more than anyone wanted).  I went on a rant (I know you find this difficult to believe) about how I thought pumpkin beers should taste like something other than pumpkin pie and how everyone uses cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, etc.  and how Craig and Jeff should do something different.

My mind went to star anise, fennel, pink peppercorns……ultimately to Chinese Five Spice.  And someone’s mind – I think Jeff’s – went to cooking the pumpkin on the Big Green Egg (BGE) to impart a bit of smokiness.  So began the experiment….

On Friday, September 25th, Craig came to our house for dinner, BGE pumpkin cooking and spice tasting.  We had Jeff’s beef stew for dinner, decided on a spice combination, rubbed the spices on the raw pumpkin and put it on the BGE to roast.  While the pumpkin was roasting, Jeff and Craig hung out on the back porch sipping beers and swapping stories.  I cleaned up the kitchen from dinner, ran out to Bombay Bazaar for more spices (which we would use the next day during the brewing process) and made up some additional Chinese Five Spice powder (or in our case really 6 spice powder because I like to add a little ginger to mine).

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The next day we met at Craig’s house to begin the brewing process and my small-batch beer education.  Craig did his best to brew with Jeff’s and my assistance (sometimes help from someone else – especially someone who knows nothing about what you’re doing AND asks about 6.2 million questions – isn’t really help at all, but Craig was incredibly gracious), explaining all the steps in the process.

What follows is by no means a complete narrative about brewing.  It is a few of the snippets I managed to record while Craig talked and brewed – so if anything is missing (and I KNOW it is) it’s entirely my fault and not Craig’s lack of knowledge!

Step 1 – MASHING

We began by heating the strike water to 167 degrees F and pouring it into the mash tun (the vessel in which the grains are soaked).  We added the grains (a process called ‘doughing in’) and then they soaked for approximately 90 minutes to extract the sugars.  The temperature of the water is important – too low a temperature extracts more fermentable sugar resulting in a higher alcohol content / too high a temperature extracts less fermentable sugar resulting in a beer with a lower alcohol content with a sweeter taste. Just for reference, we started with approximately 14 1/2 pounds of grains and about 4 1/2 gallons of water.

During the 90 minutes Craig told me a lot about the process and showed me the equipment we would be using, which he and Jeff cleaned in preparation for the upcoming steps.  There was also much talk about beer, rock music and other guy things I didn’t really follow but that seemed to amuse Craig and Jeff very much!

The Rules of Brewing According to Craig

 

“Rule number one: Sanitation is key

Rule number two: If you’re brewing beer you should be drinking beer

Rule number three: Keep detailed notes on each batch”

Some of the equipment and terminology:

  • Throughout the entire brewing process, we took gravity readings – which help you determine the amount of sugar in the brew, which affects the alcohol content of the finished product.  To take the readings we used a portable refractometer.
  • Car Boys – to me this sounds like the male version of diner waitresses who wore roller skates and served you car-side….but not so.  Car boys are fancy glass jugs in which beer is fermented.
  • The sugar liquid that is extracted from the grains during mashing (step 1) is known as WORT.

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Step 2 – VORLAUFING & SPARGING

This process is difficult to explain if you’ve never seen it, but once you have it makes sense.  The liquid is repeatedly siphoned out of the mash tun and then SSSSSLLLLLOOOOOWWWWWLLLLLYYYYY poured (or sprinkled) back over the grains until the liquid finally runs clear.  The process can take a half an hour or more to get right and it’s one of those “you know it when you see it” kind of things.  To simplify – perhaps overly so – the point is to compact the grains in the mash tun so that they create a natural filter through which the liquid is repeatedly passed until it runs clear (no more cloudiness or grains in the siphoned liquid), ultimately extracting the fermentable sugars. If I understood Craig correctly, VORLAUFING is the siphoning and sprinkling, SPARGING is the entire process of filtering the wort.

Craig’s Musings on Beer-Making

 

“Some brewers say, “We don’t make beer. We make sugar-water and yeast makes beer.”  I say, “We’re making beer.””

Vorlaufing & Sparging

Vorlaufing & Sparging

Step 3 – BOILING

According to Craig, most beers are boiled between 60 and 90 minutes.  We boiled ours for 70 minutes – why?  Because Craig said so (BCSS).  Also BCSS a few minutes into the boiling we added our roasted, spiced pumpkin and some hops.

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Step 4 – WHIRLPOOLING

After the wort boiled for 70 minutes, we then used a long spoon to create a whirlpool.  When the wort was moving, we added the spices (at “flame out”) and let it sit for approximately 20 minutes to allow the spices to infuse into the mixture.  According to Craig, this will give the beer not only a good flavor, but a good aroma as well.

Whirlpooling

Whirlpooling

Step 5 – TRANSFERRING TO FERMENTER

Just reading the name of this step makes it sound a bit boring, however it was anything but.  We got to see the THERMINATOR in action – not it’s not an Arnold Schwarzenegger thing.  The therminator is a small piece of equipment through which the wort is passed on its way into the fermenter- the purpose of passing the liquid through the therminator is to quickly bring the temperature of the wort down to 65 degrees F.

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Step 6 – AERATING

This step sounds a lot more impressive than it is.  Boiling the wort forces most of the oxygen out of the solution.Aeration gets introduces oxygen – which is needed for the yeast to properly do its job – back into the wort.  I thought there would be a fancy piece of equipment to perform this part of the process, but it was good old-fashioned muscle – to quote my friend Scott Woolman’s engineer neighbor, “what we need here is brute force.”  Craig and Jeff simply took turns shaking the fermenter.  Although it was unimpressive in the scheme of the brewing process, it did look like a good workout!

Aerating

Aerating

Step 7 – ADDING YEAST

After the wort was aerated, Craig added English ale yeast and we moved the operation from the garage to the basement, where there were previous batches of beer fermenting.

Step 8 – PUTTING ON THE AIR LOCK

The airlock allows carbon dioxide to escape during fermentation and it keeps oxygen, bacteria and wild yeast from getting into the fermenter.

Air Lock

Air Lock

Step 9 – (MY LEAST FAVORITE) WAITING

So we get through all the steps of the process.  The fermenter is transported to the basement.  The airlock is put in place.  And then Craig says, “Now we wait.”  What?  Wait. Wait?  I KNEW there would be waiting involved, but I wasn’t ready for the process to be over so abruptly.  But there is not other choice except to wait 6 weeks to see if our experiment was a success.

Wai ai ai ting is the Hardest Part

Wai ai ai ting is the Hardest Part

So I am waiting…..I wish I could say I am patiently waiting, but that would be a lie.  Sometimes I forget all about our pumpkin beer and then, like a bolt of lightning, a thought of the beer hits me and I get antsy all over again.  I need a conclusion for this post……as the psychologists and psychiatrists and therapists will tell you, I need closure.  Stay tuned……..

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The Gift of Blue Apron

Several weeks ago a lovely couple came into the shop.  They were staying in a nearby hotel and were (1) looking to occupy some time and (2) hoping to get a recommendation for a good spot in Carlisle for dinner.

They explained to me that they were on their way to JFK to catch a flight to Paris and that the front desk clerk had recommended Hoss’s for dinner.  So what’s wrong with this picture?  Recommending Hoss’s to someone on their way to a Paris vacation is like recommending StarKist Tuna to someone looking for caviar.

