27 September 2012

And Good Belly Cheer Was Had

Like many small New England cities, the heart went out of mine a few decades ago as the business and community center moved away from Main Street. People moved out to the burbs, etc, and businesses moved out to keep them company. It’s sad and frustrating, but my city is (despite vocal naysayers and trolls) trying to revitalize. The downtown streetscapes have been redone, some storefronts spruced up, and a few new businesses have moved in.

Today I attended a preview of Barley Vine, the new gastropub on Main Street. It’s all exposed brick and wood, tin ceilings and chalkboards, bar stools and friendliness. I was completely charmed. (I offer no insult or condescension when I say it reminded me a lot of Plan B -- my husband and I have spent a lot of time at Plan B in West Hartford and consider it one of our favorite burger places, so to find something similar-but-different in my own little city is just totes awesome).

Barley Vine

The bar is extensive, with lots of good beer selections. They even offer Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider which is one of my favorite ciders and one I don’t usually see a lot locally. (I see a lot of Woodchuck ciders and, while they’re good, they’re no Samuel Smith). Always smooth and gently apple-y, it goes well with everything ... including the BarleyVine burger.

Barley Vine

The BarleyVine burger is the only burger on the lunch menu (dinner menu unseen) unless you want to build your own. I reckoned anything that eponymous was likely to be good and ordered it medium as written. Ground and shaped on site from local beef, it was a thick puck of tender, juicy beef on a sturdy roll with charred onions, roasted red bell pepper, blue cheese crumbles, and arugula. Lunch burgers come with sweet potato and kale chips -- fry people, like The Husband, may not be amused. I love sweet potatoes and kale chips are always a win, so I was exceedingly amused. (Next time, I might try building my own burger so I can try Barley Vine’s house-made bacon).

I have to be honest and say my preview wasn’t without flaws -- the bartender had some trouble locating a bottle opener for my cider, the fussy computerized cash register refused to print my tab, and the top of my hamburger roll was a little charred. But, hey, it was a preview. By the time Barley Vine has its grand opening on 11 October, I expect everything will be fine. Barley Vine is actually (quietly) opening to the public this Saturday and I fully intend to drag The Husband down for supper on Saturday or Sunday.

My meal, minus the 20% preview discount, came to just under $15 which seemed extremely reasonable considering it was a drinking lunch. (I even merited a free sample of Cisco Brewers' Monomoy Kriek -- it smelled slightly sulphurous and tasted, at first sip, a bit like mellow cherry balsamic vinegar. That may sound weird, possibly undrinkable, to you but I thought it was quite delicious. I can’t imagine what I’d drink it with, though. Duck with balsamic cherry sauce? French vanilla ice cream?)

Barley Vine

23 September 2012

Italian Homework: Easy Appetizers

I’m taking an introductory Italian cooking class through an online learning service, Universal Class, offered by my public library. It’s all self-paced and I have six months to complete the course. So far, the lessons have all be about the factual rather than practical. I’ve learned a little bit about the different regions of Italy and their culinary specialties, the basic staples of an Italian kitchen, and whatnot. Some of it I already knew -- I was weaned on PBS cooking shows, you know -- but it was a good refresher and filled in some gaps.

Anyway, I’m on “Lesson 4: Easy Italian Appetizers” and finally got to cook! I had to make two appetizers -- one hot, one cold. Being lazy, I chose to go the simple route and make melon wedges wrapped in prosciutto for the cold appetizer:
Slice a melon in half. Remove and discard the seeds and cut the melon into eighths. Carefully cut the rinds away from each slice then wrap each melon slice with one slice of prosciutto. Plate prettily. Nom.

Proscuitto Wrapped Melon (Indiglow)

It was good, but a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper and drizzle of balsamic vinegar made it better! The combination of sweet-salt-spicy-sour was delicious and I wish I'd been eating this dish all summer.

For my hot appetizer, I went with roasted garlic on toast rounds, because it’s cheap and easy. Also, I love garlic. And bread. And garlic bread ...
Whack the top off 2 heads of garlic so the tops of the cloves are exposed. Place each head in the center of a square of tinfoil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with a little sea salt. Wrap foil loosely around heads, put on a cookie sheet, and bake at 450°F for 50 min. Drain the oil into a storage container (fab stuff for dipping bread or using in a salad dressing, by the way). Scoop the garlic cloves out of the head and spread on slices of toasted baguette. Nom!

