It’s a Family Tradition

Yesterday, Jeff and I met my “cousin,” Richie, for a little shopping and lunch in Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  This meeting got me to thinking about family and about traditions.  Richie is considerably younger than I am – in fact I remember he was still in a car seat when I was in my freshman year of college – and for some reason it struck me yesterday that his memory of our family’s traditions is very different from my memory of them.

All this ruminating on traditions got Jeff and I talking about them on the way from central PA to Philly in the morning.  He shared with me what he remembers about holiday traditions throughout his life (who he spent the holidays with, where they held their holiday meals or celebrations, and what kinds of food they had) and I shared with him what I remember about holiday traditions throughout mine.  We talked about how in his family the holiday traditions changed over time (at least during the time he was living with his family, roughly from birth to his early 20s) and how in my family they remained very much the same – at least from my perspective.

Of course, we talked about the subject with Richie over “sangwiches” at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. And he has a completely different perspective on the subject than either Jeff or I.  Not only is he from a different generation; but his parents are divorced and so he has two separate celebrations of each holiday and he is also dating a lovely girl whose family lives in a different state than his family, which adds another layer of holiday travel and tradition.

Don’t miss the pics of marketing or “sangwiches” at Paesano’s.  Click here to view them!

I wonder, since his generation is much more transient than mine (and mine is much more than my parent’s), if we’ve lost traditions over time or just built a new kind……

In my parent’s “day,” holidays were all about family (and, of course, food) and it was fairly easy (compared to today) to get the family together because for the most part the extended family lived relatively close to one another.  I see with people in my age cohort, that holidays are less about family – perhaps due to geographic spread.  And I wonder in the generations younger than mine, if the holiday traditions will be even less about family.

OR, do we have to change the way we define family?

When I was thinking about family this evening – what popped in my head is, “family is the people God gave to you and the people God gave you to.”  That could encompass biological families; but it can also include the families we choose….spouses, friends, etc.

It makes me sad to think that traditions are lost over time; but perhaps they aren’t lost so much as they evolve.  And I wonder, if we could, what we would choose for our traditions….

Strangely enough, I was thumbing through this month’s edition of bon appetit magazine just before I sat down at my computer and began reading an article by Adam Sachs entitled “The Tradition Starts Here.”  The end of the article reads, “The main thing I hope he’ll [author referring to his son] remember is to improve them as he goes.  Our traditions are only as good as we make them.”

So as much as I want to pass down the traditions of my youth to my nieces; I’ll be sure this year to ask them what they want their traditions to be or how they’d like to change/improve them.  AND I am looking forward to starting some new traditions….I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed “visiting” on the holidays as a kid, but that’s gotten more difficult because of geography.  Our extended family is much more spread out now than ever before – so (1) we’ll have to start “visiting” on the actual holidays with friends, and (2) we’ll have to be more intentional to set aside time for “visiting” with family.  It certainly won’t be as spontaneous as I remember, but the important part is that we’ll be together.

Jeff, Me and Richie waiting at a VERY crowded Paesano’s. Waited a LLLOOONNNGGG time, but it was good to catch up and worth the wait!

 

Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

A Healthier Comfort Food

The lunch I made today was so good that I just had to tell you about it.  I woke up too late for breakfast (darn), so I didn’t get to have my oatmeal (I have been on a kick lately).  So I thought to myself, “Oatmeal?  I could do oatmeal for lunch, but I don’t want anything sweet.”  That was like a challenge to myself….which I think I overcame quite nicely!

So I ended up making pizza style oatmeal – a great way to satisfy a pizza craving without having the crust.  I also added a few healthy things that you can easily “hide” in oatmeal!

I made a regular serving of oatmeal and added:

  • 1 tsp. ground flax-seed (a good source of Omega-3’s, fiber, and it helps lower cholesterol (particularly the LDL (the bad cholesterol) among other things))
  • 1 tsp. chia seeds (high in protein, fiber, magnesium, calcium, and Omega-3’s)
  • A healthy grind of black pepper
  • A handful of grated cheddar and parmesan cheeses
  • An ounce-ish of ham (that I diced) – I didn’t have pepperoni, which would have been my first choice
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes
  • A sprinkle of pepitas
  • A sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley

It was DELICIOUS, warm and satisfying!!!  It really did taste like pizza…..AND it kept me full until about 5:00 p.m.  Who could ask for anything more?

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner is my niece Ashley’s favorite meal of the year and my second-favorite meal of the year.  Enjoying it yesterday was an excellent reminder of why we love this meal so much.

My sister – Laura – offered to host Thanksgiving dinner this year.  An interesting choice for someone who gets so stressed out about entertaining, but she did an amazing job!  The food was wonderful, the ambiance was festive yet relaxed, and the company couldn’t have been better!

As most families do, we have some family traditions when it comes to Thanksgiving foods – and they never disappoint; but we also try new things each year, which keeps the meal fresh and exciting.  This year was the perfect mix of standards and new introductions.

The standards:

  • Turkey & Gravy – It’s not always made by the same person every year.  This year, since my sister’s family hosted the meal, she (Laura) made the turkey.  It was really good….please understand, I do not really like turkey very much – I love chicken, but turkey doesn’t thrill me.  If I were a turkey lover, which I am not, I would probably say it was fantastic; but a rating of ‘really good’ from me when it comes to turkey is like a perfect score from someone else.  It was golden and juicy and flavorful – not a bit dry!

  • Mashed Potatoes – Laura’s Thanksgiving mashed potatoes do not fall into the low-fat category by any stretch of the imagination.  But they do fall into the delicious category!  If I could describe them with only three words, I would choose smooth, rich and decadent!
  • Stuffing – Or is it filling?  Or is it dressing?  I can’t tell you which category it officially falls into (I truly don’t think there is a formal distinction), but Laura’s Sausage & Cranberry Stuffing is out of sight!  It is moist and flavorful in the center of the pan and toward the edges of the pan it gets crispy and golden….what could be better than that?

  • Corn Pie – The recipe goes back quite a ways into our childhood and it is one of my favorite things about the Thanksgiving meal.  This year, in addition to the corn pie I also tried a new corn recipe (see below).  It was truly delicious, but I think – perhaps it’s tradition – I still like corn pie for this meal.

  • Laura’s Cranberry Sauce – My sister’s recipe – which I have never seen – is just the perfect cranberry sauce.  It’s quite tart and refreshing – in my opinion, it is just the right complement to all the heavy, fat laden side dishes that are typically served on Thanksgiving!
  • Jeff’s Cranberry Applesauce – Even though we have Laura’s Cranberry Sauce, Jeff makes this applesauce each year as a labor of love for Ashley. Each year he remembers how much she likes it, so he starts with fresh apples and lovingly turns them into a yummy side dish that is equally as good served warm or cold.  It is another light and refreshing offering that balances nicely with the other flavors in the meal.
  • Pumpkin Pie – My dad is not someone who bakes a lot.  In fact – unless I am mistaken – the only time he bakes during the year is Thanksgiving.  But based solely on his pumpkin pie you would swear he is a world-class baker!  The nut crust is absolutely incredible – flaky and rich…..mmm mmm mmm.  The filling is luscious – the perfect balance of pumpkin and spice with a hint of sweetness.  He makes one pie “with” and one ” without” every year. The with and without refers to the bourbon.  I usually have the “without,” but everyone who eats the “with” usually raves about it!

