Food Journal

I realized today that even though I’ve only been Blogging about food since September of last year; I’ve been Jlogging about food for a lot longer!

Front Cover w FlowersI’ve spent the majority of the day committing to paper recipes for a class I am teaching in a few weeks; and, as often happens when I am thinking about things I’ve made in the past, I pulled out my food journal.  It will come as no surprise to those of you who have read past posts that I got sidetracked!  My self-diagnosed ADD kicked in AGAIN and with a smile on my face I traveled down memory lane.

My food journal is a beautiful brown-leather covered volume that I swore I would keep in pristine condition – I vowed to only write in it in my best handwriting.  Ahhh, the best laid plans…… A few of the pages began neatly – with legible printing; but over time they have become splattered and spilled upon and you can see some days where my passion for what I was recording overtook my desire to write neatly!  That’s how passion goes….

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Jingle Bells

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to ride in….the backseat of a Honda Pilot holding a mug of hot chocolate in your hand, laughing with friends, and peeping at Christmas lights!

Jeff and I had such a fun night with our friends Mark and Lu and their kids last night.  We were invited to their house for a casual dinner before our First Annual Christmas Light Ride.  Lu made three (yes, an overachiever if ever there was one and more energy than anyone I know) kinds of soup and had fixings for sandwiches.  The soups were D’licious!  She made a chick pea soup that you top to taste with fresh cilantro, a warm baked potato and bacon soup that you top to taste with shredded cheese, and a spicy lamb and veggie soup.  All were incredibly warming and homey.  And the sandwich fixings were definitely not your ordinary deli.  There were several kinds of bread including jalapeno cheese bread (mmm mmm mmm), different meats and cheeses, a bevy of condiments and toppings.  What a terrific meal.

And since Jeff and I don’t have kids of our own, it is a nice change of pace to have dinner in a house full of activity and some great sarcastic humor.  It was the funny banter between siblings that you just can’t get anywhere else sprinkled with movie quotes and an obvious love for one another!!!

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Marketing

I had a whirlwind of a day today, but it sure was fun!  I met my mom and dad at their house at 9:00 this morning and we didn’t stop moving until we got back to their house at 4:30 pm.  We covered a lot of ground, saw a lot of yummy food, and scoped out a new place to visit when we have more time.

Our day started in Hershey with my mom having a bone density scan…from there we began our adventure to the Lancaster County Farmers Market, which incidentally is not in Lancaster County – go figure.  It’s actually in Delaware County on the Main Line in Wayne, PA.  Normally it’s pretty easy to get there, but we were in technology hell today….the ATM machine at the Turnpike rest area at which we stopped was having a meltdown and both my GPS and my parent’s GPS were persnickety as well!!!  But after RECALCULATING several times and using common sense (uncommon, I know) we finally made it.

Although it’s not a big market, there are some very nice stands to capture your attention and tempt your taste buds.  My first stop was at Sugartown Smoked Specialties. The smoked trout spread looked delicious, but I was there for advice and information.  On Sunday I’ll be experimenting with smoking clams (which I have never done) and wanted an expert opinion.  The gentleman at Sugartown pointed me in the right direction. THANKS!

The next stand we stopped at was Semaan’s Homemade Specialties to ogle the olives, which is completely strange since I don’t like the way they taste.  I like olive oil and I love the look of olives – they LOOK like something I would love.  And I’ve certainly given them a fair shake…..I try them at least once a year to make sure my taste for them hasn’t changed, but so far….nothing.  But I still think they’re beautiful – particularly these that were marinating with all kinds of herbs and spices!

From there I gawked at the fresh seafood and pre-made foods at Mainline Marketplace. Of everything we saw all day, I rated the jumbo lump crab meat at this stand the most beautiful!!!  I could imagine using this amazing lump crab meat in Jeff’s crab cake recipe OR it would make a fabulous addition to a creamy crab soup OR it would make a delicious lemony cold crab salad…….the possibilities are endless.  I did not buy any because we didn’t have a cooler AND because what you don’t see in this photo is the price behind the garnish – $29.99/lb. A little too rich for my blood today!!!!

