Paris – Part II: Bless My Heart

Hopefully you’ve had enough time to read [and re-read] and digest Paris – Part I: Bonjour, ca va?.  If not, I’ll give you a few moments to read it……..Ok?

I’ll pick up at

Day 5: Monday 4/10/17

The day began with a bit of tension.  You see, Jeff has a wonderful sense of direction; but it was failing him. [I later came to realize that this internal GPS malfunction was likely due to the Metro – travelling underground can mess with your bearings, as I believe it did for Jeff – but I digress….]. We took the Metro to Les Halles on our way to O’Chateau – a wine tasting bar.  I know, I mentioned it was the beginning of the day and you’re probably wondering why we were headed to a wine bar at that hour.

To answer the question – we were meeting up with a tour group with whom we would spend the day exploring the Champagne region.  We had this goal in mind as we were aimlessly wandering the streets of Paris before the city had really awakened for the day.  After passing a unique building for the second time [“Big Ben….Parliament” – I know, I know, wrong city] we knew we needed some assistance.  So we hailed a cab and a few moments later we were hopping out at O’Chateau – closer to our hotel than the Metro stop we used!!!  But we made it.

Yes, we made it and were sipping our cafe and eating our delicious pain au chocolat when we found out from our co-conspirators for the day that each group had been told a different arrival time and that we were the last to arrive.  So we hurried through our breakfast, made quick pit stops and were climbing into the van en un rien de temps.

As we zipped through Paris on our way to Reims [grateful for a driver with experience navigating Paris at rush hour] and then as we cruised the highway between Paris and Reims watching the scenery change from bustling city to bucolic countryside, we got to know our travel mates and our tour guide, Richard. Our group consisted of Theresa, Mark, Leslie and Larry (friends from Texas (although Leslie & Larry don’t live in Texas any longer); Tanya from New Zealand and Shyla from Philadelphia (yes, our own backyard) who met running the Paris Marathon the day before; Jeff and me; and Richard.

Richard gave us snippets of information about what to expect from the day, what we would see, where we would visit and a bit of foundational information about champagne – but mostly he saved the champagne talk for stop #1.

We arrived in Reims a few minutes earlier than expected, so Richard gave us a little bit of time to explore the Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims – a beautiful structure that elicits feelings of awe and reverence as you step inside.  It is a gothic art masterpiece that welcomes over 1 million visitors each year and is the site where the kings of France were crowned.  And it was a great first stop for our journey.

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Next we headed up the ‘hill’ on our way to La Maison Taittinger – one of the big boys of champagne.  We toured the cellars – which is to say we walked through 4th century chalk mines 18 meters below ground.  As we walked through the cellars we found ourselves both transported back in time and learning about current technologies in champagne production.  We were told about bottle shapes, riddling, disgorgement, aging, fermentation, blending, etc.

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Our cellar tour concluded with a LLLOOONNNGGG trip up a spiral staircase and a glass of champagne in the tasting room.  Richard educated us as we sipped and I learned from a delightful experience that sometimes a BRUT champagne (one to which less (or sometimes no) sugar is added) can actually taste sweeter than a SEC champagne (one to which more sugar – up to 50 grams per liter in the case of a DEMI SEC – is added).

From Taittinger we made our way past Veuve Cliquot to La Maison Penet, which has been family owned for five generations.  The vineyards of La Maison Penet stretch across the villages of Verzy and Verzenay – quaint villages that your mind conjures up when you think about the French countryside.  We sipped a glass [or two] in the cellars at La Maison Penet and then were treated to a fabulous lunch in la maison.  We sat with owner Alexandre and his marketing specialist, Justine.  The dishes served [made by Martine – Alexandre’s wife] were simple but remarkably tasty – a true example of farm-to-table at its best.  I doubt they even use the term farm-to-table in rural France [maybe not anywhere in France] – it’s just the way they eat.  The food is unbelievably fresh and simply prepared in a way that makes even the most humble ingredient a star.  And when paired with Alexandre Penet Extra Brut champagne, Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Terroir Escence Extra Brut champagne and Penet-Chardonnet Grand Cru Cuvee Diane Claire champange the foods shined [or is it shone] even brighter!

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After lunch we chatted with Justine, Alexandre and Martine, placed our orders for champagne delivery and reluctantly climbed back into the van.  I could have stayed at La Maison Penet for much longer, learning about champagne and local culture and nibbling from the wonderful cheese tray while sipping some bubbly.