So I asked what kind of foods they liked and what kind of experience they were hoping to have and then I recommended a few different places – none of them chain restaurants.  Now I know, there are those of you out there who will only eat at a chain restaurant when you’re travelling – I know you’re out there, but I certainly don’t understand you.  When I am travelling, I love to eat in one-of-a-kind restaurants that I cannot find at home.  Even when I’m at home I am not likely to eat at a chain restaurant – I like to experience a local chef’s riff on the food I eat and, even better, I love to eat local foods – you know, foods that you can only get or that are just better than “normal” in that place – like Maine blueberries when you’re in Maine, maple syrup when you’re in Vermont, etc.  That’s not to say that blueberries and maple syrup aren’t good in other places, but they’re bound to be spectacular in Maine and Vermont respectively.

Anyhooooooooooooo……

I talked with the couple about many things – the products in the shop, food and being foodies, travel, etc.  We had a pleasant conversation and then they went on their way with the names and addresses of several Carlisle restaurants.

The next day I received a lovely ‘thank you’ email from the wife for the recommendations along with the gift of three Blue Apron meals. If you’ve not heard of Blue Apron, (1) are you living under a rock? and (2) you can visit Blue Apron for additional information.

Prior to receiving this gift, I had heard about Blue Apron from several people and read about it on several blogs and websites.  The first person to tell me about Blue Apron was my orthopaedic doc.  Jeff and I were meeting with him and he told us he learned about it from his son.  He went on to explain how it works and told us about his experience.

Well, kind of like when you’re shopping for a new car and end up seeing that model of car everywhere you look, after hearing about Blue Apron for the first time I started seeing and hearing about it everywhere. And I wanted to try it.

Now, with this generous gift, I was able to try it at no cost – how sweet is that!?! And the timing was terrific – Jeff and I schedule our Blue Apron delivery for the week we returned from vacation, which meant no meal planning and very little grocery shopping when we returned from vacation!!!

The day after we returned home was filled with laundry and errands…and fortunately a visit from the UPS driver (or maybe it was the FedEx driver) with our Blue Apron delivery.

Everything was packed in a cardboard box that housed a cooler.  Each ingredient was individually packaged (in a zip top bag or clamshell or tiny bottle) and we received exactly the quantity needed for the recipe – for example, the recipe for Stir-Fried Ginger-Basil Chicken called for 2 Tbsp. of Ponzu Sauce.  We received exactly 2 Tbsp. in a tiny squeeze bottle neatly labeled and ready for use.

I unpacked all the ingredients, saved the packaging for later use and organized everything by recipe and by refrigerator vs. non-refrigerator items.  That way when it was time to make each recipe I didn’t have to go through all the ingredients again.

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The following are my impressions, in no particular order:

  1. Blue Apron is a great way to ensure that you don’t waste food because you only get what you need for 2 servings (or 4 servings if you specify and pay for 4 servings). I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wanted to make a recipe and had to buy wwwaaayyy more of an ingredient than we needed and ended up not using it before it went bad.
  2. Blue Apron is a great way to try new ingredients without having to buy a large quantity of them that may go unused.  Back to the Ponzu Sauce as an example.  If I wanted to try Ponzu Sauce in a recipe and had to get it at the grocery store, I’d likely have to buy a 10 oz. bottle – even if I only need 2 tablespoons of it.  With Blue Apron I was able to try cooking with Ponzu without buying a whole bottle and possibly never using again.  Some of the items I received from Blue Apron that I hadn’t previously used in my cooking include: Ponzu Sauce, coconut milk powder, and Shishito peppers.
  3. Although there is still some work involved in meal preparation, having the majority of the measuring and all the shopping done for you saves considerable time.  Now, I’ve talked to folks who aren’t as well-versed in the kitchen as Jeff and I are who think some of the recipes are complicated, but I have to say that I think they are mostly easy to follow.
  4. In spite of my comment in number 3, some of the directions could be clearer.  While I don’t think the techniques are difficult, I do think some of the instructions could be clearer.  For example, one of the steps in one of the recipes we made read, “cut the eggplant into 1-inch-thick rounds on an angle.”  Now, had I not had some experience in the kitchen I might have been baffled by this instruction – because when you cut the eggplant on an angle – no matter how you slice it (pun intended) – you will not end up with a round.
  5. Blue Apron can help with portion control and calorie pre-planning.  If portion control and calorie counting are issues for you (as they are for many, including me), Blue Apron just might be your answer  Each recipe tells you how many people it serves and the approximate number of calories per serving.  If you stick to one serving, you could look at the calorie count in advance and plan your other meals accordingly so as not to exceed a particular daily calorie intake.
  6. This next statement has to be couched because it will not be true for everyone when you factor in other things.  I find Blue Apron to be expensive when you calculate the cost per meal (of course, my trial was free so I’m certainly not complaining).  I can feed two people a nutritious meal for less than $20 and you probably can too.  However, if you’re not at the grocery store as much as I am and you have to make a special trip and you factor in the cost of your time, then you may not find it expensive at all.  And/or, if you hate meal planning or just don’t take the time to do it until 5 minutes before dinner and you end up eating the same thing(s) over and over again, you may think the expense is worth it.  Again – saying Blue Apron is expensive is not necessarily a fair statement when you consider other factors.  For me, it is.
  7. This is another impression that other people may not share; however I found it difficult to fit all three meals into a week because I also test recipes for future classes several nights of the week.  I know it’s a good problem to have, but I had to really be purposeful about cooking my Blue Apron meals before the perishables perished.
  8. Sometimes you get things you don’t like. While you can specify certain dietary restrictions, you cannot control all the ingredients you receive.  For example, one of the recipes Jeff and I made was Seared Salmon & Panzanella, which included cucumbers.  While neither of us is what I would consider a picky eater, we don’t particularly care for cucumbers…so I left them out.  It would have been nice to have something different in the salad, but without a trip to the store (or to the garden) a replacement wasn’t readily available.  Also, then I was left with a cucumber that I didn’t want to waste and for which I had to find a home.
  9. Each dish comes with an 8.5″ x 11″ “recipe card” with photos, instructions, nutritional information, special ingredient info, etc.  This is a very nice feature.  Particularly in that it allows you to recreate those recipes you really enjoy!
  10. This may sound nitpicky, but I couldn’t find an option on their website for odd-numbered families.  Having spent the last 20+ years cooking for two the majority of the time, worrying about an odd-number of people in the family isn’t an issue for me; but it is for some.  You’d end up spending more money than you had to and having leftovers or eating more than one serving.  For many this wouldn’t even be a blip on their radar, but I know there are those of you out there who hate leftovers!
  11. Although it didn’t take me long to separate the ingredients into piles by meal, it would have been nice if they had been grouped in separate bags within the larger package so that I didn’t have to spend the time separating ingredients. The “knick knacks” (or smaller ingredients) were separated by recipe, but the fresh veggies and meats were not.

The following are some pics of Jeff and I putting together one of the meals:

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While I am so grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and the experience was surely a good one, in the end we decided that it’s just not the right fit for us in this season of our lives.  However, I can definitely see where it would be a great option for other people – people who don’t like to cook or plan meals, people with schedules that don’t have them at the grocery store and/or in the kitchen as much as my schedule does, people just learning to cook, etc.  My sister and her husband use and love Blue Apron – it fits well into their lifestyle. I do think Blue Apron would make a nice gift – particularly for folks in an especially busy season of life.