Roasted Garlic w/ Garlic Bread

For this dish, I used a crusty carmelized-garlic loaf I picked up at Hill-Stead's Farmers Market. It was baked by Wave Hill Breads and was studded with cloves of roasted garlic. Combined with the roasted garlic heads, it was totes fab. Really. I served it with a hearty beef stew, but I would have been happy just eating it all on its own.

As I said, I have six months to finish the course, but I’m already itching to get it done -- not because I’m not enjoying it (I am so enjoying it!), but because I really want to sign up for “Spanish Cooking 101,” “Tex-Mex Cooking 101,” and “How to Bake Pies.” I want to make tortilla española and awesome chimichangas, and get over my fear of scratch-made pie crusts. While I am allowed to take five classes at a time, I’m not silly enough to believe I could cope with more than two and I’m currently also taking “Bird Watching 101.” Yes, bird watching. Because birds are also totes fab.

But so is pie!

20 September 2012

Waffled Quesadilla

Yes, my darlings, a quesadilla can be waffled. I am so pleased with myself for trying this and I cannot wait until October, when we enter Grilled Cheese Season proper, and I start waffling grilled cheese. Basically, I want to waffle anything that involves carbs and cheese. I'm sure I would waffle a calzone if I had the right ingredients.

To make my quesadilla, I sprayed my waffle iron with cooking spray and let it preheat as directed. I spread one white flour tortilla with the last dregs of bacon jam.

Waffled Quesadilla

Plopped it on the waffle griddle, topped it with some garlicky salsa, a bit of shredded mozzarella-cheddar blend, and the other tortilla. I closed the waffle iron, pressing down firmly, and let it cook for 3 minutes.

Waffled Quesadilla

Waffled Quesadilla

Then I removed the quesadilla and let it sit for a few minutes to cool down a little -- it was sizzling -- which gave me enough time to scrape all the escaped cheese off the griddle with a rubber spatula and nom them up.

Waffled Quesadilla

The quesadilla? It was delicious. Smoky, spicy, gooey, crispy ... delicious.

18 September 2012

Eating The Alphabet: P is for Pumpkin

For September's Eating the Alphabet Challenge (which I am very late posting), we were to cook with ingredients starting with the letter P, Q, or R. I kept wanting to do something with quinoa, but it turns out I like the idea of quinoa more than the ingredient itself. Something about it just makes my mouth go "meh."

So, I turned to pumpkin and raisins. I thought about muffins and cookies and bundt cakes ... but I'm the only pumpkin lover in my house and the last thing I need right now is two dozen cookies or a large bundt cake staring me in the face every time I wander into the kitchen.

Maple Pumpkin Oatmeal

I made oatmeal, instead. Pretty goshdarn delicious oatmeal with maple syrup, walnuts, and baking spice. Plus a little flax oil for extra nutritiousness!

I cooked the raisins with the oatmeal so they would plump up a bit. You could just as easily leave them out until the end and sprinkle them on with the walnuts. Dried cranberries would work well, too.
Maple Pumpkin Oatmeal

Ingredients
1¾ cup 1% milk
1 cup regular oats
1 oz golden raisins

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp Penzeys baking spice blend (Ceylon cinnamon, China cassia cinnamon, anise seed, allspice, mace, and cardamom)
1 Tbsp maple syrup

2 Tbsp flax oil
2 Tbsp crushed walnuts

Directions
Bring milk to boil in saucepan. Add oatmeal and raisins. Cook, stirring, 5 minutes or until milk is absorbed and oatmeal is thick and creamy.

Stir in pumpkin, baking spice, and maple syrup. Taste. Add more baking spice or syrup, if desired.

Portion into two bowls. Sprinkle with walnuts and drizzle with oil. Eat.

16 September 2012

Celebratory 60th Birthday Quilt

I've been away from quilting for a while -- sure, I''ve spent a considerable amount of time in my sewing room, moving fabric around and dreaming, but I haven't sewn more than a napkin in the past two years.

Then a friend had a baby and a dear coworker turned sixty and quilting took on a certain urgency. Being a bit rusty, I went with rag ("frayed-edge") quilts for both as I knew it was an easy method and would hide most (if not all) of my mistakes.