Following our delightful stop in Verzy we travelled to Vrigny to our last destination – Champagne LeLarge Pugeot.  The vineyards of LeLarge Pugeot are spread out across three villages – Vrigny, Coulommes-La-Montagne and Gueux.  In 2010, Le Large Pugeot began its shift to organic farming.

I didn’t fully understand the significance of organic farming until we were standing in the vineyard and we asked about the distinct difference between one row of grapevines and the next. We were told that the left side belonged to LeLarge Pugeot and the right to another – non-organic – vineyard.  Right then I could see the impact of organic farming!

After our walk in the vineyard, we sipped and sipped and sipped some wonderful organic champagnes and then we sipped some more!  Then, wonderfully light-headed from all the bubbles, we purchased champagne, said our good-byes and climbed into the van for our final ride….back to O’Chateau.  Along the way we talked and some of us snoozed and laughed and talked and snoozed and laughed.

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Throughout the day we learned a lot of things……some related to champagne and some not…..

  • 80% of the land in the champagne region is owned by small farmers
  • A good champagne is not produced from a single vineyard
  • The eyes should be pleased before the palate [the same is true for food]
  • The riddlers (not from Batman) can turn about 6,000 bottles per hour
  • A meal without wine is called breakfast
  • A fine Texas proverb – “it’s not bragging if you can do it”
  • Champagne makes you happy in 17 minutes, wine in 30
  • The term ‘bless your heart’ (one with many different meanings depending on which part of the American south you are from) is sooooo much funnier when it’s incorrectly changed to ‘bless my heart’ and spoken with a southern drawl by your Chinese tour guide/somelier [I’m almost positive Richard told me he was from China but I was a bit loopy so I apologize if I got that wrong] who has spent many years living in Paris and speaking French!!!!

  • You can have a marvelous time spending the day with new friends from around the globe – particularly if you add champagne!

Unbelievably, by the time we got back to O’Chateau, said our goodbyes and got our bearings, Jeff and I were hungry.  So we walked a bit to stretch our legs and found a chic Italian restaurant – Daroco – where we enjoyed stuffed zucchini flowers, pizza (Jeff), pasta (me) and a thick, decadent mousse au chocolat (Jeff…..but I had a taste…..or two).

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Still a little bit buzzed with full bellies and happy hearts, we returned to the hotel and fell into a deep champagne-induced sleep!  Ahhhhhhh…..

Day 6: Tuesday 4/11/17

After Day 5 sipping champagne and sitting more than walking, we needed a day to blow off the cobwebs and use our muscles.  We began the day with a quick ‘continental’ breakfast at Lauduree and then visited the Palais Garnier.  We strolled through the opera house, snapping pics and marveling at the opulence.

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Next we took the Metro to the Left Bank and then strolled over several bridges as we explored the islands of the Seine – Ile de la Cite, home to Notre-Dame de Paris, and Ile St. Louis.  We had lunch at another of Rebekkah’s suggested cafes – Le Petit Pontoise.

Then, as encouraged by Norb and Cam, we sauntered through the shops of the Rue Mouffetard.  And we finally took a little time to watch the world go by at a cafe [Cafe Delmas overlooking the ‘fountain’ (now under construction) at Place de la Contrescarpe] where Jeff sipped a beer and I sipped a cafe.  We sat at our little table in the sunshine and soaked in the local flavor.

On our way back to our home base, we walked with our dinner [a lovely roast chicken, roasted potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and a bottle of champagne purchased on Rue Mouffetard] through Ina’s neighborhood. Along the journey we strolled through some pretty gardens and through Place Vendome.  By the time we made it back to our hotel we’d been on our feet for 12 hours and were ready for dinner, a rest, a shower and a long sleep!

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More to come on our trip to Paris – including a day learning to make croissants!!!

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Monday MmmMmmMmm: Ribs Etc.

On days like today I think perhaps I should give up cooking!  No, I didn’t have a terrible cooking experience.  No, I’m not tired of cooking. So what happened?  Last night’s dinner reminded me that Jeff is a great cook and perhaps I should leave it all to him!!!  Don’t worry, I’m not serious about giving up cooking; but I am serious about Jeff being a great cook.

Yesterday was one of those days where Jeff devoted several hours to making an amazing dinner.  Because he had the day off yesterday, he began plotting his Monday culinary adventures over the weekend.  And I knew things would be going in a tasty direction when he returned from the grocery store with a beautiful rack of ribs.

Since I worked yesterday, I wasn’t privy to the whole process; however the end result gave me a pretty good idea of what went on in the kitchen (and on the deck) while I was gone.