Blue Apron

So, a special thanks to the travelling-to-France-and-staying-overnight-in-Carlisle couple (you know who you are) for this generous gift.  I am grateful for the opportunity to try Blue Apron and will definitely keep an eye on their website from time to time to see what changes they are making that would make them a better fit for us. And who knows what kinds of changes may be coming down the pike in our lives that may make Blue Apron a good fit – what’s that old saying”? If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans!”

Have you tried Blue Apron?  What were your experiences and impressions?

 

 

Vacation Part 3: Kayaking & Camping

So much to write, so little time……

I put up a mini post about the kayaking and camping trip while we were still on vacation, but I wanted to give you more details….so here goes!!!

We started our kayaking adventure at the LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School at 8:00 am on our 22nd wedding anniversary.  My idea of celebrating does not include getting up early, but for kayaking I made an exception!!!

Our Arrival

Our Arrival

Although we had no idea what to expect, we were so excited to finally be there and so ready to set out on this journey.  We met up with our guides and our group in a conference room in the Outdoor Discovery School.  The school itself looks like a lodge and is quite welcoming so being in their conference room was nothing like being in one at work!

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School

Our guides, Kevin and Bob, were so organized and put us all at ease.  There were 10 people in our group, including Jeff and me.  There was one other couple, two sisters and the rest were singles – a great mix.  Luckily our group had an even number of people because we learned we would be travelling by tandem kayak.

As soon as I heard the words “tandem kayak” I broke out in a sweat.  Shortly after those words were uttered, we were asked to introduce ourselves, sharing our name, what we hoped to get out of the weekend and if we’d ever kayaked before.  When it was my turn, I said something like:

“Hi.  My name is Jan.  I’ve been kayaking for about 12 years and I hope to still be married at the end of the trip.”

Of course, that got everyone’s attention and I went on to explain that 12 years ago, when Jeff and I first began kayaking, we rented a tandem kayak.  We got it into the water, situated ourselves and began paddling.  We then proceeded to spend three hours going in a circle and cursing at one another.  That day we vowed – for the health and longevity of our marriage – to never get in a tandem kayak together again!!!!  Oh, but God has an amazing sense of humor!!!

When it was Jeff’s turn to introduce himself, he told everyone that we were celebrating our 22nd anniversary and reinforced what I had shared by saying that we’d made it this far because we had honored our promise to never again get in a tandem kayak!

Our guides were not swayed by the idea that our marriage was in jeopardy.  They still moved us forward with the tandem kayak.

Bob & Kevin - Orientation

Bob & Kevin – Orientation

The next bomb they dropped on us was that each person would have two dry-bags in which to carry their belongings for the entire trip.  If it didn’t fit in the dry-bag, it stayed in the car.  Seriously?  I thought, “I cannot pack for three days and two nights in two tiny bags – it just cannot be done!”  After they dropped the bomb, they passed out the bags and sent us to our cars to rethink what we needed to take with us.  One salvation was that if we had wine or beer to bring it would be taken by boat (not our kayaks) to the island on which we would be camping. The wine and/or beer would not have to occupy any precious real estate in our dry-bags.  That made things slightly better, but I was still worried about what I would have to leave behind.

In the end, it seems I worried for nothing.  I was able to fit my toothbrush and other toiletries (a few – not the usual makeup, essential oils, hair products, etc.), pajamas, clothes for 3 days of kayaking, clothes for at the camp site, a pair of camp shoes, and a raincoat into the two dry-bags with a little room for air!

Having a little extra time, we made a quick run to the closest grocery store for a bottle of wine and some beer.  When we got back from that run, we packed our lunch for day 1 from the array of lunch items LL Bean provided.  We each made a sandwich and packed some other snack goodies.  We filled our water bottles, slathered ourselves with sunscreen, and headed downstairs where we were given our paddles and life jackets.

Then we had a few minutes of paddling instruction and stretching and we were headed for the dock by about 10:00 am.  We were assigned boats, stowed our gear, received some instruction and were launched by 10:30.  Then the fun began.

The day was a windy one so there were waves on the bay that made for challenging paddling in some spots, but I was loving being on the water with the salty wind in my face and the sun on my shoulders.

What I wasn’t exactly loving was sharing a boat.  You see, for 12 years I’ve been paddling solo.  That means I know exactly which way my boat is going to go when I make a stroke with my paddle.  I know how to turn, how to stop and how to adjust course for myself.  But God clearly had other plans for me.

Throughout the weekend He revealed to me that in 12 years I’d learned a lot about kayaking, but I hadn’t learned squat about cooperation!!!!  A lesson, really?  I wanted to have a relaxing weekend.  But God knows that what I need is infinitely more important than what I want.  So He continued to whisper to me throughout the trip. Each time I got frustrated because we weren’t going the way I wanted to go, He reminded me that kayaking is like marriage.  He showed me through paddling that without communication we can veer quickly and far off course.  He showed me that being a part of a team – a real team that is working together, not working at cross-purposes – would build a stronger, healthier marriage.  He reminded me that I cannot fix everything by myself – that I had to rely on Jeff to steer us, even when I didn’t want to submit to Jeff’s way. Oh, He is an awesome God!

Now I don’t know if I was the only one of the group having these revelations.  And truthfully it doesn’t matter.  I’m glad I was having them.  Clearly I needed and still need them.  And the trip was the perfect time to hear from God because I wasn’t so distracted by a million things – I was really listening!

One of the very best parts of the trip for me was having no access to technology. Oh, I know we say we’re going to unplug – we go on Facebook fasts – but we still have television and kindles and cell phones,etc.  On this trip I had no phone (at least while we were paddling – when we were at camp I turned my phone on once a day to snap some pictures), no television, no radio, nothing electronic to mess with my reception.  There were no distractions between God and me. And what a blessing that was because I was able and willing to simply listen!

On the first day we stopped for lunch around noon and then paddled for about 3 more hours.  We arrived at “our island” around 3:30, set up our tents and other gear, chatted with our group members, were given a lesson on the “bathroom” and were treated to a fantastic dinner.

Setting Up the Tent

Setting Up the Tent

Home Sweet Homeish

Home Sweet Homeish

Around Our Tent

Around Our Tent

Out Our Tent Window

Out Our Tent Window

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The menu – lobster or steak, fresh corn on the cob and salad.  We were all starving and it seemed like the meal went so quickly, but not without many ooh’s and ahh’s and mmm’s.  After dinner, several of the group members worked together to do the dishes camping style – in three buckets of boiled water – one with soap, one to rinse and one with bleach for a final rinse.  By the time the dishes were all done and put away dusk was beginning to settle over our little island. Bob invited us all to the beach (a small sandy area that grew or shrank depending on the tide) for brownies that he had baked in a cast-iron Dutch oven.  And not only did he have brownies, but he also had whipped cream.  I’ll tell you, LL Bean doesn’t miss anything (except bathrooms with running water)!!!!

