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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Farmer's Market then Lunch - all before the Hurricane

A Saturday at the local Pine Bush Farmer's Market - well, not the whole day but about an hour. The theme was "Tomato Me Crazy" with a tomato contest for Best Tasting, Heavyweight, Most Perfect Visually and Weirdest which could be the strangest variety or appearance. It was my first time at a tomato contest so I wasn't sure what to expect.

The cherry tomatoes pictured above are (from top to bottom) Tumbling Tiger, Sun Gold and Yellow Pear varieties all grown by a local gardener. I was lucky enough to taste the Sun Gold and they won for Best Tasting. The fruit broke quickly under a bit of pressure in my mouth and squeezed a burst of juice that was like a bit of liquid sunshine.

The fruits looked simply succulent.

Bell peppers... so many options...

Picture perfect squash and more...

And tons and tons of tomatoes - ok, maybe just quarts and quarts.

One side effect of shopping at a Farmer's Market is incredibly hunger! Wonder if they have ever considered having a station where people can rinse, prepare fresh produce, cut up or peel or what ever has to be done then have a few tables for people to eat on the spot! Wouldn't that be a wonderful alternative to fast food?

For us, we went to a local restaurant and the closest thing I had to fresh produce was a mountain size salad with cubed turkey, bacon crumbles and sweet/tart craisins.
A crunchy loaf of Italian bread gently held a saucy, fried and tender chicken cutlet topped with stringy, melted mozzerella.

A grilled chicken wrap dripped with juices from fresh tomato, served with the crispest french fries... somehow we all ordered a little piece of the ingredients I bought at the market: tomatoes, mozzerella, bread.

That night, the storm came and Madame Irene did knock out our electric as expected. Once the wind and rain died down Sunday I was able to toast some bread on the grill, slice the tomatoes and mozzerella and have an incredible, fresh afternoon snack. We don't really rough it around here!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Name this Sausage and Clam Dish

A longtime fan of the Food Network, it took a little bit of charming until I was also addicted to the Cooking Channel. What I love are actual cooking shows (ok, I admit to liking some of the reality shows as well) but I started out with wanting to know the science from Alton Brown and seeing new dishes from Ina Garten and Giada and while I'm confessing, yes, 30 Minute Meals influenced my dinner table.

So, one night after a wonderful seafood filled vacation, I turned on the Cooking Channel and Kelsey Nixon was whipping up dishes inspired by her trip to Spain. One of them had clams and chorizo and so I was inspired and made some adaptations.

The strange part at the dinner table is my husband always wants to know 2 things when I serve a new meal:

1. What's this called?

2. Where did you get the recipe?

I often don't really have an answer since I simply go by memory and make changes I see fit. I have used our own names in dishes or places like Chicken Woodstock. Maybe you can help name this dish...

In a very large pot (think Paella friendly), I sauteed some mild white onion and green bell peppers with salt and pepper in olive oil.

Next, open an adult beverage of choice to quench thirst which will likely develop while cooking...

Add 4 slices chopped, cooked bacon and about 1 pound sliced sausage to the pot.

Once sausages are cooked through, add one diced tomato and about 1 cup chicken stock.

I then opened the spice cabinet and grabbed pinches and sprinkles of:

Garlic powder

Crushed red pepper

Black pepper

Old Bay


and 2 Bay Leaves

From the fridge - half a stick of butter

Scrub the clams

Add about 3 cups of clam juice

The freshly scrubbed clams

The juice of half of a large lemon plus the zest

Cover until the clams open (about 6 minutes or so)

on medium - high heat

I served the dish over rice with crusty bread - maybe you have other ideas.

Just let me know - what should the dish be named?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fed Well on Vacation

The family, the time together, the beach and yes, the food. Something special is sprinkled into the meals on vacation - breakfast is a bit slower and later blending with lunch, the foods that need a few extra minutes of time which one simply doesn't have when they are rushing off to work are enjoyed. One of the first meals I shared with my son on vacation was a late breakfast, as we arrived too early to pick up our keys and decided eating was a wonderful and appropriate activity since we were both starving from leaving early with little food in our bellies.

I ordered the Eggs Florentine. A base of toasted English Muffin, topped with sliced tomatoes and sauteed spinach with a perfectly luscious poached egg. Crisp yet tender center breakfast potatoes on the side with a small slice of fresh, ripe and sweet watermelon made a fairly balanced plate.