I haven’t written too much about it, but I’ve posted many photos of foods cooking on the Big Green Egg on our deck.  “What is a Big Green Egg?” you ask.  Well, to say it is a grill is a gross understatement; although it IS a grill.  It can also be used to smoke foods and bake foods.  It can cook low and slow bbq and it can cook pizzas at 600+ degrees F.

The Big Green Egg uses lump charcoal as its fuel and air flow to control the temperature.  For more information on the Big Green EGG (BGE), visit Big Green Egg’s website.  The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School is an authorized BGE dealer and teaches classes on BGE basics and cooking on the BGE.

As usual, I digress…..

What does the BGE have to do with my Monday MmmMmmMmm….everything!  As I was explaining earlier, Jeff made ribs last night and he combined what we learned in Texas about rubs for bbq and the low and slow power of the BGE to turn out some damn good ribs!

Because they cooked low and slow, they were sooooooo tender.  The meat literally fell right off the bone when you bit into it (or even before you bit into it).  The simple rub (salt, pepper and brown sugar) combined with the long cooking time created a delicious crust (a.k.a. bark).  When some people see the bark on bbq’d meats, they mistakenly think the meat has burned….not true.  For information on the science of bark formation, visit the post entitled What Is Bark, And Why It Makes Us Howl For More at AmazingRibs.com.  They explain ‘bark’ much better than I could!

To go with the ribs, Jeff busted out some left-over salad and made an enormous baked sweet potato, which we shared.  To say last night’s dinner was a Monday MmmMmmMmm is like saying the BGE is a grill – it’s an understatement!  Last night’s dinner was spectacular.  It was warm, comforting, nourishing, pleasing to the eye because of the variety of colors, pleasing to the nose because of the variety of aromas, and pleasing to the wife because she didn’t have to make it!

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Thanks for the Monday MmmMmmMmm, honey.  I just may decide to let you cook every night!!!

Monday MmmMmmMmm and Class Recap

I LOVE breakfast for dinner! And tonight Jeff made it so it was even better!  And the pancakes were savory, so now we’re 3 for 3!

When I left work tonight I got stuck in traffic – there was a disabled tractor-trailer blocking one lane of the road and things were rrrrreeeeeaaaaallllllllllyyyyy backed up.  So I called Jeff to let him know that I would probably get home later than he would.  Since he had a meeting at church tonight, I suggested that he have some leftover pasta and I told him I would make a sandwich for myself later.

Little did I know he already had a plan cooking in his head!  When I got home he was working on batter for cornmeal pancakes to which he added some sautéed veggies (onions, peppers, spinach, kale) and cheese.  While he was making the batter he was also heating a pan – when the batter was done he spooned some into the hot pan and went to change.  I kept an eye on the pancakes, turning them before he returned.

Pancake Batter

Pancakes on the Griddle

In a matter of minutes we were sitting down to a delicious and nutritious dinner AND Jeff was able to get out the door on time.  I’ll be honest, sometimes the best thing I can do to get dinner on the table is stay out of the way!!!!  I really appreciate it when someone else cooks for me – it makes a Monday MmmMmmMmm even mmm mmm mmm-ier!

While we were eating I was reviewing yesterday in my head.  I taught a class entitled ‘Holiday Brunch for Overnight Guests’ at the Kitchen Shoppe yesterday and I had a great time.

Although I’ve enjoyed all the classes I’ve taught so far, I had a really great group of people yesterday and they made it a lot of fun for me!  I hope they had as much fun as I did!!!  They asked a lot of good questions, interacted with one another, shared tips and ideas, and really seemed to enjoy the food (which, of course, makes me happy).

The menu for class was:

  • Bloody Mary with Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto Bruschetta
  • Holiday Baked Egg Casserole
  • Bacon & Green Onion Studded Potato Pancakes
  • French Breakfast Puffs
  • Fruit Skewers with Orange Vinaigrette

The hands-down favorite seemed to be the French Breakfast Puffs, which are yummy light muffins that are rolled in melted butter and cinnamon sugar and served warm.  I first had these on  a trip to Cape Cod.  They were made by The Cottage Street Bakery and have been a family favorite ever since.  I’m glad I got to share them with my class.

The following is a picture of the buffet I set for class yesterday:

Brunch for Overnight Guests BUffet

I hope the folks who came to class will use some of the recipes for the holidays and that they will think of me when they do.  I will surely remember what a good time I had with them the next time I make one of the recipes I served in class.

What are some of your favorite things to serve to overnight guests?