The New Introductions:

  • Gulliver’s Corn – I know it’s overkill with the Corn Pie, but I one of the Kitchen Shoppe visiting instructors, Diane Phillips, was telling me about the recipe and I was so intrigued I just had to give it a whirl.  She makes something called Gulliver’s Corn, which is quite rich and which my nieces agreed tasted kind of like macaroni and cheese. Although the more traditional part of me thinks Corn Pie belongs at Thanksgiving, this dish was delicious and I will definitely make Gulliver’s Corn for other meals.

  • Salad du jour – I’m not sure how salad fits into the Thanksgiving meal for other families, but for our family it’s usually a marginal player; however this year it was one of my favorite things!  My mom made a terrific salad – lettuce was the base, but it was topped with a huge array of fresh fruits, some cranberry chipotle cheese cubes, and toasted pepitas.  It had a light vinaigrette and was a great accompaniment to everything else on the buffet.

I think over the years my sister has convinced herself that she’s not good at entertaining, but she actually is!  We had a great tasting and great looking meal, a nice selection of drinks – from wine and beer to a new chocolate bourbon, lively conversation, a break between dinner and dessert, some family game time, a chance to spend time catching up with family, and even a little Big Bang Theory!  If you ask me Laura was only missing one thing yesterday – confidence in her own ability!  Remember, entertaining is not a competition – if it is you are hosting the wrong people – and in my Entertaining Survival Guide I recommend that as the entertainer you should do the best YOU can do!

Happy Birthday, Robbin!

Last night Jeff and I were so fortunate to celebrate our friend Robbin’s birthday with her and her husband, Matt.  We went on an adventure to the Cameron/Masland Mansion at Kings Gap for the Friends of Kings Gap Music on the Mountain – Evening of Jazz.

Perhaps you’ve been to Kings Gap State Park.  For me it was the first trip, but definitely not the last.  I cannot wait to go back for a hike, to view their gardens (which are maintained by Friends of Kings Gap Volunteers and Penn State Master Gardeners in Cumberland County) and/or for a tour of the parts of the mansion we didn’t see this time.

We made our trip in the dark and didn’t get to experience the full beauty of all the park has to offer – Kings Gap State Park boasts a panoramic view of the Cumberland Valley, has 16 hiking trails, many environmental programs, and encompasses over 2,500 acres of forest on South Mountain.  But the drive up to the mansion was incredible.  The four of us agreed that it would be a great setting for a spooky Halloween ride!  The long, winding road to the top of the mountain is thickly wooded and as you drive the dark road you expect to see all kinds of glowing eyes staring at you!

We made it to the top of the mountain unscathed and ready for some great music.  We were warmly greeted and acclimated to the rooms we’d be enjoying for the evening.  There was a bar with several wine and soft drink offerings and a buffet of both savory and sweet offerings. We each ordered a glass of wine and we found a table with a nice view of the “stage” for the evening and easy access to the refreshments.

The music was played by the Steve Rudolph Trio.  If you’ve spent any time at the Hilton in Harrisburg  you may recognize the name.  Steve Rudolph presented live jazz at the Hilton from 1990 through 2012.  Unfortunately, since the hotel was recently sold, it looks like that great tradition will not continue.  The trio was exceptional, playing some ballads and some livelier numbers – most with an introduction from Steve.  I left wondering if all bass players have to make faces in order to play well!!!!

The buffet included many cheeses, fruit, vegetables, some savory appetizers (one of which was cabbage strudel, which was a nostalgic treat for me – my grandmother used to make cabbage strudel a few times a year and when she did it was a big deal), several dessert offerings, and hot beverages.

 

Jeff and I always enjoy spending time with Matt and Robbin – whether it’s at a church event, a baseball game, or an event like last evening in great company in a beautiful setting with terrific music, good food and a glass of wine.  We are honored to have been invited to celebrate with them and are glad to have learned about a great state park to which we will surely return for hiking, kayaking, to explore the gardens and to attend future events.  Perhaps the next trip will be in just a few weeks.

The Friends of Kings Gap offers two dates for Holiday Open House where you can listen to seasonal music, enjoy light refreshments, and take a self-guided tour of the stone “villa” known as the Cameron/Masland Mansion.  The dates are December 2, 2012 and December 9, 2012. So if you’re looking for a new way to begin the holiday season, I’d recommend a trip to the mansion at Kings Gap State Park.

Happy Birthday, Robbin – I think we received the gift!

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/

Noun:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

On Wednesday evening I was in my office paging through a book entitled, The Cake Bible (those of you who read my post What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1 will understand why) when another book on the shelf caught my eye – Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti.  Jeff and I are hosting a dinner party on December 1st; so we’ve been planning the menu and other details.  When I saw Four-Star Desserts, I thought I’d browse through it to see if includes any recipes that would be a welcome addition to the dinner party menu; but what I found was even better than the best dessert for December 1st.

I found a recipe for which I’ve been searching for 5 years or more!  When we still lived in our old house, I made a cake that I really liked and wanted to make it again; but I could not for the life of me remember which cookbook it was from.  And when your cookbook collection numbers over 200, it is difficult to just thumb through them all in search of one recipe.  Every now and again, I am reminded of this cake and I look at a few books hoping to find the recipe – always to no avail and great frustration.  In fact, I’m sure I reach for the same books over and over hoping to be successful in my search. What was that definition of insanity again?

But on Wednesday – when I wasn’t looking for the recipe – it just appeared to me, presented as a gift from the cake gods!  So it must be time to make it again!

This is a great cake to make when you are entertaining people who are watching calories.  Of course, it IS cake; so it isn’t a diet dish.  But it is one of those cakes that you don’t have to say, “just a sliver” when it’s being cut!

The recipe says it can be made several days ahead and stored wrapped in plastic at room temperature, but it was best on the first day.  Fortunately it’s so good I don’t think it will last too long!

Espresso Chocolate Chip Angel Food Cake from Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/3 cup cake flour (sifted)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cup egg whites (about 12 large eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon freshley squeezed lemon joice
  • 3/4 cups chocolate chips (coarsely chopped)

Note

Recipe from the book "Four-Star Desserts" by Emily Luchetti

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together the espresso powder, cake flour, and the salt. Set aside.
3. Put the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase to high speed and slowly pour in the sugar. Continue whipping until the whites are stiff but still shiny, about 3 minutes.
4. Reduce to low speed and add the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Add the reserved flour mixture. When the flour mixture is almost completely incorporated, remove the bowl from the machine and fold in the chocolate chips. Make sure that the chocolate chips are spread throughout the batter and that the flour is evenly mixed into the egg whites. Do not overmix.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and cut through it a few times with a dull knife to break up any air pockets.
6. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Invert the cake on a rack and let it cool upside down in the pan.
7. Unmold the cake and slice it with a serrated knife.