Sunset Night 1

Sunset Night 1

We all turned in early with the promise that we would have a leisurely breakfast before setting out for another wonderful day on the water.  Unfortunately, turning in early did not mean I slept.  Although it wasn’t hot out, it was moist and I’m an air conditioning girl all the way.  Not only that, but Jeff was sleeping so soundly that he was snoring – snoring so much, in fact, that I was glad we had chosen to set our tent up on the opposite side of the island from the majority of our group.  Needless to say I was a little cranky in the morning.

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But, the coffee flowed freely and that helped make up for my lack of sleep.  Kevin made pancakes and Bob made sausages, fresh fruit was served and soon we were cleaning up the dishes from breakfast and packing our lunches for another day of adventuring.  We were instructed to use the “bathroom” one last time and to pack up what we needed for a day on the water.  Next thing we knew we were in our boats again and I was feeling incredibly free.  No schedule, no to-do list, no agenda…..ahhhhhhh!  We paddled and enjoyed the scenery, including some really cute seals (which Kevin described as resembling yellow labs without ears – and he was right) in the water!  We paddled for a few hours and then stopped for lunch, where we stretched our legs, sunned ourselves on the rocks and filled our bellies so that we’d be ready for several more hours of paddling.

If you’ve never been kayaking, you should give it a try.  It’s a great way to see the sights.  It’s different from being on a boat because you are really, really close to the water level – so you have a unique vantage point to take in what is around you.  And you can get into small spaces that many boats cannot go.

Kevin and Bob enhanced the trip with their knowledge of Casco Bay, its islands and the native wildlife.  They shared many interesting factoids with us and kept the group together and moving forward – no easy job, I assure you.  Our group had new paddlers and veteran paddlers, young folks and older folks, in-shape folks and not-so-in-shape folks.  It had rule-followers and those of us (myself included) who view rules as arbitrary guidelines that apply to other people.  But, everyone was respectful of one another and of our guides and we all did our best to overcome our challenges to stay together as a loose unit.

Several hours later we returned to camp for some R&R.  After a sleepless night, I was ready for the first R and was grateful that we had some free time before dinner – I used mine to change out of my salty clothes, into some clean camp clothes and to have a nap.  I didn’t sleep long, but I sure slept hard.  Then Jeff and I took a little walk around Gosling Island  (it’s a little island).  And by the time dinner rolled around I was refreshed and hungry.

Dinner on night two was chicken fajitas with all the fixin’s.  There’s something about spending time on the water that makes everything taste great – and it certainly didn’t hurt that Bob and Kevin have some mad skills when it comes to camp cooking.  Dinner was followed by dish duty and conversation with our fellow campers.  Then we had our evening treat – gingerbread from the cast-iron Dutch oven and I should tell you that I am a sucker for gingerbread.  Although I don’t have it often, when I do I think of fall and chilly weather and sweatshirts.  From now on I’ll also think of kayaking and beautiful sunsets!!!

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Red Sunset Over Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Our Little Beach

Sailboats at Sunset

Sailboats at Sunset

Reading

Reading

After we had our treat I browsed through the “library” – a plastic tote containing a few books – and picked out a book called Into the Wild. Unfortunately I got sucked into the book but didn’t have enough time to finish it before the end of the trip so now it’s on my library list!!!

Knowing that morning was coming more quickly than I would like, I turned off my headlamp, put in my earplugs (thankfully I remembered they were packed in the dry-bag) and actually slept!!!!  This may fall under the heading of Too Much Information, but getting up in the middle of the night for a bathroom break is a whole new thing when you do it in the woods with no actual bathroom!!!! Enough said!

Morning 3 = made to order omelets! I was the last one up, but thankfully there was still coffee!!!  Breakfast was delish and not only fortified us for a day on the water, but also for breaking down camp.  Whoever designs the bags that sleeping bags and sleeping pads and tents come in has a great sense of humor – and apparently some high level degrees in engineering.  I had been worried about setting the tent up, but that turned out to be a breeze.  What I should have been worried about was getting it back into the bag.  If this turns out to be something we do again, I’ll have to take a course in re-packaging – which incidentally I could use at work too for getting small appliances back into their original boxes!!!!

With camp tidied up, all our belongings and our lunches packed, and our bellies full we headed out for the last day of kayaking.  I have to tell you I was a little sad.  I was looking forward to the day on the water but I didn’t want the trip to end.  Oh yes, I really wanted a shower!  And yes, I was soooo looking forward to indoor plumbing.  But I wanted to spend more time on the bay exploring the islands and seeing the sights.

We enjoyed our last day immensely.  And, as if by magic, Jeff and I seemed to be really in sync when it came to paddling – apparently we could conquer the tandem kayak.  If Glenda the Good Witch had been there, she’d have told us “you’ve always had the power.”

As we paddled I thought about the lessons I’d learned on the journey.  God had spoken to me about marriage and cooperation and submission.  Good lessons to be sure.  I also thought about how the first day I was paddling so hard – trying to get the tandem boat to do what I wanted it to – that my shoulders were sore after about the first 30 minutes.  I was reminded of a weekend hiking /camping trip I’d taken several years ago on the Appalachian Trail when I hiked so hard for the first 30 minutes that I got dizzy and had to sit down, then when I started up again I had to continue to remind myself that I didn’t have to do the whole hike in one step.  The third day of kayaking I was reminded that I didn’t have to cross the entire bay with one stroke. I have a tendency to take on challenges with this mindset – finish the whole thing immediately, do it all NOW….but most of the fun is in the journey so I need to enjoy sitting back and seeing the sights, I need to pace myself so that I have stamina to finish and I need to set smaller, more realistic goals so that I don’t burn out before the end of the adventure!

No matter how badly we wanted to shower, we were so sorry for our trip to end.  When we arrived back at LL Bean, we unpacked our boats, cared for our equipment, made a beeline for the indoor plumbing, said our goodbyes and hit the road.  Parting IS such sweet sorrow!

This past week I was asked, “what was the highlight of your summer?”  Far and away, the 3-day, 2-night kayak/camping trip on the Casco Bay through LL Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School was the highlight of my summer!!!

What was the highlight of yours?

(Just a note – Jeff and I each used our cell phones to take pictures and we shared our little camera, so I cannot tell you with any certainty who took which pictures!!!!)

Some snaps of the trip:

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Vacation Part 2

I’ll give you a minute to catch up on Part 1 if you need it………….OK, so we arrived in Connecticut via the Cross Sound Ferry , found our car below deck, waited our turn to disembark and set out on the highway for Maine!!!!!

It was so nice to take the ferry…..we could stretch our legs, soak up some sunshine, breathe in the salt air, feel the wind in our faces, and enjoy one another’s company.  The weather was beautiful so we spent the majority of the 80-minute ride on the top deck taking in the sights.  I realized as we rode that taking the ferry levels the playing field of travelers…..how so, you ask?  Well, there’s no first class on the ferry.  Everyone travels at the same speed; everyone’s vehicle, if they brought one, is below deck so there’s no posturing; you all have access to the same concessions with no reservations; and everyone arrives at the same time!  It’s kind of nice.

In addition to enjoying the scenery, I enjoyed people-watching and listening to snip-its of the conversations of other travelers.  There were people who were obviously commuting for work, other vacationers, folks out for a day of fun with their grand kids, a group of folks travelling by motorcycle who were obviously enjoying the time for face-to-face conversation and the common denominator was the everyone looked pretty darn relaxed.  I wish I could travel by ferry more often!