Update Monday MmmMmmMmm:…and Chocolate Lava Cake

I sort of left you hanging last night…..by the time I finished my post, I still hadn’t baked my chocolate lava cakes….so I thought I’d end the suspense.  I’m sure you figured this out on your own, but the cakes were WONDERFUL!

I was a little worried that the LONG resting time might affect the outcome in a negative way, but it did not.  The cakes were dense with a warm, oozy center….mmm mmm mmm!!!

While the cakes baked for about 12 minutes, I had some fun decorating the plates with the caramel.  I wanted to see what would happen if I put the caramel into a squeeze bottle – you see, I wasn’t sure if it was too thick to “pipe” onto the plates.  As it turns out, it was just the right consistency.  I used a funnel to get it into the bottle and had to wait a few minutes for it all to drain through the funnel, but it wasn’t bad at all. The squeeze bottle made it easy to get the caramel right where I wanted it on the plates….

 

Plate

After decorating the plates, I waited for the timer to buzz…..when it finally did, I wasn’t sure the cakes were done.  I know they’re supposed to be soft in the center – after all, they are lava cakes – but they just didn’t look “set enough” on the edges; so I left them in for one more minute.  And I’m glad I did.

They unmolded perfectly.  I ran a knife around the edge and turned them out onto the plates.  The recipe indicated that you needed to leave the ramekins on the plate for approximately 1 minute so the cake would slide out of the ramekin; but my cakes slid out as soon as I overturned them.

They were perfectly cooked and looked quite pretty on the zigzag of caramel.

Unmolded Lava Cake

An easy to make dessert and the perfect end to my Monday MmmMmmMmm!!!!

Monday MmmMmmMmm: Vegetable Lasagna

Today was an unusual Monday.  Jeff and I both had off on the same weekday.  To celebrate, we cleaned the basement – or at least part of it!  I know, it’s not a very romantic way to spend the day together; but we both felt good – and HUNGRY – when we got done.

Fortunately, I had some recipes to try.  I’m teaching two private classes in early December and some of the recipes the groups selected are new to me.  So I used my time today to not only familiarize myself with the recipes, but also to make a nice dinner for Jeff and I.

We stopped our work in the basement at approximately 1:00 p.m. and I started cooking.  The first recipe I tackled was for Vegetable Lasagna with Fontina & Parmesan Sauce.  I put a pot of water on to boil (to cook the lasagna noodles) and then started slicing mushrooms, zucchini and artichoke hearts.  While the pasta cooked and the veggies sautéed, I gathered the ingredients for the parmesan sauce.

 

I removed the cooked lasagna noodles from the boiling water onto a sheet tray covered in plastic wrap.  When the tray was full, I added another layer of plastic wrap and repeated the process until all the noodles were on the sheet tray.  I find this is a great way to let the noodles cool without sticking together.  I set the tray aside, turned off the flame under the veggies and made the parmesan sauce.

Sauteed Mushrooms, Zucchini & Artichoke Hearts

Parmesan Sauce

Finally, I buttered the lasagna pan and then began assembly.  Sauce, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese, noodles, sauce, and finally cheese.  It becomes kind of like meditating….I get lost in the process!

Buttered Lasagna Dish

Lasagna Layer 1

I slipped the lasagna into the oven to bake for 30 minutes.  Then I cleaned up the mess from the lasagna and turned my attention to the salad – Field Green Salad with Roasted Beets, Goat Cheese and Pomegranate Vinaigrette.  Before I began making the salad, Jeff left to take Miss Kissy to the vet.

I’ve previously written posts about cooking more of something than you need for one meal so that you have leftovers for another meal – for example Two Birds, One Stone – One Chicken, Three Meals. Fortunately, I follow my own advice and had roasted beets in the refrigerator, which made prep for tonight’s salad a piece of cake!  I simply cut some Romaine hearts, crumbled some goat cheese, cut the roasted beets, toasted some sliced almonds, and made the vinaigrette.  Since Jeff wasn’t home yet, I left all the salad components in separate containers to assemble just before sitting down for dinner.

Salad Bowl

Salad Toppings

Finally, I picked up the recipe for the Chocolate Lava Cakes with Caramel Sauce.   I prepped the ramekins in which the cakes will be baked and then made the thick, “chocolatey” batter. I spooned the batter into the prepared ramekins – although not as carefully as I probably should have because I ended up with a little batter on the rims.  If I were cooking for company or for class, I would have used a damp dish towel to clean them up, but I decided to leave them with the rustic, homemade look!