Hint: To prevent the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cake, mix the chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour before adding them to the batter.

If you make this cake, I hope you look back on finding this post as a serendipitous event!!!  Enjoy!

A Rare Treat

I had a rare treat on Tuesday….lunch with my husband on a weekday!  It wasn’t planned, which made it even better.

Jeff needed to pick up his car and asked if I could give him a ride.  As I was on the way to his office, I called him to let him know I’d be arriving soon. While on the phone, I teasingly asked if he’d be taking me to lunch as payment for the ride.  I was taken aback when he said, “yes!”  I expected him to reply with some sassy comment, putting me in my place for even suggesting that he had to pay for the ride!  Sometimes he knows how to render me speechless – not an easy feat!

On the remainder of the ride to his office, I thought about the different places we could go – some of our favorites…but as soon as he got into the car and I asked him if he had any ideas; he gave the exact right answer…Alvaro Bread and Pastry Shoppe.  Immediately my mouth started to water.  Everything there is homemade – bread, pasta, sauce, pastries, gelato…..oh, the possibilities were endless.

When we arrived I was comforted by the homey interior – exposed brick, terra cotta colored paint on the walls, and framed photos of the owners’ travels to Italy.  And the cases lined with pastries and cookies reminded me of trays of cookies at weddings in my family.  All lovingly made and beautifully decorated.  When we looked at the offerings of the day, I immediately knew what I would be ordering.  Deciding took only as long as it took me to read the words, “tortellini with rolled eggplant.”  They had me hook, line and sinker!  As we waited in line to order I found myself muttering a silent prayer that they wouldn’t run out of the eggplant before I got to the counter!  You see, the folks at Alvaro’s make the best eggplant rollatini I’ve ever had.

The eggplant is sliced as thin as humanly possible, breaded so lightly you’d swear that angels blew the breadcrumbs onto the slices, and fried so gently.  The result is not greasy at all, but tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.  The base of the filling is the freshest ricotta you’ve ever tasted! Mmm mmm mmm!

The tortellini – of course, homemade – is fantastic.  The pasta is incredibly smooth and just thick enough that it doesn’t tear when it’s rolled into the tortellini shape.  The filling is light and flavorful.  And the sauce – oh, the sauce – is perfection!  It’s just the right combination of fresh tomato sauce and cream.  You’d expect it to be heavy, as many cream-based sauces are; but it is silky and light with fresh tomato flavor.  Jeff also ordered the tortellini, but he ordered the Italian sausage rather than the eggplant.  Normally I would ask for a taste, but I was so engrossed in my food – trying so hard to pace myself that I’d have some to take home – that by the time I thought to ask, he was finished!

It is almost impossible to leave Alvaro’s without some kind of sweet treat.  When you look into the cases lined with cakes and cookies and pastries and homemade gelato, you’d swear the dessert gnomes were whispering, “Try me, try me!”  But we steeled our resolve and left without dessert…..but not without a loaf of rosemary bread!

If you are looking for a warm, homemade, filling lunch – the kind after which you probably need a nap – I’d give Alvaro’s Bread and Pastry Shoppe 6 forks out of 5!!!!  And no, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes or my math!!!

Leftovers

Unlike many people, I like leftovers – especially when the meal the night before was wonderful. I know this is going to sound strange, but my favorite meal of the year is Christmas morning – leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner!  But when I have a day where time won’t allow me to cook, I RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY appreciate leftovers.

Today is one of those days.  Not only was the day busy, but I’ll be at my Bible study this evening so dinner is either leftovers, fast food, or something way too late in the day.  And today is one of those lucky days where the leftovers are from a wonderful meal – stuffed shells.

Jeff and I worked together to make them and they turned out great.  The filling included: ricotta cheese, spinach from our garden, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and some sauteed onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

When we make a dish that requires tomato sauce, I am so glad that Jeff roasts and cans tomatoes when they are plentiful in the garden!  We sauteed onions, carrots, green peppers, zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes until they were soft, added some tomato paste, and cooked it until it had a chance to caramelize.  We then whizzed it up in the food processor (allowing it to remain a bit chunky) and added it to a jar of Jeff’s roasted summer tomatoes.  Finally we added some fresh oregano and parsley and the juice and zest of one lemon and allowed it to cook until all the flavors melded together. Mmm mmm mmm!

While the sauce cooked, we cooked the pasta and filled a pastry bag with the filling.  Although you can fill the shells using a spoon, I find using a pastry bag to be more efficient and less messy. I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and filled the shells, nestling them tightly in the dish.  When all the shells were filled, I topped them with sauce and then some parmesan and mozzarella.

 

The finished product was a warm, gooey, delicious pasta treat with a summer-fresh tomato sauce.  It was great the first night and I’m sure it will be even better tonight!!!!

Pizza: Conventional and Unconventional

I LOVE PIZZA!  And I don’t really trust people who don’t like pizza – I mean, what’s not to like?  Bread, tomatoes, cheese….mmmmmmm! I know there are people who can’t eat pizza for health reasons and they are exempt from my mistrust – mainly because if they could eat it, they would.

I like pizza shop pizza (particularly JoJo’s Pizza and Al’s of Hampden (they also offer a great selection of craft beers)) and frozen pizza – SOME frozen pizza; but I especially love pizza we make at home.  I usually call it “Jeff’s pizza,” but the truth is we collaborate.  The dough is all him!  Over many years he has finessed a recipe he received from a good friend of ours – I didn’t even ask him if I could share it because I’m fairly certain the answer would be “no.”

The toppings are where the collaboration happens.  Typically the ingredients we have in the house dictate the kind of pizza we end up making.  We’ve made conventional pizza with just sauce, mozzarella and traditional toppings; and we’ve made many unconventional pizzas – including some ideas we’ve gotten from recipe books and some made from our creative energies, such as:

  • Coney Island – chili instead of sauce, cheddar cheese and sliced hot dogs topped after cooking with yellow mustard and chopped onions
  • White pizza – sometimes with ricotta and sometimes without it, some creamy and others on the drier side
  • Chopped salad topped pizza (without sauce)
  • White sauce, asparagus, pancetta and fried egg
  • Caramelized onion with all kinds of different cheeses and chopped nuts
  • Etc.

Last night we went conventional and unconventional. We made a pepperoni pizza and a caramelized onion and goat cheese pizza.  The following is a photographic walk through the process:

Pizza dough just after being punched down.  Look at the air bubbles.  The dough may look like it’s too wet, but it is actually just right!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaping the Pizza. We don’t worry if the pizzas don’t come out perfectly round.  They taste great no matter the shape!