While enjoying the ride, I also had time to slow down and think – without worrying if we were going to miss our next turn or find the right route.  For a while I was mesmerized by the wake behind the boat and realized that memories are like that wake.  When events, good or bad, are directly behind you they’re still obvious – you can almost see them like the distinct pattern in the water the boat has made.  But as time passes and you get further away from the event(s), the edges blur a little – you can still see them in your mind, but the edges become fuzzier and they begin to blur into other past events.  And when you are far enough away, you can no longer see them.  You know you were once there, but the evidence is gone.  I got to thinking how handy that is – especially when the events are not-so-pleasant ones; but the sad thing is it happens with the happiest of memories too.  You know you were there but you can no longer remember all the details and you can no longer see the evidence of them……but in the end, I concluded that it all balances out and that although all memories, happy or sad, fade it doesn’t change the fact that we were there and that the wake of the best memories stays with us, even if we can no longer see it!

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Anyhooo……..not surprisingly, I digress!

Back to the trip….at some point, after driving for a while through Connecticut, I needed a rest stop and we got off the highway.  We drove for a little bit and passed a DSW – you know, the shoe store.  I’m sure it seems strange that I mention a shoe store in the midst of this post; but just that morning before we left the hotel to catch the ferry, Jeff had to say a sad goodbye to his favorite flip flops.  He reluctantly left them in the trash can as we rolled our suitcases out the hotel room door.  Those flip flops had served him well for 3 or 4 years and he was sad not to have them for the duration of trip.  So after we had our potty break, I suggested we go into DSW to look for some replacement flip-flops.  I could only imagine how badly his feet needed to be liberated from the Vans he wore.

The End of the Flip Flops

On our way through the sliding doors into DSW, Jeff looked a bit forelorn, like Eeyore…..but amazingly he found exactly the same brand and style of flip-flops that he’d discarded just hours before!!!  He IS Even Steven! Let me tell you, this NEVER happens to me.  And I’m shocked that after 3 or 4 years he was able to find an exact replacement.  But on the way out the door, Eeyore was gone and there was a big smile on Jeff’s face!  Mission accomplished.

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Bladders empty and feet free, we got back on the road determined to make no more stops until we reached the state of Maine.  We were both expectantly awaiting our arrival at the next destination – Red’s Eats in Wiscasset. On our last trip to Maine – for our 10th anniversary back in 2003 – we ate at Red’s on the last day and we vowed that we would return!  And although it took 12 years, we were headed there next!  Our bellies were getting empty and our our excitement was mounting.  You see, Red’s Eats makes THE BEST lobster rolls ever!!!!  I can be a stubborn girl at times, but often I come around to someone else’s way of thinking with enough persuasion.  On this matter you can debate me all you want , but if you think anyone makes a better lobster roll than Red’s Eats you are wrong!  Period.  Case closed.  No more to be said.

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OK, maybe a little more to be said about Red’s.  The line is usually long and Day 4 of our trip was no exception.  Below are some photos and tweets from my time in the line!

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“Words cannot express how flippin’ excited I am right now….”

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“Quivering with excitement….”

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“Feeling sorry for the people eating across the street….”

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“Considering hurting the people in front of us in line….I’m sure they’re perfectly nice people, but they’re standing between me and my lobster roll….”

We waited patiently….or not so patiently….for our turn.  And when we were just a few people from the front of the line, I went around back to get us a table on the deck.  As I waited for Jeff to arrive with our food, I drooled a little while looking at what other people were eating.  Fried clams, lobster rolls – some with melted butter and some with mayo, fish and chips, crab cakes….the list is endless.  While I peeked around not-so-subtly at other people’s food, it began to drizzle.  But there are umbrellas over the tables so I wasn’t worried.  Jeff came around the corner and asked if I wanted an umbrella from the car, which was parked just up the hill from Red’s. I said, “sure,” and was glad for that decision when the rain picked up a bit.  Just as Jeff arrived with the umbrella, our number was called and the sky opened up and started to dump rain on Wiscasset and on us.  He grabbed our food (which they had lovingly packed in to-go containers even though we had indicated we would eat out back) and we ran for the car.

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We were soaked, but thrilled as we ate.  We shared an order of fried clams and we each got a lobster roll.  O…….M…….G…….we were in heaven.  The fried clams were huge and juicy and sweet……mmm mmm mmm.  But the lobster rolls were the stars of the show.  Each sandwich contains more than one whole lobster that has been cooked with precision and chilled until it is perfection on a buttery, toasted bun.  Then, as if the lobster needs anything more, the lobster rolls are served with either drawn butter or mayo – we got one of each and shared.  There wasn’t much conversation going on in the car as we ate, but there were a few mmm’s and ah’s and yeah’s – what Jeff and his buddies would call “audible eating!”

When we finished our amazing lunch/dinner (linner?), we wiped off our hands and arms, wiped as much of the butter off the center console of the car as possible and pointed the car in the direction of Portland, which would be our home-away-from-home for the next two nights.  We made one quick stop to buy some tiny, flavorful Maine blueberries for our breakfast the next morning and arrived in Portland in no time.

We checked into the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to a suite.  The room was modern and spacious and clean and we were sure it would be a fine home for a few days!  After a bit of unpacking, we decided to stroll around Portland for a while to work off some of the food we had eaten.  After a bit of strolling, we would up at The Thirsty Pig for some beers and WiFi.  I spent some time making notes about the first few days of our trip and downloading pics off my camera while Jeff surfed the web.  It was a mellow end to a mellow day.

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Day 5 – I awoke in our spacious room to the sound of Jeff coming through the door – he went and picked up a Starbucks’ coffee for me….the man knows the way to my heart.  I brushed my teeth, scrounged up some clothes, threw on a hat and we left to explore Portland….it was a No-Makeup Monday, only it was Thursday! We had a great time being out of the car, wandering through shops, gazing out at the water and enjoying our time alone together.  Of course, we had to make a quick stop at Holy Donut to try the donuts Jeff had read about.  Jeff ordered a Cheddar Bacon Donut – yes, you read that right – and I ordered a Sweet Potato Ginger donut, which I ended up sharing with Jeff.  It was delish, but I knew good things were coming later in the day so I didn’t want to eat a whole donut.

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After a few hours, we were a little parched so we stopped at Sebago Brewing Company where Jeff ordered a beer sampler and I ordered a cucumber cooler from the non-alcoholic beverage menu.  The bartender – a smart gal – told me the cucumber cooler is great with a shot of Hendrick’s gin in it.  She explained that Hendrick’s is infused with a bit of rose and cucumber and therefore was a nice complement to the drink.  Well heck, I was on vacation, so how could I refuse?  She was not wrong…..it was delicious.

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After re-hydrating, we wandered the town some more and then began to think about dinner.  We knew we had to wake up early for our kayaking trip the next morning and we didn’t want to be out too late. So we walked back to the hotel where we noshed on some snacks from our cooler, read for a little while, showered and got dressed for dinner.  We strolled through town to The Top of the East (in the Westin Hotel) for a cocktail. Our timing was perfect – the sun was just beginning to set and the view was incredible.  It was a great place to toast 22 years of marriage, which we would be celebrating the next day.  We lingered over our drinks and then decided to find a spot for dinner.