Messy Chocolate Lava Ramekins

The recipe calls to let the batter rest in the ramekins for at least 30 minutes, which gave me time to make a simple caramel sauce with unsalted butter, light brown sugar and heavy cream.

Just as I was finishing the caramel, my iPad “rang” with a message from Jeff letting me know he and Kissy were on their way home.  Perfect timing!  I turned the oven to broil, took the foil off the lasagna and slid it into the oven so the top would get brown and bubbly.  When the top looked beautifully golden, I took the pan out of the oven and covered it to rest.

Brown & Bubbling Veggie Lasagna

I heard the garage door open while I was cutting the lasagna, dressing the lettuce and plating the food.  I love it when a plan comes together!  I had just enough time to snap some pics of the food before Jeff and Kissy made their way into the kitchen.

Veggie Lasagna & Salad

As Jeff and I ate dinner, we critiqued the recipes…..the lasagna was wonderful – a great meatless meal in my opinion.  Jeff, not surprisingly, said he’d like the lasagna better with some meat in it!  We both enjoyed the salad, but thought the dressing was missing a little something.  I’ll have to give the recipe another try or two and see if I can tweak it a bit.

No, you didn’t miss anything…..I haven’t said anything about the lava cakes yet.  In fact, as I write this post, they are still sitting on the counter unbaked.

After dinner Jeff had a meeting at church, so I am waiting to bake them until he’s on his way home so the lava is still flowing when we eat them.  I hope they’re as good as I am imagining them to be!

All in all, today was a great day.  We accomplished some basement cleaning, we have a new health plan for Kissy, and we had a Monday MmmMmmMmm.  Not only that, but we still have a tasty dessert to look forward to!

What did you have for dinner tonight?

Monday Recipe Love MMM Your Review Leftovers

I know it sounds confusing……but it’s really not.  It’s a Monday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post all rolled into one!!! Except….oh, no….the holiday weekend has messed me up…..Jeff just reminded me, IT’S NOT MONDAY.  Ugh….Ok, so it’s a Tuesday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post!!!

Coming up with new and creative ideas for dinner can be just as difficult for someone with a passion for cooking, eating and entertaining as it is for the Average Jane or Average Joe.  Sometimes the creativity just isn’t there and/or sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking.  But when you’ve got leftovers on hand and you’ve just tried a RRREEEAAALLLYYY good recipe, it’s a bit easier.

On Sunday Jeff and I went the home of our friends Lu and Mark for a cookout.  A bunch of folks gathered for an impromptu celebration of Mark’s birthday. And of course, when friends get together you can count on two things – at least with our group of friends – lots of laughs and some darn good food.

Lu made an appetizer platter with a few new-to-her recipes including Pickled Deviled Eggs and Pickled Brussel Sprouts – both mmm mmm mmm.  I made an Ina Garten / Barefoot Contessa recipe that I recently wrote about when our friends Barb and Scott invited us to their lovely home for dinner.  The recipe is Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes…….I raved about it when Barb made it and my friends raved about it when I did too!

crostiniLu and Mark also grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, Maureen and Andy brought their yummy mac and cheese, Ev and Jeff brought peach cobbler, and Tim and Jack ran out for glazed donuts when everyone was talking about the Luther Burger craze.  Luther Burgers are allegedly named for Luther Vandross and are cheeseburgers served on sliced glazed donuts.

Well, my assessment of the Luther Burger – five M’s – MMMMM!

But I digress……

Tonight I was stumped about what to make for dinner, so I did what all self-respecting cooks do when they don’t know what to make….I stood in front of the open fridge hoping inspiration would jump out at me….and it did. I spied the container with the leftover whipped feta, a package of chicken, the leftover marinated tomatoes and a head of broccoli Jeff picked from the garden yesterday.

Here’s what I did:

1. I cut the chicken into cutlets – with my palm on top of the chicken piece and my knife parallel to the cutting board I cut on a very slightly downward angle (to avoid the knife going into my hand).  Then I pounded the cutlets, breaded them (first in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, and finally in seasoned bread crumbs), shallow fried them and set them on paper towels to drain.

2. I ran out to the garden to pick a few extra tomatoes and followed Ina’s recipe to make some extra marinated tomatoes.

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3. I made the pesto with some arugula, spinach, the broccoli, lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  I tasted it for seasoning and then set a pot of water on the stove to boil so I could cook the pasta.

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4. While the water boiled and the pasta cooked, I spread the remaining whipped feta onto the cooked chicken cutlets and placed them in a 250 degree F oven to stay warm and for the cheese to soften.