 

Topping the Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Pizza.  The toppings included a brush of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the dough, a tiny bit of mozzarella cheese to help the ingredients stick to the pizza, caramelized onions, chopped prosciutto, goat cheese and a tiny bit of mozzarella on the top to hold everything together!  Jeff wanted a few pepperoncini rings and I didn’t so we put them on half!

Topping the Pepperoni Pizza.  The toppings included Don Pepino Pizza Sauce (a good choice if you don’t have the time to make your own), pepperoni (as you can see Jeff had a serious hankerin’ for pepperoni), mozzarella, and dried oregano.

The Finished Products!

Not all our creations are delicious – sometimes we flop; but we always have fun when we make pizza.  It’s a chance to create together and to enjoy our labor of love.  One day we’ll have a brick oven for our pizza and will be able to make more than one at a time – that will make it easier when we make pizza for company.

My remaining pizza challenge is to recreate a white pizza my grandmother used to make.  It was an incredibly tasty dough topped very simply with olive oil, cracked black pepper and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  The pizza was not thin crust, but it was not as thick as a Sicilian style.  I have my mom on the lookout for the recipe……once I master it, I’ll definitely let you know!

In the meantime, let me know your favorite pizza toppings!  I always love to hear what other people like to eat.

Monday Monday

What a glorious day we had on Monday! We set out for Big Valley at about 8:15 a.m. with our good friend Ron O; unfortunately we had to turn around after discovering that both Jeff and I thought the other had grabbed the camera bag – typical married couple stuff!  Anyway, once we picked up the camera, we were set!  We decided to take the back roads and meander our way through the glorious orange, yellow, gold and rust leaf-covered trees.  While we drove, we talked about a million things – catching up like friends do.  We stopped to take some photos at an abandoned mill and the devilish part of me looked for secret ways into the building, but alas Ron kept me in check.

We arrived in the valley and headed for the Erhard’s home.  Denny and Sue are friends of Ron’s who also happen to go to our church, but whom Jeff and I have not yet met.  They graciously hosted us for the day.  I will tell you for certain that Ron really knows how to live!  When we arrived at the Denny and Sue’s home we were greeted warmly and graciously treated to a home cooked breakfast of a wonderful egg and sausage soufflé-like casserole (had we not forgotten the camera it would have been puffier, but it could not have been more delicious), sweet watermelon, pumpkin cinnamon rolls and some very scrumptious biscuit like rolls from one of the stops we’d be making later in the day.  Sue is a wonderful cook, a warm and generous hostess and she is a whimsical jam-maker.  The one we were served was entitled “Traffic Jam,” which was an end of the season mixed berry jam that was quite delicious!

After breakfast, Sue acted as our tour guide around the valley in which she grew up.  We heard stories about how and where she met Denny; about her mother – who I wish I could have met before she passed – who was the post-mistress in Allenville, among other pursuits; about growing up in the valley; and many other great tales!  We visited produce stands and Amish farms where Sue buys baked goods.  We visited an Amish furniture shop and Peight’s Store where we found many things to buy including deli meats and cheeses at fantastic prices and spices and soup mixes recommended by Sue.

We stopped several times to take pictures of an assortment of things including pumpkins and gourds, farm equipment, cats and cows (not together), changing leaves, wash lines (Monday is wash day), Amish farmers plowing their fields, Amish children returning home from school, and the general beauty of the valley.  As we rode around we bemoaned the fact that we did not have enough time to see all that we wanted to in one day. But in the short time we had, I learned that Sue and I, although we have some stylistic differences, share much in common.  We both love to cook, eat and entertain, we both love to write and we both love to read.  We talked with one another about our favorite recipes, and our cooking styles.

When we returned to Sue’s house after our adventure in the valley she served us another incredible meal.  It was like a chicken pot pie only better.  It was warm and creamy and served over what looked like crackers, but were actually pieces of cooked pie dough (what a great idea).  The side dishes were peas, a wonderful cranberry jello-ish salad, and a homey salad with warm bacon dressing that was not at all like the cliché bacon dressing you sometimes get on a buffet.  Instead it was warm and light and delish!  The final culinary straw was a triple chocolate cake with a gooey glaze that would only have been better had it been calorie free!

All in all, the day was a huge success.  We roamed the beautiful countryside in excellent weather, ate incredible home-made food  in a warm and inviting atmosphere, and made some terrific new friends!  The only thing missing from the day was Ron’s lovely wife, Leslie – unfortunately she had to work, but someone has to bring home the bacon for warm bacon dressing!!!

Click here to view more of the photos from the day!

A Labor of Love for My Love

I am lucky to be married to a man who knows how to cook, clean and iron his own shirts.  He’s quite self-sufficient.  In fact, if it weren’t for trouble matching his clothes and folding a fitted sheet, he probably wouldn’t need me at all.

Over the years, we have learned numerous things from one another – not from any formal lessons, but as couples do – simply from being around one another for enough time. For example, I have learned to put the toilet paper roll on the holder the “right way,” the first 15ish steps of troubleshooting my computer before asking him (an IT guy) for help, how to change a ceiling light fixture, and that you can enjoy a Phils game IF you sit in the good seats!  He has learned how to wrap a gift without 1,000 wrinkles and 1,000,000 pieces of tape, that a crock pot (or anything with a cord) is not a gift unless expressly requested by the receiver, that some towels are just for show, and that you don’t have to follow a recipe to the letter for it to turn out well!

From the beginning, we’ve shared household chores in a non-traditional way.  He enjoys coupon clipping and grocery shopping, but has allergies.  So until a few years ago, he did all the grocery shopping and I cut the grass.  When we both worked full-time, he made dinner as often as I did (ok, maybe he still does) and we shared cleaning responsibilities (ok, maybe we still do).  It’s a balance that may make other couples scratch their heads; but it works for us.

With all that said, it’s unusual for Jeff to ask for something.  But when we returned from vacation he began hinting that he’d like me to make a peach pie.  So I put it on my To Do list.  The hinting started getting less subtle, so yesterday – with the last of the peaches – I surprised him with a peach pie.

I must be honest and admit that making pies intimidates me, and not for the reason you may think.  I have no trouble making pie crust.  It doesn’t scare me in the least.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m pretty good at it.  It’s the fruit fillings that get me every time!

In the past, no matter what I’ve tried – flour, cornstarch, tapioca – my fillings have always slid out of the pie with the first cut.  I had some seriously bad pie mojo.  But all that changed on vacation.  We got some really yummy peaches at a farm stand on the way to the OBX so I couldn’t resist attempting to bake a pie.  I googled ‘peach pie’ and looked at several recipes.  I decided on one entitled ‘Peach Pie the Old Fashioned Two-Crust Way’ from allrecipes.com.