Rag ("Frayed-Edge") Quilt

I've not quite finished the baby quilt -- still snipsnipsnipping all the seams -- but the lap quilt for my coworker's birthday is done and looks pretty darn cute. I used a kit from Malibu Quiltworks and am quite sure I'll be buying more kits from them in the near future as they have some really lovely fabric assortments for sale.

My mother helped me a bit with assembling this quilt and, between the two of us, it took five (gossipy) hours to sew it together. I snipped the quilt seams while watching television (two episodes of House and one episode of Black Books) and then stuffed it in the washer -- et voilà a quilt was born!

Rag ("Frayed-Edge") Quilt

13 September 2012

Lazy Slow Cooking

I did not menu plan this week which meant I spent too much of Tuesday night with my head in our freezer trying to figure out what I could make for Wednesday's supper. There wasn't going to be enough time to thaw anything, but since I figured out I could cook frozen boneless skinless breasts in my slow cooker, that isn't really a problem. In my pantry, I found a jar of salsa verde. It seemed like a good enough combination.

Slow Cooker Chicken Verde

And it was pretty good. Looked like the dog's breakfast, but shredded chicken usually does. I could (probably) have taken a (slightly) more attractive photo, but I was too hungry to mess around with camera setting. Point, shoot, feed the grue.
Slow Cooker Chicken Verde

Ingredients
1 lb frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts
16 oz jar salsa verde [Archer Farms Mild Roasted Salsa Verde]
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 oz neufchâtel cheese, cut into small cubes
Dried cilantro, as desired

Directions
Coat slow cooker insert with a little cooking spray. Pour enough salsa verde to coat the bottom of the insert. Add the chicken. Top with remaining salsa verde. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Using two forks, shred chicken. Stir in cream cheese and cilantro. Let sit until cream cheese is melted. Give everything a good stir. Serve over rice.
I thought this dish was a little salty, but The Husband disagreed and I seem to be really salt sensitive recently, so ymmv.

If I were to make this again, I might add some red onion in with the salsa verde and stir in a can of white beans with the cream cheese and cilantro.

10 September 2012

Zucchini, Pasta, & Stuff

I'd planned on stuffed zucchini for Sunday dinner, but one of my zucchini developed a horrible squishy spot and could no longer fulfill its duties as a boat for holding delicious sausage, cheese, and mushrooms. So, instead, I made pasta sauce from all the stuffed zucchini ingredients and served them over whole grain penne!

Sunday Night Pasta

Maybe not as awesome as stuffed zucchini, but still quite tasty and filling.
Very Vegetable Tomato Sauce

Ingredients
9.6 oz pkg Jimmy Dean pre-cooked turkey sausage crumbles
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large carrot, diced small
2 small zucchini, diced small
1 cup sliced mushrooms, chopped
8 oz can low-sodium spaghetti sauce
14 oz can Muir Glen fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 Tbsp salt-free Italian seasoning blend
2 cups whole grain elbow macaroni, cooked as you like
½ cup grated Parmesan

Directions
Saute shallot, garlic, mushrooms, and carrot in a little olive oil until fragrant and shallot is translucent. Add zucchini, sausage crumbles, seasoning blend, fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato sauce. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until sauce is thickened.

Stir in pasta and a quarter cup of Parmesan. Serve sprinkled with remaining Parmesan.

Serves 4.

06 September 2012

Too Much Produce: Summer Squash Enchiladas

I bought too much produce this week -- everything looked really good, so I picked up more than I needed and ended up with a fridge packed top to bottom with vegetables. (I know, it's a terrible problem. Right up there will cancer and poverty).

The thing is, I hate waste and I was very much afraid that some of it would go to waste before we got around to eating it. My mother taught me nothing goes in the bin if it can be helped and I still live by that.

Summer Squash Enchiladas

So, behold! The Enchiladas of Squash-y Goodness which used up two squash, a shallot, and an ear of corn ... thereby freeing up enough crisper space that I can kinda-sort see the bottom now. If I squint and angle my head just right.