Chicken with Whipped Feta

Just after I drained the pasta and mixed in the pesto, I heard the garage door go up.  Jeff’s timing is exceptional – particularly when food is involved!  While he changed, I plated our food – the pesto pasta next to the feta smeared chicken, which I topped with the marinated tomatoes.  We both raved dinner and Jeff complimented me on taking Ina’s Crostini recipe and adapting it for a main course.

Chicken with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes

As far as the recipe goes, Barefoot Contessa’s Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes gets 5 M’s out of 5!


It is easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, yields incredible flavor, pleases a crowd, adapts well to other preparations and holds well for leftovers!!!  So, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday, I hope you love your leftovers, try a new recipe and end up with an MmmMmmMmm!!!!!

 

Dinner Mmm

Barefoot Contessa Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

Ingredients

  • 6oz good feta cheese (crumbled)
  • 2oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 2/3 cups good olive oil (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed (I also used the zest of one whole lemon))
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shallots (minced (2 shallots))
  • 2 teaspoons garlic (minced (2 cloves))
  • 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
  • 2lb ripe heirloom or cherry tomatoes (1/2 inch dice)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (julienned)
  • 20 - 25 diagonal baguette slices (toasted)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted)

Directions

1. For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed.
2. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
3. For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you're serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes.
4. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
5. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the basil and taste for seasonings.
7. To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

Monday MmmMmmMmm: Pork Roast, Potatoes and Green Beans

I am NOT a morning person.  I know this admission completely shocks some of you….not!  But what will shock you is that I was up at 6:38 a.m. this morning…and I had all my prep work done for dinner by 9:00 a.m!  I don’t know what happened; but I find it’s best not to question a morning of good fortune.

When my eyes opened at 6:38, my first inclination was to slam them shut and go back to sleep for another few hours, but after drinking a few sips of coffee and reading a few pages of the book in which I am currently engrossed; I hopped out of bed and started cooking.  I started by slicing a bunch of potatoes (white, red and sweet) into very thin slices and stacking them in little piles like decks of cards.  I put the decks of potatoes on their sides into mini loaf pans I had sprayed with cooking spray and spooned about 1 Tbsp of butter over each one.  I then topped them with minced thyme, kosher salt and pepper.  I baked them about 3/4 of the way in the morning, knowing I would finish cooking them just before Jeff arrived home from work.

Potato Decks in Mini Loaf Pans

Potato Decks with Butter Thyme Salt and Pepper

Potato Decks Baking

Just before I finished prepping the potatoes, I set a large pot of water on the stove to boil.  After the potatoes were in the oven, I began cleaning green beans and by the time they were clean, the water was boiling so I slipped the beans into the water and prepared an ice bath to shock them after blanching.  I cooked the beans for approximately 4 minutes and removed them directly to the ice bath to cool – not only does the ice bath stop the cooking immediately, it also maintains the bright green color of the beans.  After they were cool, I spread them on a sheet pan I had covered with a towel, gave them a quick pat to dry them, and slid the pan into the fridge to keep the beans cool.

Ice Bath for Green Beans

Blanched Green Beans in Ice Bath

Green Beans Drying

With the green beans and potatoes prepped, I turned my attention to the pork roast I had pulled out of the freezer to thaw over the weekend.  The first thing I did was make parallel cuts across the top of the roast about 1 inch deep so that the seasonings I would slather onto the roast would penetrate deep into the meat.  I then dried the roast with paper towel, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and set it into a hot roasting pan containing olive oil to brown.  The sizzle of the cool meat hitting the hot pan was mesmerizing and the smell of the meat browning was heavenly.

While the meat was browning, I raced out to the garden (don’t tell my mom I walked away from the stove) to pick some onions, which I washed, peeled and cut into wedges.  After the meat was browned on all sides, I dropped the cut onions and some cherry tomatoes into the roasting pan and slathered the meat with some sun-dried tomato butter I had in the fridge.  I had previously made the butter for another recipe and had some left-over.  In addition to butter and sun-dried tomatoes, the concoction also contained parmesan cheese, herbs, lemon zest, salt, pepper and garlic.  Like the potatoes, I slid the roast into the oven and cooked it part way, knowing I would finish it just before Jeff walked through the door.

Browned Pork Roast Surrounded by Onions and Cherry Tomatoes

Roast Slathered with Sundried Tomato Butter

The rest of the day was filled with exercise, showering, grocery shopping, balancing the checkbook, uploading some photos from my camera to my computer, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming the downstairs, etc.  By the time I got everything done it was time to reheat the potatoes and the roast.  While they were reheating, I cut the green beans into bite-sized pieces and made a light apple cider vinaigrette to serve over the cold beans.