The recipe worked like a charm and my bad pie mojo lifted!  I think I learned a few things about my sad pies of the past.  Here’s what I did differently this time:

  • I used room temperature peaches.  In the past I am fairly sure I used fruit from the fridge.  I don’t know exactly why I think this has an impact, but drawing on tidbits I’ve learned over the years, I know many recipes call for room temp ingredients (except when making a good pastry).
  • I mixed the filling about 30 minutes prior to filling the pie, which gave everything a chance to meld, the peaches a chance to juice and the flour a chance to begin absorbing that juice.
  • I waited until it was fully cooled before cutting it.  When I made my pie on vacation I had an easy distraction – the beach.  I made it in the morning and then we headed off for a full day at the beach and the pie had a chance to rest.  Yesterday, I made the pie in the afternoon and then went to my Bible study group and Jeff worked his part-time job – so again, the pie had time to fully cool.

When I got home from church last night, I texted Jeff a picture of the pie and this is how the remainder of the text exchange went:

JEFF: What is that?
ME:     What do you think it is?
JEFF: Pie!!
ME:     it IS pie
JEFF: But what kind
ME:     What do you hope it is?
JEFF: Peach
ME:     Yep
JEFF: !!!
JEFF: Are you sharing?
ME:    The question is are YOU sharing?  I made it for you!
JEFF: I’ll share it with you

As I disclosed earlier, Jeff is very self-sufficient so it is nice to be able to do something for him that makes him happy and is unexpected.  I was amazed at his restraint….he came home from work and did not have a piece of pie.  And he didn’t even have one for breakfast with his morning coffee.  He did, however, cut a “small piece” to take for lunch so that he could have another piece this evening.  It is true what they say, the way to a man’s heart (or at least my man’s heart) is through his stomach!

PS.  In case you were wondering, it is incredibly difficult to cut a piece of pie and pour a hot cup of coffee so that you can get some good photos and NOT indulge!

 

Forecast Last Week: Chilly, Chili & Chile

This past week was a busy one….I guess most of us could start a sentence that way. We live in a fast-paced world where cramming one more think into our already over-crowded schedules is expected.  That’s why I am happy the weather has taken a turn toward the chilly.  It seems like when that happens people I start slowing my pace to a more sustainable one.

It’s crazy to say, but Jeff and I only had dinner together two evenings of the last seven.  One was last evening when I made a quick “kitchen sink” pasta. It’s a concept we use to clean out the fridge and, in this case, use up the last of the produce from the garden.  The other dinner together is one I’ll write more about below, but first let me give you a run down of the rest of the week:

  • Monday: write for blog, work on the blog; do some HR consulting work; Me, Myself and Lies Bible study; ride with Jeff to BWI Airport to pick up his parents (we left at 10:30 pm and got home around 3:30 am Tuesday)
  • Tuesday: sleep in a bit to recover from last night; read for Bible study; work on the blog – test and photograph recipes; prep for consulting meeting tomorrow; laundry; walk.
  • Wednesday: consulting meeting; doctor appointment; grocery shop; make chili; dinner with Jeff; write for blog; small group meeting.
  • Thursday: drive mom to doctor appointment in Hershey – wait, wait, wait with Mrs. M (a nice time to catch up!); lunch at Hershey Pantry; shopping; recipe test for baking contest; write for blog; read, read, read for Bible study and some fiction.
  • Friday: make lunch to take to Jeff; have lunch with Jeff; afternoon meeting; laundry; photos for blog; tres bonne annee wine tasting – The Wines of Chile; “dinner” with Ben, Christa & Jeff
  • Saturday: work at Kitchen Shoppe’s Italian Soups and Breads class; final recipe test and photos for baking contest; upload and organize photos from digital camera; read for Bible study; make dinner for me (Jeff was working the homecoming dance); fall into bed after midnight.
  • Sunday: church (a much-needed time of praise and reconnection); work at Kitchen Shoppe’s fundraiser for the Bosler Library in Carlisle, PA; read some fiction; finally connect with Jeff; make dinner; eat together; mindless t.v.; early to bed!

I know there are many of you who add kids activities to this already crowded schedule so I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes I have to remind myself how much I actually have in my schedule so I understand why some things slide!!! Typically there’s exercise in the schedule too, but I’ve been having a problem with my left foot (No, not the movie) and I’ve been instructed to stay off it for a few days!  Which to me only means I have to stop “organized” exercise, not the rest of the activities I do each day.

So, back to the chili.  I had a two-pound piece of sirloin in the fridge and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it; but with the brisk weather I got inspired to fiddle with a new chili recipe.  here’s what I came up with:

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Jeff picked some beautiful Roma tomatoes and Hungarian peppers from the garden and I thought both would be excellent additions to this dish.  I started by halving the tomatoes, placing them cut-side up on a baking sheet and drizzling with olive oil.  I sprinkled them with kosher salt, ground black pepper, brown sugar and red pepper flakes and roasted them in a preheated 350 degree oven until they were caramelized (40 – 60 minutes depending on the size of the tomatoes).  After they cooled enough so that I could handle them, I slid the skins off each tomato half.

While the tomatoes were roasting, I turned my attention to the sirloin.  I cut it into 1 1/2 inch cubes and tossed them in a bowl with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, 4 tsp. yellow corn meal (which will help to give a nice crust to the meat and later thicken the chili), 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder until all the meat cubes were well coated.  I heated 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a dutch oven on the stove top and browned the meat in three batches – removing all the meat to a plate when browned.

In the same dutch oven, which now had gloriously browned bits from the meat on the bottom, I added 3 cups diced Spanish onion, 3 diced Hungarian peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.  I cooked the veggies, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until the onions were translucent and the water evaporated.  I added garlic to the pan and cooked, stirring, for one minute more.

I then added to the onion mixture, the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin.  I cooked  the tomato paste and spices with the veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.  I then added the browned meat, 3 cups chicken broth, the roasted tomatoes (skins removed) and 1 can each drained and rinsed black beans and red beans.  I brought it all to a boil, lowered the heat to medium low and simmered for 30 minutes.  Of course, the longer you simmer, the better and the chili is even better if it sits over night in the fridge and is reheated – it gives all the flavors time to meld together.

I served the chili over rice and it was a warm, spicy and delicious treat for a chilly day!

Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili

Serves 6 - 10
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish, Soup
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Hot

Ingredients

  • 20 Roma tomatoes (fresh from the garden is best!)
  • olive oil to drizzle
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • .5 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (for browning meat)
  • 2lb sirloin steak (cut into 1.5 inch cubes~)
  • 4 teaspoons yellow corn meal
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder (divided)
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder (divided)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (divided)
  • 3 cups Spanish onion (diced)
  • 3 Hungarian peppers (diced)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 3 thin slices tomato paste
  • .5 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 3 cups chicken broth ((I prefer low sodium))
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can red beans (drained and rinsed)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