Summer Squash Enchiladas

Ingredients
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small summer squash, diced [save cob for chowder]
1 ear of corn, shucked and kernels shaved off cob
1 shallot, minced
2 cups enchilada sauce
4 small flour tortillas
2 oz Cabot 50% Reduced Fat Sharp Light cheddar, shredded

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°F. Swirl ½ cup enchilada sauce around bottom of square baker to coat.

Heat a nonstick skillet. Add vegetables and ½ cup enchilada sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes or until onion is translucent.

Spoon ½ half cup squash mixture down the middle of each tortilla. Top with 1 Tbsp shredded cheese. Roll up and place, seam down, in the baker.

Summer Squash Enchiladas

Top with remaining cup of enchilada sauce and cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. If you like your enchiladas brown and bubbly, as I do, then broil for about 3 minutes. Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving (I didn't wait and mine broke when I scooped them out).

Serves 2.


These were really good and I wish I'd made more! Even The Husband liked these and I was sure he'd complain about the lack of meat.

03 September 2012

Lazy Labor Day Vittles

Being unsociable people, we celebrated Labor Day not with fireworks and picnics, but with video games and chunky novels. As satisfying as that was, we still needed to eat and so threw a mini picnic. In our living room. In front of our laptops. With the air conditioner rattling away.

And, you know, we had a darn good time.

Oven Barbecued Chicken
Two-Ingredient Oven-Barbecued Chicken Drumsticks

Ingredients
1 lb chicken drumsticks
Barbecue sauce, as needed

Directions
Wash chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Pour some barbecue sauce in a storage container, add drumsticks, and top with more sauce. Put lid on container and shake until chicken is well coated. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a large baking pan with foil and place a cooling rack on top. Arrange chicken on the rack, pour sauce from container over them, and bake for 30 minutes. Flip and bake for 20 minutes longer. Increase heat to 400° and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes longer or until drumsticks are nicely browned.


Oven Barbecued Chicken


Oven Barbecued Chicken

Let sit 10 minutes. Eat.

Serves 2.

01 September 2012

They See Me Wafflin'

Earlier this summer, I broke down and bought a waffle iron. I'd spent weeks before searching and re-searching the same cabinets and closets, looking for the waffle maker we'd brought from our old house. Eventually, The Husband managed to convince me we'd tossed it due to lack of use. So, to the Amazon I went, to procure a new waffle iron (and a waffle cookbook, because why not?).

Wafflin'

I'm really pleased with this Proctor-Silex 26500Y Belgian waffle iron. It's reasonably light, but sturdy, and stores upright between the bread bin and kitchen scale. Every day, I see the waffle iron and so, every day, I think about making waffles. This is much better than with the old waffle iron -- when we had it, it lived in a cupboard and we very seldom thought about making waffles.

Unsurprisingly, I've made waffles a bunch of times now and I have to say the basic batter recipes in the back of Tara Duggan's Waffles: Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Meal are quite good. I've made the classic, buttermilk, and the breakfast version of the cornmeal waffle batters with very tasty results. If you find Duggan's cookbook at your library, I strongly suggest checking it out.

Another recipe I've made with great success is a variation on the buttermilk waffle recipe that came with the waffle iron. I modified it to use white whole wheat flour and orange or Mexican vanilla extract. I prefer it with orange extract, but the choice of extract really depends on what you plan to top the waffles with.
Whole Grain Waffles

Ingredients

1½ cups organic white whole wheat flour [King Arthur Flour]
1½ tsp baking powder [Bakewell Cream]
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

½ cups nonfat organic buttermilk [Butterworks Farm]
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 eggs [Farmers Cow]
1 capful extract of choice

Directions
In a medium bowl, whisk together first set of (dry) ingredients and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together second set of (wet) ingredients. Add wet bowl to dry bowl and stir until batter is thoroughly mixed. Batter will be very thick and fluffy.

Cook your waffles according to the manufacturer's directions. For my Belgian waffle iron, each waffle took 1 scant cup batter and cooked for 5 minutes. Lay cooked waffles on a sheet pan in a warm oven to keep while you make the remainder.
The Husband eats his waffles smeared with Nutella so he was really pleased with the addition of orange extract to the batter -- every delicious forkful tasted of melted Terry's Chocolate Orange and waffle.

If you'd like a more orange-y waffle, you could stir in some orange zest. Mmm. Orange zest, orange extract, and mini chocolate chips would be awesome!