Everything was coming together nicely when Jeff got home.  He had just enough time to change his clothes before we sat down to eat.  My final step of preparation, which I did while Jeff was changing clothes, was to whir up the pan drippings and softened onions and cherry tomatoes with an immersion blender to create a nice sauce for the roast. The good news is there is enough sauce that we will also have some later in the week over the spaghetti squash I couldn’t resist buying at the farm stand yesterday.

I haven’t had spaghetti squash in years and am already plotting how I will ‘love my leftovers’ when I make it!  I think there will be some beans for protein and some green veggies (perhaps the other half of the bag of green beans or some broccoli) added to the sauce that will top the squash.  We’ll see what inspiration comes….

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Dinner was great – well-balanced, colorful, and filled with flavor.  Like my friend Marisa, I love Mondays – particularly when they include a Monday MmmMmmMmm!  TGIM!

 

Monday HaHaHa: The Shed

Did you know that laughter is good for your health?  We’ve all heard that “laughter is the best medicine.”  It’s true.   According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, laugher can:

  • Enhance your intake of oxygen-rich air
  • Stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles
  • Increase the endorphins released by your brain
  • Activate and relieve your stress response
  • Sooth tension
  • Improve your immune system
  • Relieve pain
  • Increase personal satisfaction
  • Improve your mood

With that in mind, I must be one REALLY healthy gal!!! Why?  Because last night I had not only the Monday MmmMmmMmm, but I also had the Monday HaHaHa!

You see, Jeff and I were invited to attend a reunion of team members from the missions trip Jeff went on in May of 2012 to Biloxi, Mississippi.  I was not part of the team; however as a spouse of a team member I was honored to attend and to “eavesdrop” on the reminiscing!

Andy, one of the team members, and his wife, Maureen, hosted the group.  The reason for the get-together was the debut of the new food network show, The Shed.  The Shed is a BBQ and Blues joint in Ocean Springs, MS and was one of the stops on the missions team’s itinerary during their trip.  In honor of the debut, Andy and Maureen served some rockin’ Q with some sauces from Central PA and from The Shed.

In addition the beef brisket, pulled pork and ribs, they also served macaroni and cheese, chips and dip, and baked beans.  Being an “outsider,” I came with food in hand to earn my place – I made a new coleslaw recipe.

After a great prayer to kick off the evening, we dug into the food.  There’s something great about the atmosphere created when you serve BBQ and beer.  People seem to roll up their sleeves and automatically relax.  The group talked and laughed and ate and ate and ate.  Once you’ve bonded with folks on a missions trip, it seems you’re no longer self-conscious about eating heartily or shy about taking the last of anything!

Before the 10:00 PM kickoff of the shed, we watched the sneak preview aired by food network on Sunday.  Not only was it a great intro to the show, it was really neat for me to watch the group interact and remember the funky place they had been.  The team members recognized folks on the show, talked about what they ate when they visited The Shed, and laughed about the time they shared as though it was just yesterday.

After the sneak preview, there was still time before the kickoff show aired, so Andy broke out his journal from the trip.  Each team member (and even us non team members) who attended last night’s reunion was interested in hearing Andy’s recorded memories.  It was cool for me to learn that Andy is quite sentimental at heart.  He saved pamphlets and menus and other documents from the trip and carefully shared them with the group.  The following are scanned images of The Shed menu Andy saved:

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Of course, those who were not in attendance were remembered as well! Not only were they fondly remembered, but they were also lovingly teased as well – please remember, I wrote ‘LOVINGLY’!  They were not the only ones who were mocked for their eccentricities – those in attendance took their share of ribbing too!

At 10:00, when Andy tuned into the show, a hush fell over the crowd and all eyes were glued to the television set.  We watched the show and had a lot of laughs.  The Shed (the place) seems like a fun place to work and it seems like the family who runs it is living their passion.  The Shed (the show) on food network is kind of like Duck Dynasty, but with a loose focus on food.  I couldn’t help but think it would be great fun to assemble the group every Monday night to watch the show, but real life will prevent that from happening.

Jobs and kids and commitments will get in the way; but for one night the group got to reassemble and remember – and I was honored to have been a part of it. When Jeff returned home from his trip and told me what an amazing group of people he travelled with, I believed him but had no frame of reference.  Since the trip, I’ve gotten to know some of the team members better and had a little better understanding.  But last night, seeing them in action, I got a first-hand look at how well the team had bonded.