I watched as a nearby table received a fruit plate and though I was relatively full, felt we could certainly share more of the sweet and succulent fruit. We did our best. The tender flesh of the melons yielded their juice with the slightest pressure and the berries though sweet were firm and burst on the tongue.

The next memorable meal was not photographed at a seafood restaurant, but the memories remain. A thick, creamy and hearty New England Clam Chowder, a Clams Casino appetizer with crisp bacon, a main course of soft shell crab and I worried I would not be able to fit into my bathing suit the following day. The tastes, the textures, the laughs and stories we shared at the table... but we were not all together yet. A party of 6, it would be two more days until my sister would arrive with her sons.

We cooked a traditional family Sunday dinner the next day. Though the menu was not beach related, we dined on ham, macaroni and cheese, tossed salad, fresh corn on the cob and sat together around the large dining room table in our rented vacation house. Fed Well with food and life.

On the afternoon my sister arrived, we had a snack of fresh bruschetta made with her own garden tomatoes and basil over toasted Italian bread. Also for snacking were shrimp and a variety of chips and dips.

Later that day, we are all gathered and decide to try an Italian restaurant. The 9 of us have varied interests in all things, including the menu. The 2 young boys order quesadillas, 2 order the cannelloni stuffed with lobster and shrimp, 2 traditional veal parmesans, one chicken parmesan, a gyro pita, and I had the crab meat ravioli. Too full to order dessert, we walked it off later at the Wildwood Boardwalk.

In the rental agreement, we noticed the promise of a gas grill and subsequently planned to mix in some home cooking. Closer inspection of the grill revealed an empty propane tank and so the sirloin steaks my sister brought would have to instead by broiled. The meat was tender and flavorful accompanied by my version of red potatoes with green bell peppers and onion, other sides were pan fried mushrooms and onion with the final side of fresh from my sister's garden zucchini and squash.

Though my sister could not stay the entire week, we enjoyed eating the remaining fresh produce after admiring the colorful centerpiece.

Our final seafood dinner out was at Carmen's by the bay. We were able to watch boats come and go and feel the open bay breeze. It just so happened to be my birthday! Those of us who simply love seafood ordered the following meals and yes, we all offered the others a taste:

Designed as an appetizer, this full bowl of clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp, lobster tail and crab claw were in a buttery bath seasoned with perhaps a bit too much Oregano, but simply luxurious nonetheless.

Carmen's Seafood Spaghetti was actually Angel Hair pasta smothered in a full bodied tomato sauce, with split lobster tail and a number of fresh mussels.

Ever popular, simple and satisfying, crab legs served with drawn butter. Lip smacking, finger licking joy from the sea.

The vacation continued and I made homemade sauce with meatballs, sausage and the leftover sirloin with my mother-in-law one night. We ordered delivery pizza which we jazzed up with our own bell peppers with onions or the left over sausage (or simply ate plain) and yes, we indulged in the time honored birthday cake. Mine was from Carvel with the chocolate crunchies separating chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and the blue icing which can stain anything. Of course I blew out the candles and made a wish... but that's a secret.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hold the Stuffed Cabbage, please!

I am a planner. I arrive on time or early for appointments. I know what I like and the only time I will deviate is after careful deliberation, research, or an unexplainable change of heart.

Planning on having dinner with a good friend, she approached me about bringing her daughter and honestly, for a minute or two, I was worried. Would this greatly change the dynamic of the dinner? Would it be like the two friends who typically ride the see-saw at recess and when a third friend wants to join, she is forced to stand on the side, staring down at her shoes until one of the original friends gets off the ride? I offered to reschedule and allow the mother and home-for-a-quick-visit-from-college-daughter have the night for themselves. "No," my friend answered, "I want you both."

Well, I decided to speak directly and shared my concern about boring her daughter. After we talked it over, dinner was on, for 3.

At the restaurant, my friend and her daughter quickly decided on their meals. It took a moment for me to confirm my drink order - an unsweetened iced tea, my friend had the same and her daughter, an iced water with lemon. Simple. Crisp. Clean.

We were early, the dining room was fairly empty and we were not in any rush. We talked. We discussed books, recent trips and travels, the community and oh yes, we circled back to books. My friend loves classic literature and though once or twice a year she can convince me to read something she has recommended, I mostly balk at the idea and get through the book so we can compare notes and move on. Since I love a good analogy, I basically told her reading Faulkner, while enjoyable for some, is the equivalent to me of stuffed cabbage - simply not my taste.