Roasting Tomatoes
1. Cut Roma tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a greased half sheet pan.
2. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. pepper, 2 Tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes.
3. Place in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for 40 - 60 minutes until caramelized.
4. Allow to cool and remove skins.
The skins can be removed ahead of time using in boiling water, but I find this way less time-consuming and just as easy and it doesn't result in somewhat gritty or mealy tomatoes.
Browning Meat
5. Place the cubed sirloin, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper, 4 tsp. cornmeal, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon and 1 tsp. cocoa powder in a large bowl and toss well to coat.
6. In a heavy bottom dutch oven, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add 1/3 of the meat and cook over medium high heat, browning on all sides.
7. Remove browned meat and repeat with the remaining meat until all meat is browned and removed to a bowl.
Cooking Veggies
8. Using the same pan in which you browned the meat (which should have nice brown bits on the bottom), add the onion, peppers and 1 cup of water to deglaze the pan.
9. Stirring frequently, cook over medium high heat until water evaporates and onions are translucent - about 10 minutes.
10. Add garlic to the pan and cook, stirring for one minute more.
Making Sauce
11. Add the tomato paste, 1 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. cocoa powder and 1 Tbsp. cumin to the pan and cook with veggies to caramelize for about 2 minutes.
12. Add browned meat back into pan.
13. Add chicken broth, roasted tomatoes and beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low (low if you have particularly hot burners) and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
The Finished Product
14. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Food Quirks

I was thinking about food quirks today….you know, the weird rituals we have around food or the strange combination of things we like.  I am always interested to hear about other people’s food quirks – maybe in part because they make me feel a little less weird!

Jeff would say I have many, but I think there are only two that are really strange.

(1) The way I eat m&m’s.  I pair them by color and then eat one pair at a time, chewing one on the right side and one on the left side.  When you get to the end of the bag or the handful, if there are an odd number of a certain color, then there are acceptable pairs of colors you can eat together.  Brown goes with orange or yellow.  Green goes with blue or yellow. Red goes with brown or blue (or orange in a pinch).  Definitely no red with green.  I have no idea where this started or why, but I prefer to think of it as a sign of genius!

(2) Brownies (or other chocolate such as Oreos) and Ketchup.  It’s a sweet and salty thing, like chocolate covered pretzels.  OK, maybe not really like that, but you get the idea.  It all started when I was growing up.  When my sister and I went grocery shopping with my mom (which was weekly I believe until my sister started to drive) we were allowed to get a Swanson’s T.V. Dinner and that night we were actually allowed to eat it in front of the t.v. on a t.v. tray – you know the old rickety ones with the “gold” metal legs that snapped into the top.  OK – so you all know about how old I am now!  Anyway, I digress…..So I ALWAYS picked the Salisbury Steak in Tomato Sauce that came with tater tots, green beans and a brownie.  Every time, without fail I ate the green beans first to get rid of them.  Then I ate the “steak”, then the tater tots and finally I got to the brownie.  If you’ve ever had a Swanson’s t.v. dinner you know that whatever sauce or gravy was on the entrée always cooked over into the dessert.  But I was not about to let that stop me from eating my brownie.  So I trudged on and now the combination of chocolate and tomato brings back memories.

If I think about it, there are others…..with the exception of t.v. dinners I was never a person who ate all of one thing, then all of the next thing; however, I do try to do a sort of round robin thing so that I get finished with everything at approximately the same time.  I also went through a phase where I would dip my pizza crust into soda – although it was short-lived, it was a pretty strong one at the time.

I don’t know too much about Jeff’s rituals (I know he must have them, he just doesn’t share them); but I do know some of the strange combinations of things he eats.  He sometimes puts peanut butter on a cheeseburger.  He slathers his New Years Day pork, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes (which all go in an unappetizing heap in the middle of the plate) with ketchup and he puts raw onions and ketchup in the soupy kind of chicken pot pie.

And my sister has a weird way of eating pudding.  She makes a stripe from the “top” of the bowl to the “bottom” of the bowl in the center.  Then she makes another stripe to the left of the center stripe and one more to the right.  She repeats that until she reaches the outside of the bowl and then she turns the bowl a quarter turn and repeats until all the pudding is gone.

After I wrote up to this point, I did a Google search for “food rituals” and found that many, many folks have blogged about this topic – some like me for the entertainment value.  But others in a more serious way.  For most of us these rituals are nothing more than funny quirks, but for some they can be signs of or can morph into eating disorders or OCD, which aren’t funny at all.  So please, if you are a praying person, pray for those folks who have moved past rituals into compulsions.

Those who were writing from a curiosity or entertainment perspective included examples of how they or people they know eat a wide variety of foods – everything from m&m’s like me to baked potatoes, Bugles, BBQ, animal crackers, grilled cheese sandwiches, olives, donuts, etc.

It makes me wonder if I’ve been eating those things “wrong” for my whole life.  Well, I’ll worry about that another day.  In the mean time, let me know if you have any strange food quirks!

Camaraderie – Shopping, Sophia’s, Etc.

I had a GREAT day today.  Looking in from the outside, you may look at my day and ask, “Why in the world would anyone say THIS was a great day?”  But from the minute I woke up, things were wonderful!

My day began early, but with a cup of coffee that was like solace in a steaming mug.  Typically Jeff makes the coffee in the morning because he makes much better coffee than I do; however this morning I was up first and sprinkled a light dusting of cinnamon into the ground coffee before I brewed it.  Ooh, how I love this – the smell, the taste……who can complain?

My dear friend Holly picked me up at my house and we met my mom at our rendezvous point and then shopped for wall art at a local outlet that is only open to the public every 6 weeks.  We had fun going through dusty boxes of pictures and mirrors and finding treasures for our walls.  It was a good example of teamwork – we picked things for each other, guarded the single cart we had to fight for, and acted as the voice of reason for one another. It’s funny how much relating you do when you’re shopping!  You tell stories, learn about one another’s tastes, and catch up on current happenings.

Sophia's on Market

Photo from Sophia’s on Market website.

After shopping we headed to Sophia’s on Market in Camp Hill for coffee and a snack. When we arrived we collectively decided that the shopping had made us hungry and we’d have lunch instead.  Oh darn, I had no choice but to order one of my many favorite sandwiches!

I chose the Marinated Roast Beef on French Baguette. Mmm mmm mmm.  The baguette is warmed slightly (not toasted) and brushed with mayo (which mixes nicely with the marinade to make the sandwich a little messy – but in a good way). The sandwich is topped with red onion, dark leaf lettuce and melted provolone. For my choice of a side dish I decided on the creamy potato salad.  It is one of my all time favorite potato salads except for consistently being under-salted in my opinion.

As difficult as it was for me, I saved half my sandwich for Jeff, who was at home mowing grass and aerating the yard.  AND as much as I wanted one, I didn’t order a Grammy’s Chocolate Cookie.  They are hands-down my favorite cookie.  They are fudgey and although they are well-baked, they remind me of eating the thick, chocolately batter right out of the bowl.  They are topped with sugar crystals and are just the right texture to dip into a cup of coffee.

I had chance meetings with two former classmates from my Leadership Harrisburg Area – Community Leadership Series class today – one while shopping and one at Sophia’s.  I hadn’t talked to either of them since graduation last May so it was nice to catch up and to be reminded of the fun we had learning and growing together. Our class – the best class – was composed of amazing individuals desiring to be servant leaders in their communities.  What a treat is was to see Andrew and Beth.