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Not knowing what we’d be in the mood to eat, we didn’t make a reservation, which made finding a spot for dinner a bit challenging.  But we persevered!  We tried a few of our top choices including Fore Street, Eventide, and Honey Paw – all of which had very long waiting lists.  Knowing we needed to be up with the sun, we opted for The East Ender and were not disappointed.  Jeff ordered a cold-smoked burger which was sensational and I order soup and an appetizer.  The soup was not only delicious, it was also a work of art!  It was Chilled Spring Pea Soup with Parmesan & Pickled Red Onion.  Bright green with spots of pickled onion and a floating cloud of parmesan foam – stunning!  I should have known better than to order the appetizer I chose – Maine Mussels with Ginger & Anise.  While it was good, it wasn’t great and I only ordered it because what I really wanted to try was Fore Street’s Wood Oven Roasted Maine Mussels with Garlic Almond Butter. A student in one of my recent classes had recommended Fore Street to me and specifically had recommended the mussels.  I should have held out, which is not to say that we didn’t enjoy our meal at The East Ender.

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As we made our way back to the hotel, we were tired – both from a long day of walking in the sea air, from the cocktails we drank and from our full bellies.   So we hit the hay and dreamed of being in our kayaks on the bay……

In a Class By Myself

Goodness, I hope not!!!!

Just a quick note to let you know the schedule of classes for Fall 2015 / Winter 2016 at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School has been released.  Please don’t wait to register – I’d hate for you to miss a class you really want to attend.

Visit the ‘Classes I’m Teaching‘ page for more information!  I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and to meeting new ones this semester.

Vacation 2015 Part 1

So Jeff and I are safely home from vacation, but that does not mean the memories of the wonderful time we had have faded…..fortunately!  As promised, I will share the details of our trip with you – in segments.

This is the first installment, Part 1, and includes the first 4ish days of the trip.  We’ll call it Long Island.

Day 1:

We left our house at 10:00 on Sunday, August 2nd and drove about 30 minutes to drop off our beloved Macy, the world’s quirkiest golden retriever.  Jeff’s brother (Mike), his wife (Cathy) and their sons (Nate & Ben) agreed to care for Macy while we were away.  I’m not sure they knew quite what they were getting into, but as they say, “ignorance is bliss.”

The following is an excerpt from our letter to Macy’s caregivers explaining her routine and habits:

“A few things you should know about her [Macy], in no particular order:

 

  • She will probably hide in the bathtub a lot, provided she can get into it.  Don’t worry about her being in there, it’s her happy place!  She likes small spaces – so if she can’t make it into the tub, don’t be alarmed if she wedges herself between the toilet and the wall or behind a chair…..it’s her thing.
  • She may not eat twice a day….in fact, she may not eat at all in the beginning; but rest assured, she will eat when she is hungry.
  • She loves to carry her “babies” [toys] around with her and even likes to take them outside when she goes out to do her business.  And she will rip them to shreds to get the squeakers out.  If you can, please take the squeakers away from her after she gets them out of the toys or she will eat them.
  • When you walk her on the leash, if she gets scared she will try to jump into your arms.  Here are the things that may scare her: people, other dogs, leaves, the wind, etc.  And if she walks too far, she may start to limp.  That’s a sign that she has had enough.
  • She licks her feet a lot – it’s a stress thing.  Don’t worry if she does, but you may have to raise your voice a bit to get her to stop if it is bothering you.
  • She’s a pretty independent little creature and may not hang out with you all the time.  That is normal behavior for her.
  • Her vet is ….

With the exception of the days we are kayaking, we will be reachable by cell phone.  Jeff’s number is (xxx) xxx-xxxx and Jan’s number is (xxx) xxx-xxxx.  Although the above may not sound like it, she is pretty easygoing.  We just wanted you to know all her little quirks so you don’t worry if they surface.”

We spent some time saying our “farewell-for-nows” to Macy and then hit the road.  We drove from central PA to Long Island, which wasn’t too bad a trip.  Of course, we hit traffic around NYC and at the beginning of LI; but that’s to be expected.

Because we wanted to explore both the South Fork and the North Fork of Long Island, we made our base camp in Riverhead.  We checked into our hotel, dropped our bags and got back into the car (yes, we are gluttons for punishment) and made our way ssssslllllooooowwwwwlllllyyyyy to Montauk.  We passed through many towns with many wonderful sights; but because our sights [and our bellies] were set on dinner at The Clam Bar in Montauk we made only one stop to take some photos of a windmill (Jeff really loves it when we pass something and I ask to go back to take pics).

After wending our way through much traffic and many rude drivers, we finally made it to Montauk where we had an alfresco dinner of soup and fried clams.  With full bellies, we ventured to ‘The End.’  The end of the South Fork and the Montauk Point Light.  We arrived just in time to park, walk to the beach and enjoy the sunset.  Sitting on the rocks, listening to the tide roll in and out, and enjoying one another’s company knowing we were still only on day 1 of the trip made all the driving worth it!

That is until we had to get back in the car for the return trip to Riverhead.  The roughly 43 mile journey took much longer than expected….what is billed as a 70 minute trip became more like a 120 minute trip with all the traffic and at least one accident (I told you there were rude drivers).  We endured – it being vacation and all – but fell happily into bed almost immediately upon returning to the hotel.

A little look at Day 1:

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Day 2:

We awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and decided to take a walk in Riverhead before having breakfast and getting all gussied up for the day.  Along the route, we plotted our dinner, which was to be noshes from our travels including a Hampton’s tomato – which are celebrated as THE best tomatoes – of course, we had to test that theory.  So on our walk through Riverhead we stopped to get a small baguette at The Blue Duck Bakery Café.

After we had eaten a quick bite for breakfast, gotten ready for the day and stopped for a quick coffee, our exploration of the South Fork began.  First stop – Southampton.  Specifically Tate’s Bake Shop for chocolate bread pudding, which sadly they did not have.  But we did not let that deter us.  Jeff had read great things about Tate’s chocolate bread pudding so we decided if the chocolate bread pudding was good, the regular bread pudding must be good too.  We got a piece to share for dinner, but of course we had to test it in the car just to make sure we had made a solid decision.  I can assure you, we did!

After our brief interlude at Tate’s we decided to drive through some of the South Fork towns and look at the homes [a favorite pastime of ours]. My goodness, there are some truly spectacular homes in the South Fork towns between Southampton and Sag Harbor.  I don’t know about where you are from, but where we are from there are no helipads in residential areas!!!!  In and among the homes, we pulled into little beach entrances and caught glimpses of the water.

After a few hours of driving, we were hungry again and rather than finish the bread pudding, Jeff turned to his trusty little list of possible lunch spots.  We decided on Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor and I am incredibly glad we did.  We had to wait for a table, but that gave us time to explore the grounds and gardens at Estia’s Little Kitchen – had we not had to wait for our table, we likely would have missed some really pretty scenery!

While we waited and meandered the grounds, we also noticed the wide array of cars in the parking lot – from non-descript Chevys to $100,000+ Masaratis.  In my opinion, that speaks volumes about the food!