Take a look at some photos of the night:

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It’s interesting that I find myself writing about a place I’ve never visited and that makes food I’ve never tasted (well, that’s not EXACTLY true, I DO have a bottle of Shed Sauce in my fridge).  Typically I write reviews about places I HAVE eaten.

I cannot comment on the food, but I can tell you that the group shared a term with me that they coined at The Shed – ‘audible eating.’  Audible eating would probably give Emily Post nightmares if she were still among the living.  Audible eating comes from using no silverware and eating amazing food – it’s the sound of finger-licking and mmm’ing and slurping.  Perhaps it is the sound of utter culinary satisfaction!

And I can also tell you that the group I hung with last night included many “ShedHeds.”  In fact, this group and other groups from Daybreak Church who have been to The Shed have been known to mail-order Shed Sauce.  Fortunately, it’s now available in our area so that’s no longer necessary.

So I can tell you for certain that if I ever find myself in Ocean Springs, MS, I WILL visit The Shed.  And I can tell you for certain that having a Monday HaHaHa does for the soul what having a Monday MmmMmmMmm does for the stomach.  I hope you have a group of folks with whom you can simply laugh – those rich, deep belly-laughs that will improve your health!

Share a laugh with others…what’s your favorite joke?

Love Your Leftovers: Savory Veggie Waffles

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I often go on a bender, cleaning out my fridge and making dinner from the dribs and drabs in small containers.  It’s both a culinary challenge and a great way to avoid wasting food and money!

Last night Jeff gave my dad a ride to pick up his car.  Finally – and just in the nick of time – the air conditioning is fixed!  Woooohooooo!  While they went to pick up the car, my mom and I turned leftovers into a delicious meal.  Savory veggie waffles and a refreshing summer salad.

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Monday’s MmmMmmMmm

It’s no secret that I was frustrated with the meat industry on Monday, so it should come as no surprise that we had a meatless meal on Monday evening.  It was so good I thought I’d share the pics and recipes with you.

After ranting and raving about the meat industry changing the names of 350 cuts of meat, there was no way I could bring myself to cook beef or pork.  So I pulled out the quinoa and went out to the garden…and I’m glad I did.  While the quinoa cooked, I picked some beet greens and the last of the fresh peas.

I’ve been working on a recipe for Quinoa Cakes for the last several weeks and have made a few different iterations, changing ingredients based on what I have on hand and what is in the garden.

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Monday MmmMmmMmm

Is there a better way to spend a Monday night than with sharing some laughs and good conversation with friends over pizza, wings and beer?

A group of us got together at Al’s of Hampden on Valley Road in Enola last night to find out. Al’s Monday Special: 35 cent Wings (1 doz minimum) / 50% off ANY Pizza (4pm-10pm – Dine-In Only) just sweetened the deal!  We met at 6:00(ish) and were off and running (or should I say chewing).  Typically when we go to Al’s we spend a good 15 minutes engrossed in the “what should we order” conversation; but last night it seemed to go much more smoothly.  Of course, we ended up with about 5 numbers on our table and our food came in stages over about a 30 minute period.  The beautiful thing about this group is that once we said a blessing over the food, everyone who had food dug right in and those who didn’t have their food did the talking.  Emily Post may have been offended that we didn’t wait until everyone had their food to begin eating; but no one at our table seemed to mind!

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Monday MmmMmmMmm

I worked at the Kitchen Shoppe today helping with day one of Kids Camp and prepping for day two of Kids Camp.  What a fun time getting down to the basics of cooking and watching young people test cooking to see if it is their passion.  Although I think all the kids had fun, there were a few more than the others who seemed to get that eye twinkle while cooking!

The kids made fresh tomato and tomatillo salsa with homemade tortilla chips and pizzelle (oh, how happy that makes my Italian heart) bowls with homemade vanilla ice cream that they shook themselves. Tracee, the instructor, kept them engaged and rolling….she is amazing….what seems like it’s going to be chaos turns into smiles and yums.

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Monday MmmMmmMmm

Steak is something that does not make it to the menu at our house very often.  I wish I could say it’s a health thing or a moral objection to eating red meat, but neither of those things is true.  It’s just “one of those things.”

However, when it does make it to the menu, we really enjoy it.  And last night was no exception.  In fact, dinner was so yummy that I had to share the pics with you!

I worked at the Kitchen Shoppe yesterday from 8:00 a.m. until about 1:15 p.m. and didn’t give a lot of forethought to dinner.  It wasn’t until after work when I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few odds and ends that I got to thinking about what to have for dinner.

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