After lunch, I returned home to shampoo the carpets in the house, spend a little time in the yard with Jeff, and do some reading.  While cleaning is not on my list of favorite activities, the moment of joy I experience when I stand back to look at a completed job is!

My day was filled with reminders of the varied relationships I am fortunate to participate in.  And, as Gary Smalley says, “Life is relationships; the rest is just details.”  I do not lead the world’s most exciting life; but I am leading a life that makes me smile. I am blessed with acquaintances, friends and family with whom I can shop, dine, learn, labor, cook, eat and entertain!

*If you are reading this, Tracey H., thanks to you I finally learned how to spell camaraderie!!!!

Suppli and Salad

Yesterday was a dreary day, but it gave me a chance to snuggle up with a soft blanket and some favorite cookbooks.  I was looking for inspiration for dinner and feeding my soul at the same time.

I decided I would make Suppli (cheese-stuffed rice croquettes) last night, but God and Kissy had other plans.  We had to take our girl to the emergency vet, where she stayed overnight.  That meant little sleep for us as we waited for updates on her condition.  Apparently, she ate well on vacation too – unfortunately it was from the trash.  She ate some corn cobs, which then got “stuck” in her system.

After talking to the ER vet, we resigned ourselves to the fact that Kissy would either have emergency surgery last night or, best case scenario, they’d be able to stabilize her over night and our regular vet would do the surgery today.  Again, God had other plans.  Many friends prayed for our little Kissy and this morning after we transported her from the emergency vet to our regular vet, we found that our regular vet thought a conservative approach was best.

You see, Kissy’s had a difficult life medically speaking.  We rescued her a little over a year ago and prior to us getting her she had several surgeries – for eye issues, thyroid problems, broken legs, etc.  Because of all these things and because the fluids the ER vet administered over night perked Kissy up, our vet decided surgery would only be a last resort.

They continued to administer fluids, gave Kissy some pain meds and watched her closely today with periodic x-rays to see if/how the corn cobs were “progressing” through her system.  Although Kissy isn’t out of the woods yet, she is at home tonight – with many meds.  We will watch her closely over night and will begin feeding her small meals in the morning and pray she continues to improve.

I know, you’re waiting for me to connect this to comfort food.  Never fear…..After very little sleep last night, much praying (and a little worrying) both last night and today, and an early start this morning to get Kissy from one vet to the other; Jeff and I needed some comfort food.  My mind immediately goes to mac and cheese when I think comfort food, but I thought I’d make the suppli that were on my mind yesterday.  And I’m glad I did.

I adapted a recipe from the food of italy: a journey for food lovers. Making suppli requires first making risotto, which is a mesmerizing process.  The ingredients are quite simple:

Suppli Ingredients 1

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cups chicken stock (not pictured), heated in a separate saucepan

AND

Suppli Ingredients 2

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
15 mini mozzarella balls (approximately 6 oz. of cheese)
1 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, with 2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed in
15 small basil leaves

To make the risotto:

  1. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan.
  2. Add onions and saute 4 – 5 minutes, until translucent.
  3. Add rice and toast for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and stir constantly until all the stock is absorbed by the rice.  Repeat until all the stock is added and risotto is creamy.  The entire process should take approximately 220 – 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, parsley and eggs – be careful to add the eggs slowly and stir vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs.
  6. Spread on a half sheet pan and cool completely.

To make the suppli:

  1. Heat enough canola oil in a heavy saucepan to cover the suppli when frying.  Heat oil to approximately 180 degrees F.
  2. Divide the risotto into 15 portions.  With damp hands, take one portion and form it into a ball in your hand.
  3. Make a hole in the ball with your index finger and insert a basil leaf and a mozzarella ball.  Cover the hole with rice so that you end up with an oval with the cheese in the middle.
  4. Roll the suppli in breadcrumbs and place on a platter.  Repeat to form all suppli before frying.
  5. Lower a few suppli gently into the hot oil and cook for approximately four minutes – turning to brown evenly – until golden brown.
  6. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
  7. Serve hot.

I made a salad to go with the suppli.  I started with a nice spring mix and added grape tomatoes and peppers from the garden, a little feta cheese and a few toasted pepitas. I made a quick vinaigrette, dressed the salad and dinner was ready.

Suppli & Salad

The salad was crisp and refreshing and the suppli were warm and crunchy with creamy, oozy mozzarella seeping out of the center.  Mmm mmm mmmm! Now we’ve got our fingers and paws crossed that Kissy’s breakfast tomorrow morning is as comforting to her as tonight’s dinner was to us!

Just Peachy

Last week in the Outer Banks was terrific.  I truly can’t remember the last time I was so relaxed.  We let each day unfold like a surprise.  We had no plan, no itinerary, and no stress!

On our way home, just before we crossed from North Carolina into Virginia, we stopped at a roadside produce stand to pick up some late-summer peaches.  And boy are they good!  Jeff and I usually overdose on PA peaches in August; but this summer we just didn’t find any great peaches near home.  Fortunately, North Carolina not only delivered on a great vacation, but on great produce as well.

As a salute to vacation, I decided to bake today; which is funny since our fridge is bare. After scanning the contents, I decided to make a crostata – a rustic Italian tart.  But I wanted to amp it up a little so I added some brandy to the last of the blackberry syrup Jeff used to make a refreshing blackberry gin drink on vacation and I added a little bit of fresh thyme from the garden.

I used the 3/4 cup of blackberry syrup that remained and added to it 6 Tbsp of brandy and 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme.  I cooked it over medium low heat for 15 minutes, whisking frequently, until it reduced and became dark and thick.

While the syrup reduced, I made the dough.  This dough is a very simple recipe with just a few ingredients:

I pulsed the flour, salt, sugar, lemon zest and thyme in a food processor until just combined and then added the cold butter.  I pulsed the food processor until the butter incorporated into the flour mixture and resembled coarse crumbs.  I added the ice water a bit at a time until the dough began to hold together.

Then I turned the dough out onto a board, gathered it together, shaped it into a ball, flattened the ball into a disk, wrapped it in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for approximately 1 hour.

I rolled the cold dough into a rough 12-inch “circle” – remember this is a RUSTIC Italian tart –  and transferred it onto a parchment lined baking sheet.

I then topped the dough with the blackberry, brandy, and thyme reduction – kind of like you top a pizza crust with sauce.

I sliced two ripe, juicy peaches and arranged them on the crostata.  I folded the edges of the crostata toward the center – no need to be precise.  In my opinion, the more rustic looking, the better.

I brushed the crust with egg wash and sprinkled it with some white (I’m not quite sure why they call it white when it is really clear) sanding sugar and baked the crostata in a 400 degree oven for approximately 35 minutes.

The end result is a delightfully mouth-watering treat.

I rewarded myself with a piece of the crostata dusted lightly with powdered sugar and a steaming cup of Jeff’s yummy coffee.  I’d say my day is going to be just peachy!