And the food – oh, the food – was definitely worth the wait!!!!  We both ordered fish tacos – Jeff’s were off the regular menu and mine were a special, which consisted of grilled striped bass with a mint mojo.  When the food was delivered we each took a bite and knew that no matter how slowly we ate, the food would be gone much too quickly.  Of everything we ate on the entire trip, the mint mojo at Estia’s Little Kitchen was probably my favorite.  It was clean and fresh and bright and sooooooo delish.  I was incredibly hopeful that the mojo would be bottled and for sale; but alas, my hopes were dashed.  The only salvation is that I get to have a lot of fun trying to recreate it!!!!

After lunch we explored Sag Harbor, looked at some beautiful yachts and then began heading back toward Cooper’s Beach in Southampton.  We had decided earlier in the day that we would return to Southampton before sunset to take a long walk on the beach, look at the beach-facing sides of some of the spectacular homes we’d cruised past earlier in the day, and enjoy the sunset.

We made a stop in East Hampton at the Red Horse Market to get some of Chef Pasquale’s famous mozzarella cheese and a few other tidbits for our noshing dinner.  We were pleasantly surprised that we were able to have quite a lengthy conversation with Chef Pasquale about cheese, life in the Hamptons and life in general.  We also met his business partner, Jeff, and enjoyed looking at the wonderful gourmet offerings in their market.

When we arrived at Cooper’s Beach there was a giant inflatable movie screen in the parking lot and all kinds of family friendly activities under way.  We skipped the movie and went straight to the beach for a long walk.  We got our toes wet, talked about life and strolled for a while.  Then we got our beach chairs out of the car and sat for a while enjoying the beginning of the sun set.  About 10 minutes before the sun was ready to dip below the horizon, we raced for the car and headed for a beautiful little inlet we had stumbled upon earlier in the day.  We made it just in time to enjoy a show of spectacular colors in the sky.

Upon return to our hotel, we set out quite the noshing feast and got out our books.  We nibbled and read and read some more – until we couldn’t keep our eyes open any longer.  The Hampton’s tomatoes WERE divine and Chef Pasquale’s mozzarella is a must-try if you ever find yourself in East Hampton!

Snaps from Day 2:

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Day 3:

This was the day to explore Long Island’s North Fork – the land of farms and wineries and much more laid-back people than in the South Fork.  Again, we started with a quick breakfast at the hotel and a stop for coffee.  But rather than heading south, we headed north.  We drove along the water for a while and then through some somewhat sleepy towns (especially in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the towns of the South Fork).

We enjoyed the scenery and the sunlight as it shone through the grape vines.  We stopped at a roadside farm stand and at Catapano Dairy Farm.  I rankled Jeff’s nerves by wanting to stop to take pictures of steeples and various other things along the way; and he indulged me as all good husbands do!

We arrived in Greenport just in time for lunch.  And, true to form, Jeff had a plan.  Unfortunately the restaurant he picked – one that served oysters (one of the few things he really wanted to have in LI) – was closed for a private event.  So we decided explore the town and some of its lovely shops as we came up with Plan B.  We bought a reed diffuser (Lemongrass Kiwi Cassis) in one shop, some Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar at another and browsed through others without making purchases, but still enjoying the wares.

Plan B turned out to be Bruce & Son’s Cheese Emporium in Greenport.  Let me just tell you, it may have been our second choice, but the food was first-rate!  We shared a bowl of corn chowder and each ordered a pressed sandwich.  Jeff ordered the Cubano and I ordered the Pig & Fig. The sandwiches were delicious and so full of flavor; but the corn chowder was life-changing.  It was so fresh and so pure it almost made us weep.  I am not kidding, nor am I exaggerating.  It was quite possibly the best soup I’ve ever eaten.  It tasted like all the best things about summer on a spoon!

Satiated, we returned to the car and continued our exploration of the North Fork.  As we drove we saw a sign for Orient Beach State Park and we decided to check it out.  We wound our way through the park and ended up in a parking lot next to a beautiful beach, where we decided to hang out for a while.  We got out our beach chairs and our books and had a wonderful afternoon walking, collecting rocks, reading and napping on the beach.  It was one of those perfectly unplanned moments in life where everything works out in your favor!  As the afternoon began to turn to evening, we started to get a bit chilly so we decided our time at the beach was through.  We stopped for a quick drink at Orient by the Sea and met the dock dog while sipping our cocktails.

As we were driving back along the North Fork to our home base in Riverhead, we decided we shouldn’t miss the sunset so we pulled into a little parking lot at a little beach on the Long Island Sound and watched another magnificent display of God’s handiwork!

Neither one of us wanted dinner after such a wonderful lunch, but we both had a bit of a sweet tooth so we stopped for a twist cone on the way back to the hotel and called it a day!

A Peek at Day 3:

Day 4:

They say, “parting is such sweet sorrow,” but in truth we were ready to continue our journey.  We awoke early for a second trip to Orient Point – this time to catch the 9:00 Cross Sound Ferry to Connecticut.  A quick shower for each of us, a brief nibble and we were out the door!

We drove back along the North Fork, seeing some of the same sights from Day 3; but also catching new sights along the way.  Of course, we made a quick stop for coffee (actually two quick stops) and we made it to the ferry dock 30 minutes early, as instructed.  We had just enough time to snap a few “usies” and then we waited in the line to load our car onto the ferry.

We had a relaxing, 80-minute ride.  I was going to write my first post about vacation on the ferry; however, God intervened – the battery on the laptop was out of charge.  And does God ever know best – it was a great time for introspection, reflection and conversation with Jeff.

A Little Bit of Day 4:

 

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This is where I will leave you for now.  In Vacation 2015 Part 2, we will pick up with our arrival in Connecticut, the trip to Maine, dinner Day 4 (not to be missed), and our arrival in Portland!!!!!

Gone Fishing…..

……ok, not fishing; but you have to admit it got your attention!  Actually, Jeff and I just completed a three day, two night guided kayak and camping trip offered by the LL Bean Outdoor Discovery School and we had a blast.

Those of you who know me know I am not really a camper, but I am typically up for an adventure.  Truth be told, the camping did test my limits a bit (especially the first night; but after that you’re already dirty and smelly so what’s one more night); but it was a small price to pay for the spectacular scenery we were able to see that we never would have been able to see by touring any other way.  Casco Bay is so beautiful and all the islands we visited or cruised past were so intriguing.

And we adventured with some interesting people – Susan, Cindy, DJ, Andy, Laura, Lee, Emily & Natalie – who we likely would never have met otherwise.  Our guides – Kevin and Bob – were incredibly knowledgeable, not just about kayaking, but about many other topics as well.  They shared great insights about the area, the wildlife, history, etc.

AND Bob and Kevin were great camp cooks.  We were well fed – lobster and steak the first night, pancakes and omelets for breakfast, chicken fajitas on night two, warm brownies on the beach, gingerbread with whipped cream – need I say more?

Well, probably not, but you know me….I will say [or rather write] more once the full vacation adventure is over.  For now, just a huge thanks to Kevin & Bob.  They made our anniversary one we will always remember and for that we are incredibly grateful!

Here are a few of the pics:

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Vaaaaaa-Caaaaa

So busy actually enjoying our vacation that there is not a moment to write about it! Now THAT’S a great vacation. If you want to see what we are up to, browse the Twitter feed in the sidebar! The pics tell the whole story….

i I promise to fill in the details after we return. There are many more great pics to show you and lots to tell….

Tomorrow Jeff and I celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary…..I can’t believe it has gone so fast. It’s been a wild ride and there were tough seasons, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it!!!!