The salmon also looked amazing, but again no cooler….. I recently found a recipe for a honey spiced salmon sandwich in which this salmon would be great.  Next time, when the cooler is in the trunk, I’ll be buying some seafood….maybe I can start keeping my spare change in a jar so I can get some crab!!!!

The Ultimate Bake Shop had some gorgeous desserts and baked goods.  Although expensive, the biscotti that looked terrific – packed with delicious ingredients.  The cakes were all beautifully decorated and the descriptions of them sounded tempting.  I do wonder when I see such pristine looking desserts, if they will taste as good as they look.  Perhaps next time I will be “in the market” for desserts and I’ll let you know if the desserts live up to their looks!

We saw some fine-looking produce – in fact, I took pictures of some beets, carrots and cauliflower that I am happy to share.  And I couldn’t resist buying some fresh figs. Just this morning I saw an idea for a flavorful, but health-conscious dessert – fresh figs dipped in dark chocolate.  So how fitting that I be tempted by fresh figs at the market.

After buying the figs, we wandered around a little more, pointing out a few goodies here and there, including some pretty tea towels at The Cottage at The Market and some tasty looking Asian food at Foo To Go.  In fact, the food looked so good at Foo that my mom bought a container of curried rice and one of cold sesame noodles.

After one final trip around the Lancaster County Farmers Market to make sure there wasn’t anything else we needed/wanted, we hopped back into the car and headed to Ardmore.  Our plan was to make stops at the Ardmore Farmers Market at Suburban Square and Trader Joe’s; however we were running short on time so we had to make a decision – farmers market or Trader Joe’s.  Although they are right next to one another, our schedule only allowed for one.

We chose the farmers market, and I am so glad we did. First thing in the door we were greeted by the sight of the most beautiful coral/orange roses at Inspired Blooms.  After taking a few photos, my mom called me over to Ardmore Seafood to look at some of the most amazing colossal shrimp – they were so large I swear I thought to be safe I should address them as “Mr. Shrimp.”  From there we spied the small eggplant for which my mom was on the lookout all day.

And then……Di Bruno Bros. in search of Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar from England.  SUCCESS!  The cost of a pound of this cheese makes the price of the crab meat look like lunch money; but every bite is worth it!  It is described as “a sublime balance between sharp and fruity” and the description couldn’t be more accurate.  I’ve also heard it billed as “quite possibly the best cheddar in the world” and again, I can’t argue. A bit of the Montgomery’s Farmhouse Cheddar and some Clandestin made it into my shopping bag.  The Clandestin is an aged sheep’s milk and cow’s milk cheese from Canada.  It is a soft cheese, like a Brie and is absolutely delicious.  And in addition to the cheeses,  I also had some lively conversation with the “cheese guy.” He was talking with another customer about Grana Padano cheese, which he referred to as “the son of Parmigiano Reggiano.” I asked him why you’d want the “son of” when you have access to the real deal – it was a serious question, I was truly not being a smartalec.    He replied with something to the effect of “Grana Padano is still Ivy League, but it’s Brown, not Harvard” (which may have offended his other customer) and he and I were off to the races on good cheeses vs. lesser cheeses.  I enjoyed the conversation almost as much as the cheese.  I am looking forward to a nice glass of wine, a crusty piece of bread and some bits of the cheeses I purchased today.

After Di Bruno Bros. there was time enough for a very quick spin around the rest of the market – only enough to see what other vendors are there so that when we return we know what we want to see.  Just before getting into the car, I got myself a Kale Shake.  I know, it doesn’t sound great; but I truly believe veggie juices get a bad wrap.  Besides, it wasn’t all veggie juice – it also had lots of whole fruits whizzed up in it.  The kale shake did not disappoint.  It was the color of the inside of a kiwi fruit and tasted like freshness in a cup.

Back in the car, we wound our way through the Main Line back to the Turnpike and headed for home.  We each had a little something to nibble on since we didn’t get a chance to eat lunch.  My dad had a piece of pizza from Pallante’s Pasta Company, my mom had her selections from Foo To Go and I had my kale shake and a little treat my mom surprised me with – an arancini (the literal translation is little orange, the food translation is a risotto and mozzerella ball with onion and flecks of basil – in other words, mmm mmm mmm) from Di Bruno Bros.