Grateful

I spent the majority of the afternoon sitting in waiting rooms of doctors’ offices in central PA with Jeff, my husband who is not very good at telling me something is wrong until days after it begins!

Apparently he’s been seeing flashes of light in both eyes for “a few weeks” and has had a shadow on his left eye “for a few days.”  Mind you, he drove home most of the way from North Carolina on Saturday.  Of course, when he called his eye doctor today they wanted him to come in right away…enter me.  Fortunately, I was only a few blocks from his office when he called me to ask for a ride so that he wouldn’t have to drive with dilated pupils.

After the initial exam, the regular eye doctor sent Jeff to a retinal specialist across town.  So we got Jeff into his sunglasses, drove ALL THE WAY OVER THE RIVER, and waited for his next appointment.

Why am I writing about this on my food blog?  Well, as I was passing time in the waiting rooms I was reading a book by a friend of ours.  The book is entitled ‘Never Fall Down’ and was written by Patricia (Patty) McCormick.  The book is based on a true story of a boy in Cambodia in the 1970’s who survived the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. Over and over the book details the starvation of the children [and adults] in the camps – how they had so little to eat and scrounged for food – eating dirt and bugs and poisonous spiders and plants and, in some instances, the flesh and organs of recently killed humans.

No, I am not suggesting that we start scrounging for our food.  What I want to do is express my gratitude that I DO NOT HAVE TO.  I live in a country of abundance.  Most of the people I know never go hungry, unless it’s due to poor planning on their own part and even then I don’t think most people in America know what HUNGRY really is.

I am so grateful to God for providing for me and the people I know.  He has provided a terrific spouse, the means to make a good living, a beautiful home, wonderfully generous friends, and enough food for us to cook, eat and even entertain!  I feel so incredibly blessed not to have gone through any of the harrowing experiences that the characters in ‘Never Fall Down’ had to endure or unfortunately were unable to endure.  I’ve never wondered where my family is for extended periods of time, how we’ll survive, IF we’ll survive, or if we’ll be safe.

I am embarrassed to live in a culture that is full of people who have it SO good yet complain so much.  I am certainly not blameless when it comes to complaining that I don’t have enough; however when I look at things in a realistic light, I am fully aware of how richly blessed I have been.

I would encourage you, if you too are grateful to NOT know first hand what hungry really is to make a donation to your local food bank.  If you are in central PA, New Hope Ministries and Stop the Violence Ministry are excellent choices, but certainly not the only ones.

I am grateful to Patty for writing this story and for educating me and others about these historic events.  She is such a talented writer of young adult fiction and has met so many fascinating people who share their stories with her and trust her to tell them well.  She does not let them down.  If you get a chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. One of Patty’s earlier books – Sold – is being made into a movie. In fact, filming began in Nepal just last week.  I haven’t yet had the chance to read that book, but as soon as I take ‘Never Fall Down’ back to the library I will be bringing home ‘Sold.’

The outcome of Jeff’s appointments?  He apparently recently suffered a vitreous hemorrhage in his left eye and shows evidence of one in his right eye from some time ago.  The retinal specialist wants to see him again in three weeks to make sure he has no retinal tearing or detachment as a result of the hemorrhage.  But for now he’s on the mend.

Just one of MANY things for which I am grateful!!!!

Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

Time in the Kitchen

I love vacation!  I know, I am not alone in this, but I may be alone in one of the reasons why.  I love all the time in the kitchen.  Particularly when there is a crowd for which I can cook.

This week has given me the opportunity to make cinnamon rolls and peach pie – things I rarely make at home.

 

I just love the mixing and kneading – the smell of yeast and of buttery crust baking.  And there is a strange satisfaction when the dough rises – even though that is what is supposed to happen, it is a bit surprising each time the chemistry works.  I passed the waiting time by working on our group puzzle (1,000 pieces – a work in progress), enjoying some music in the cool evening breeze and reading a good Karen Kingsbury book.  That’s part of the joy of cooking for me too, the in-between time – like the pause in music or the negative space in art.

Yesterday was crabbing day.  Although I am not patient enough to wait for hours for the crabs, it was fun to take part in the beginning of the festivities.  It is interesting that you don’t need sophisticated equipment and surprising to me that crabs like chicken necks.  Having made many roasted chickens in my time, I’ve discarded a lot of chicken necks – now I wish I had saved them for this trip, in the freezer of course!  It is true what Tom Petty says; the wa-ai-ai-ting IS the hardest part!  Waiting for the slack in the line to tighten and then the anticipation of whether or not there is a crab on the end of the line is maddening.  But when you finally get one in the net the celebration is glorious.  Not glorious enough for me to stick it out – I went to the beach for several hours while the Felty’s toughed it out with the crabs.  They brought home 8 and cooked and meticulously cleaned them.  We will be adding the sweet meat to our crab cakes this evening……I am drooling just thinking about it. Crabbing brought me to the conclusion that if I had to catch my own food I would be extremely thin – maybe I am on to the next diet craze!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s also a well choreographed ballet going on in the kitchen with 6 adults, 3 kids and 2 dogs.  It’s not a big space, but somehow it is working well for us.  We’ve learned to dance around each other while we are cooking or cleaning up or pouring drinks or getting snacks.  The only misstep in the dance is Kissy, an adorable, lovable, extremely food-motivated golden retriever.  She is always underfoot when there is a possibility of food.  I believe her prayers go something like this, “God, please let them drop something.  Please, please, please, please let them drop something.  Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please let them drop something.  Amen!”

Vacation defined – an extended period of recreation, esp. one spent away from home.  Vacation defined by Jan – an extended period of recreation, esp. one spent in the kitchen!

Sea Food

Good Morning!

What an amazing morning…..Jeff and I got up early to catch the sunrise on the beach.  I am so lucky to be married to a man who understands that if I am going to get up early enough to see the sunrise I NEED to have some coffee with me.

Sitting on the beach is one of my favorite things in the world – I love hearing the sound of the waves and I marvel at how no two waves are alike – kind of like snowflakes!  I love the smell of the air and how if I stay long enough my lips taste salty.  It is no wonder people flock to the beach and come here for respite.  I can’t imagine being able to look at all this beauty and not attribute it to God!

And speaking of God, we were all grateful last night for the blessings we’ve been given.  We were sitting at the table enjoying a FANTASTIC meal and even better company.  Then after dinner we retired to the deck for drinks and to watch the night sky.

The menu last night was:

Felty cooked the steaks to perfection – a luscious medium rare.  The taters had a light coating of olive oil, salt and pepper and were in the oven for a good 90 minutes.  The outside was perfectly crisp and the inside was succulent and creamy…..mmmmmm……and the corn was sweet and hot……ahhh!

Oh, and it was capped off by a homemade pizzelle with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  Does life get any better than this?

I don’t know if it was especially good food, the spectacular company, or being by the sea – perhaps a combination of all three – but I can truly say it was a memorable meal – one of the best in a while.  I love that great sea food doesn’t have to be seafood!