My cravings range from light fare, junk food, trendy bites and the occasional simply for sustenance meal (much like some non-fiction) and while I'm sure fabulous versions of stuffed cabbage do exist, it will never be a first choice for me.

Our actual meals arrive hot on warm plates and we barely miss a beat as we continue the conversation while savoring our food choices. Rather than looking or feeling like those three children on the playground with two on the see-saw and one standing by, we have found our own more practical way to get along by all riding the merry go round. One takes a turn pushing it around, while the other two coast and enjoy the story. Three, we decide, is not really a crowd.

Penne a la Vodka

Grilled Steak Wrap

Mountain View Bleu Burger

The restaurant is now fairly busy with tables of six or more. Families and friends celebrating and one round of Happy Birthday is sung. Wanting to linger a little longer and talk a little more, one coffee order and one dessert order and we are allowed to keep the table for a bit longer.

A warm apple pie with walnuts, ice and whipped cream drizzled with caramel sauce -

Eventually, our evening comes to an end and I am home fairly quickly, reflecting on the night. It's ok to change your mind, trying new things is encouraged, and sharing ideas may yield a new and embraceable thought. I am looking forward to finding the next great book to read, the next wonderful meal with family or friends and though I know it probably won't be stuffed cabbage, I might just try a forkful.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

That Table

Going out to dinner when I was growing up was a really, special, big deal treat. Once in awhile we would have pizza on Fridays, but a real restaurant when we dressed in our "going out" clothes was quite different then it is today. We knew to be on our best behavior the entire time and were somehow more careful about our table manners. Something made the event more formal than eating at home. No electronic gadgets kept us amused and we spent the time actually talking with each other.

Sitting at a table in a restaurant as a child, you notice a lot of details, including the variety of people at the other tables and inherently, one table is the loud, laughing group of grown-ups. I wanted to be them. I wanted to know what they were laughing about and envied the good time feeling they put out. Well, except for the time we were at Charlie Brown's steakhouse; at the loud table one man stood up and mooned everyone and my sister was mortified... but that's another story.

So, planning a dinner out with friends at a restaurant quite close to home, I look forward to the company maybe even a bit more than the food. Once we are all together, the first tough decision comes after being asked, "What would you like to drink?" A cocktail for me is about the taste or a mood not about how much alcohol I can throw back and since I would not be able to drive after more than one, I have to think carefully about my choice. My standard...

a classic Cosmopolitan!

Although on this particular night out I requested a Mojito, the restaurant does not serve Mojito's so the standard suits me just fine. A round for the table includes other rum drinks, an amaretto with ginger ale, and a Jack and Coke. Not a wine-o present this time.

We are a group of 8 and conversation breaks down into small subgroups since one end of the table cannot hear the other. Except for the few funny stories where we seem to "tune in" to one speaker and those are the ones that make the whole table laugh.

One of us told of a shopping experience gone wrong. Innocently browsing through the departments of a national department store (ok, so it was JCPenney - of course), she could hear a foot chase, quickly followed by the distinct sound of loaded gun feeding a bullet into the chamber. She ducks behind a luggage display and prays the Samsonite will protect her. No shots were ever fired. Though the story was very serious and knowing our friend was now safe, the image of her peering out, wide eyed behind a nylon suitcase brought out the groups best belly laughs.

Our meals encompassed a wide range of tastes: veal parmesan, broiled seafood platter, penne a la vodka with shrimp, a margerita pizza, 2 lobster raviolli dinners and now I can't remember if it was stuffed chicken or fish... See how it really wasn't about the meal but the company? Everyone seemed happy and content with their choices and large portion sizes. For me, the raviolli were cooked perfectly, not too mushy or firm and it does seem a little strange to have mixed vegetables on the plate, they can be a welcome escape from the same taste throughout a meal. The shrimp were also the correct tenderness and a nice accompaniment to the dish.

Though no one had room for dessert, no one was ready to leave and so the stories and laughs continued with coffee and tea. It's always best for me to walk away wanting more rather than full or sluggish and so I am looking forward to the next time we gather for a meal or play or go on a field trip. With these folks, I am a part of That Table.