All in all, we had a successful trip.  We made a few purchases, sampled a few really good foods and found a future destination for a day of foodie fun!!!

Fabulous Friday!

I spent several hours on Friday evening with my friends Ben and Christa, who invited me to the tres bonne annee wine tasting event at the Hilton Harrisburg.  The event celebrated the wines of Chile and proved to be a fantastic time.  This was my first official wine tasting event and I am quite sure it spoiled me for all others.

We arrived a bit early and while we were waiting for the doors to officially open, were able to look at the wines we would be tasting at the “mobile state store” – No, it’s not like the book mobile, but wouldn’t that be fantastic? – and to peek in the doors to watch the elaborate set up.

 

When we were finally able to enter the ballroom I was amazed to see it set for 300 people.  My mind operating as it does, my first thought was – holy moly – we’re tasting nine wines and they are already set in front of us – that means there are at least 2,700 wine glasses in here – who owns 2,700 wine glasses?  Boy am I glad I didn’t have to wash them all!!!

Each place was set with a place mat on which the names of the wines were printed and on which the glasses were set in the order we would be tasting them.

There were also pitchers of water for cleansing the palate and platters of breads, crackers, cheeses, fruits and pate.  The precision with which each place was set – so that there were no discernible difference from one to the next – was quite impressive and quite beautiful.  Although I am a person who generally appreciates that which is different; I was comforted by the uniformity!

 

The panel of speakers included a representative from each of the following:

  • The Wines of Chile, a promotional organization representing 90 Chilean wineries
  • Carmen Chile – one of the three wineries represented at the tasting and Chile’s oldest winery
  • Conca y Toro – one of the three wineries represented at the tasting and another long-time player in the Chilean wine game
  • Vina Arboleda – one of the three wineries represented at the tasting and a young winery fueled by a passion to produce wonderful wines

The panelists each took a turn educating us about Chile, the 4th largest exporter of wine to the U.S., and its wines.  I learned that Chile has 3,000 miles of coastline and that the colder climate on the ocean means a longer harvest.  I also learned that Chile is known mostly for its red wines, but that it has excellent white wines – my favorite of the whites we tasted was the Carmen Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011.

Each winery representative described the wines we were tasting with careful detail.  They told us about the oak vs. non-oak aging, the fermentation, the climate in the region in which the grapes are grown, the aroma or bouquet of each wine, the subtle notes that could be detected in the smell and taste of each wine and the foods with which the wines would pair well.  We saw a brief video about each winery.  For me, the videos made me want to explore Chile on my own.

Fortunately for me, I was seated next to exactly the right person to discuss exploring Chile.  Her name is Liz Caskey, of Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences, and she is a former Lancaster native who now lives and cooks in Santiago, Chile and hosts culinary and wine tours of Chile and other South American countries.  Although I did not have the opportunity to speak with her at length, I was impressed by her adventurous spirit and her knowledge of the food and wine of Chile.

The following are the wines we tasted in three groups – whites, Carmeneres, and Cabernet Savignons.  I’ve included a few tidbits of information about each wine and my favorite in each group is indicated with an asterisk (*).

We tasted three whites:

  • *Carmen Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – Non-oak aged, fresh green aroma, refreshing on the palate, pairs well with fresh seafood.
  • Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Chardonnay 2011 – Oak fermentation, pale yellow, fine herbal notes, subtle aroma of toast.
  • Arboleda Chardonnay 2011 – Oak fermentation – delicate aroma of fresh fruit and citrus, aroma not as “toasty” as Conca y Toro.

We tasted three Carmeneres:

  • Carmen Gran Reserva Camenere 2009 – barrel aged 100% Carmenere, smoky, spicy, very dry, faint taste of paprika and coffee beans.
  • Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Carmenere 2010 – 90% Carmenere and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, the pigment “hangs” on the glass more than the other two Carmeneres (I’m not talking about the “legs” or “tears” of the wine – widely debated as an indicator of the wine’s quality, but the actual pigment), very dry, almost dusty mouth feel, pairs well with tomato dishes, pasta and lamb.
  • *Arboleda Carmenere 2009 – 100% Carmenere, fruity on the palate, least dry of the three Carmeneres, paired well with the salty cheese and peppery pate.