Pate a Choux Part Trois

The recipes….

 

Pate a Choux with Whipped Cream Filling & Chocolate Velvet Sauce

by mmm mmm mmm

Ingredients

    For the Pate a Choux

    • 1 cup water
    • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
    • 1 tsp. sugar
    • 1 pinch of nutmeg
    • 1 pinch kosher salt
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 4 extra-large eggs

    For the Whipped Cream Filling

    • 1 cup heavy cream
    • 3-4 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
    • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
    • Optional: 1 package Whip It (if you want your whipped cream to last longer)
    • Optional: 1 tsp. orange, raspberry, coffee, or your favorite liqueur

    For the Chocolate Velvet Sauce

      Instructions

      For the Pate a Choux

      Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

      Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

      Fit a large pastry bag with the largest tip or you can skip the pastry bag and use a #40 cookie scoop to form the puffs.

      Heat the water, butter, sugar, nutmeg and salt over medium heat.

      Once the butter is melted, add the flour ALL AT ONCE and beat with a wooden spoon until it comes together and forms a dough.

      Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for 2 minutes. (The dough will start to coat the bottom of the pan – this is a sign that you’re ready to move on.)

      Transfer the dough to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.

      Add the eggs to the food processor and whirl until the mixture is thick and the eggs are incorporated.

      Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag (or you can use a cookie scoop).

      On the sheet pan pipe out 1 1/2″ high mounds or scoop the dough using a #40 scoop.

      Wet your finger and gently press down any swirls.

      Bake 20 minutes, until lightly browned and doubled (at least) in size. The puffs will be hollow when you tap them.

      Turn off the oven.

      Immediately make a small slit in the side of each puff to allow steam to escape – this will keep the puffs nice and tall.

      Return the puffs to the turned-off oven and leave in the oven with the door ajar for 10 minutes.

      Cool on a wire rack.

      For the Whipped Cream Filling

      Whip the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla bean paste (and optional Whip It and/or liqueur) until very stiff peaks form.

      Transfer the filling to a piping bag.

      Either cut off the tops of the puffs or poke a hole in the bottom and pipe filling into the puff. If you cut off the top, replace the top when filled.

      Repeat until all the puffs are filled.

      Refrigerate until ready to serve. Note: The puffs cannot be filled too far in advance or they will get soft and the filling will deflate. It’s best to fill them just before serving.

      Serve with a drizzle of chocolate velvet sauce or place a puddle of chocolate velvet sauce on a plate and top with the filled cream puff.

      For the Chocolate Velvet Sauce

      Place the chocolate chips in a medium-size heatproof bowl.

      In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer and immediately remove it from the heat.

      Pour the cream over the chocolate chips and whisk until smooth.

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      What’s Going On in My Kitchen? Pate a Choux (among other things)

      There was a LOT of dough in my kitchen today…..too bad none of it was the kind you can spend!

      Today was a day of testing recipes and boy did I work hard.  I got up at 6:30 a.m. (but please don’t tell anyone because it would ruin my reputation) and was in the kitchen cooking in earnest by 6:45.

      I had a lot of recipes to test today and so, with a cup of hot coffee in hand, I got right to pate a choux.  This is the dough that is used to make profiteroles, eclairs, and cream puffs, among other delicious treats – both sweet and savory.  It’s a dough that is twice cooked (once on top of the stove and once in the oven) and a dough I’ve wanted to experiment with because I’ve been doing some reading on the subject recently.

      There is some debate about whether it’s better to mix in the eggs one at a time by hand or to mix them all in at once using the food processor.  My hypothesis was that hand mixing the eggs one at a time would yield a better result; so I set out to prove myself right or wrong.  I also wanted to play a little with baking time to see the effects of shorter and longer times and the effects of turning off the oven after the baking time and allowing the “puffs” to cool in the oven with the door propped open. Finally, I wanted to see if you can really scoop the dough onto a pan with a cookie scoop (rather than piping it onto the pan) and get a good result.

      For my first attempt, I made the dough on the stove top in a non-stick saucepan and added the eggs (off the heat) one at a time, mixing vigorously by hand between each addition.  I scooped the dough onto the baking sheet using a #40 scoop (which holds approximately 4 teaspoons of batter).

      Many of the recipes I have read instruct you to bake the puffs until you hear a hollow sound when you lightly rap on them.  For the first iteration of the test I took them out of the oven just before I heard the hollow sound.  The result – the inside of the puffs were not dry enough to hold the structure that was created by the steam so they folded in on themselves when they cooled.  The interior of the puffs was still moist and “eggy” after they cooled.

      Underbaked and Falling In on Iteslf

      For my second attempt, I again made the dough on the stove top in a non-stick saucepan and added the eggs (off the heat) one at a time, mixing vigorously by hand between each addition.  I scooped the dough onto the baking sheet using a #40 scoop.

      This time, I baked the puffs until I heard that hollow sound….and when I did, I removed them from the oven for just long enough to cut a small slit in each one that allowed the steam to escape.  I turned off the oven, put the puffs back in and propped the door open until they were cool.  The result – the inside of the puffs were now dry enough to hold the structure – they did not collapse when they cooled and the interior was slightly drier.

      Baked To Perfection

      For my third attempt, I again made the dough on the stove top – however this time I used a stainless steel saucepan, which made it easier to tell when the dough was ready to add the eggs.  When it was, I scraped the dough into the bowl of a food processor, added the eggs all at once and whirled it until a nice, thick dough formed. Again, I scooped the dough onto the baking sheet using a #40 scoop.

      The result – oh my goodness.  Using the food processor allowed my puffs to reach heavenly heights!  The puffs from the third batch were much higher and lighter than those in the first and second batches.  I used the same method of cutting a slit in the puffs and cooling them in the oven (after it had been turned off).

      Super Fluffy

      The Size Difference from Food Processor

      So it turns out I was wrong about using the food processor.  It did make much fluffier puffs.  The only “complaint” I had about the puffs from my third attempt is that they were much more “free form” than those in my second attempt, which held the shape of the scoop better and were much more uniform in appearance.  I’d have to do some additional testing to see if piping the food processor dough would yield a more uniform result.

      All in all, I learned a lot playing with pate a choux.  The puffs are in the freezer tonight to learn about the effects of freezing on them!  Tomorrow, for a little treat, I will fill a few with some whipped vanilla filling and drizzle them with chocolate velvet sauce! Mmm mmm mmm!!!

      In addition to playing with pate a choux today, I also made two dozen cupcakes, played with a new loaded baked potato soup recipe, made soft pretzels dough (and am still experimenting with some of that dough), boiled and baked some soft pretzel croutons, made a marinade for tomorrow evening’s dinner and prepared all the components for the kebabs we will enjoy after work tomorrow.

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      I also snuck in a trip to the gym and the grocery store and a few other things this evening, including dinner at Brick Kitchen & Bar in Carlisle (do yourself a favor and try their Fresh Cut Chips with bacon, blue cheese & balsamic glaze with a Lavender Collins) with some of the best ladies on the planet!

      Although earlier in this post I jokingly bemoaned the fact that the dough in my kitchen today wasn’t the kind you can spend,  I will tell you this – I wouldn’t trade my dinner with tonight’s dining companions for all the dough in the world!!!