Lastly, we tasted three Cabernet Sauvignons:

  • Carmen Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Carmenere, complex aromas, I detected traces of raspberry and grapefruit, pleasant rounded tannins (I found a good explanation of tannins and mouth feel at Just Grapes Wine Blog).
  • Arboleda Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon 7% Cabernet Franc and 3% Petit Verdot, juicy (which I learned is from the acidity), fine tannins, spicy finish.
  • *Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Serie Riberas Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Carmenere, aroma of plums, cherries and chocolate, a hint of vanilla, nice mouth feel. This is the bottle I purchased because I knew Jeff would enjoy it the most of all the wines we tasted and he wasn’t able to attend.

I find it interesting that I my three favorite wines of those we tasted were evenly distributed among the represented wineries.  I think that speaks well for the youngest of the three wineries – they seem to be on the right track. Christa and I stole a moment with the winemaker from Arboleda – Carolina Herrera – to ask a question about how she determines how much oak and the type of oak to use for fermentation.  I was impressed to learn that she is only 29 years old.  Her passion and enthusiasm for wine making were unmistakable.  I thought she was an excellent representative of the wines of Chile.

Although I know the wines I like to drink; I don’t know much about wine in general. The evening offered the opportunity to learn about the different regions and valleys of Chile, the terroirs or micro-climates that affect wine making and Chilean wines, and the three wineries represented.  It whet my appetite to continue learning about different wines and set a pretty high bar for future wine tastings.

All in all I had a great time spending the evening with Ben, Christa, and 297 of our closest friends!

 

 

No “Gradzilla” Moments

I had the pleasure of catering a party for my friends’ daugher who recently graduated from nursing school.  The experience was great from start to finish.  I realize this is a rarity, but there were no “gradzilla” moments, no last minute menu changes, no hard to find ingredients, no delays or snags of any kind.  I am still thanking God for this amazing grace!

The process started with the invitations.  The grad had a favorite color scheme and wanted something unique.  Unable to find just the right thing, I decided to make a sample invite and see if she liked it – and boy did she – so I went quickly into production mode and got them out on time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The menu was set and I began work, with the help of a very experienced and dedicated sous chef, my mom!  I couldn’t have done it without her help – she kept the sink free of dishes and reminded me to take an occasional break!

We worked for the entire week before the party making what we could ahead of time and constantly reworking the timeline to ensure that everything went off without a hitch the day of the party.  The party was on a Saturday; so I created a daily calendar (beginning the Monday before) of all the tasks that had to be accomplished – not just making food, but ensuring we had selected the proper serving platters, purchasing flowers/herbs for the buffet, making the iced teas, ironing tablecloths (a quick rant – please, please iron the tablecloth and napkins if you are using linens – don’t set a table that looks like someone slept on it overnight!!!), etc.

The day of the party we had a few last-minute details to attend to in the morning.  We had a hearty breakfast and then went to set up.  Below are a few photos of the buffet and a list of what was on the menu  – those of you with a keen eye will notice that the menu item cards on the buffet match the invitations.  Please visit my Photo Gallery for all the beautiful photos of the event, which were taken by the grad, Brianna Wilbur.  In addition to being a new nurse, Bri is also a wonderfully talented photographer.  Please visit her blog to see more of her work.

Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crudite Platter (Served with Caramelied Onion Dip)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almond Joy Cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

The full menu included:

  • Southern Sweet Tea & Herbal Iced Tea
  • Crudite Platter w/ Caramelized Onion Dip
  • Marinated Cheese w/ Crackers
  • Spinach Balls
  • Meatball Duo – Chicken Wing Meatballs & Spicy Sesame Meatballs
  • Sundried Tomato & Smoked Cheddar in Phyllo
  • Artichoke, Bacon & Goat Cheese Tart
  • Fruit Skewers w/ Brown Sugar Sour Cream Dip
  • Amond Joy Cupcakes & Pumpkin Cupcakes w/ Cinnamon Icing

What a pleasure it was for me to cater this party.  It allowed me to share my love of cooking and entertaining with others and to spend time – lots of time – in the kitchen with my mom. What could be better than that?