Tuesday, December 27, 2011

10, 11 and 12..

You knew it was going to happen.  As holiday merriment ensues and last minute errands multiply, entire days disappear.  In my case, nearly a week.

We have a couple of culinary traditions at Christmas that I just can't imagine living without.  Christmas Eve is celebrated at my Grandmother's.  We never do a sit down dinner, instead it's an array of appetizers and munchies.  We are a grazing family and can often be found standing around the turkey at Thanksgiving fighting over skin well before it's time to sit down (at which point we are all full), so we fully embrace this characteristic for Christmas.

It's always a challenge to save room for dessert when you can just pick at cheese, shrimp, meatballs and other goodies all night, but it's imperative.  We always have a cheesecake from the nuns of New Skete and Cranberry Ice Cream from Dobert's Dairy in Glens Falls.  I'm typically forcing myself to eat dessert, but how do you NOT have cheesecake made by nuns on Christmas?  It's just disrespectful.  And the cranberry ice cream is such a once-a-year thing that you also can't pass it up.

My other Christmas weakness is my Mom's bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.  They're super easy - wrap water chestnuts in bacon, skewer with a toothpick, and cook until the bacon is cooked. (I'd say... at 350, and you can do this in advance)  The sauce is 1/4 cup mayo, 1/4 cup cocktail or chili sauce and 1/2 cup brown sugar.  Mix it up, dump over water chestnuts and toss in the microwave until everything is warm again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

9th day of GP

Give and ye shall receive.

A good friend, and recipient of a cell phone photo text message of the Joy of Cooking's tenderloin guidance, passed this along.  I can't wait to try this...

"Saratoga olive oil.  In addition to just being super, super nice, their selection is fantastic.  You can taste everything (they get rock hill bakery bread) and they have really interesting stuff.  Regional olive oils as well as flavored, plus flavored balsamics and other specialty oils (grape seed, etc… they have this butternut squash oil that is OUTSTANDING.  I had a little on just plain pasta last night.)  They do gift baskets and they have recipes on their website and in store for using all their product.  Really great and local!"

There is a lot about this I love - good service, local, highly recommended by a friend I trust, and since I love the idea of a super quick meal, something as cool as butternut squash oil on pasta is very appealing to me.  Even I can't pretend I don't have time for that!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

8th day of GP Christmas

Have a friend or family member that is just starting to really embrace cooking?  Someone moving out on his or her own for the first time?  Here's a gift idea that you still have time to take advantage of and it is such an essential part of my kitchen that I almost didn't even think to point it out as something special.  I thought it might be the same for some of you.

The Joy of Cooking.

I'd been cooking for years before I received the Joy of Cooking as a gift and I don't know how I lived without it before.  Sometimes I will just flip to a section and begin reading.  I have a wall of cookbooks that I rarely use because I'm not really a recipie kind of girl, but I do love the pictures and inspiration.  I will flip through for ideas and then run off on my own.  It's almost the exact opposite with the Joy of Cooking for me (although there are plenty of ideas to be found there!).  Typically I will want to make something new and have technical questions, or I just need a refresher.  I take the idea and go to the book for the know how.

Yesterday, a friend asked if I have a good tenderloin recipie.  It's been ages since I've made beef tenderloin and I responded that I'm typically a fan of simple when it comes to a good cut of meat.  Still, knowing she was asking for a holiday dinner, I consulted my never-fail resource.  In addition to confirming my preferred seasoning approach (salt, pepper, olive oil or softened butter), the roast tenderloin entry had critical temperatures handy, reminded you which portion of the cut to use if you're not cooking a full tenderloin, and other practical tips.

My copy is only a few years old and yet it shows love.  I can see it getting more stained with fingerprints and dog-eared, and I can't wait.  It's the kind of volume I hope to pass along someday.  If you don't have it, by all means run out right now. 

But, I know my readers are savvy in this area ... Any other indispensible references or cookbooks you'd recommend?

Monday, December 19, 2011

7th day of GP Christmas

You know how there are a bunch of new restaurants you've been dying to try, but when put on the spot to choose one, you can't seem to recall a single one? Or how you have so much to tell an old friend, most of which you remember thirty seconds after you hang up the phone?  Or twelve loops around the grocery store to complete your shopping, only to get home and discover you forgot something?  Story of my life.  Is it just me???

I'm the kind of person who absolutely should keep lists and yet I am notoriously bad at it.  I should have made a list for this, um, twelve day list.  I know I have tons to tell you about, but when the pressure to post is on, I find myself blanking.  I quite literally almost bought a six dollar chocolate bar at the Fresh Market today, hoping it was fantastic, so I could come home and tell you about it.  I resisted.

As I seem to group my little tips together, I suppose this one is similar to yesterday's in that I've bragged about Penzey's before and I'm sure most of you are quite familiar with the mid-western spice purveyor.  But, I did introduce foodie friend to Penzey's one birthday, so this totally counts.  Instead of just saying "hey, these guys have good spices" I thought I'd share a couple of their blends that are in current rotation in my house.

The "Trinidad" spice mix is awesome, it's all citrusy and clovey and bright.  I've used it as a marinade for chicken with a bit of apple cider vinegar (drumsticks on the grill - they came out awesome) and most recently I used it for a super easy pork dish.  I'd picked up very thin pork cutlets and I added a healthy dose of Trinidad to some flour, dredged the cutlets and gave them a quick pan sear.  Served with egg noodles, it was a super tasty, cheap and ridiculously quick dinner.

I'm also currently obsessed with the Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle.  I've mentioned my new affinity for Portland Pie Company Beer pizza dough and I have discovered that the dough, with some Brady St. Cheese on top, makes great breadsticks for dipping in pizza sauce.  It's my go to snack lately, although I'll tell you, the breadsticks don't cool all that great, they are best eaten right out of the oven.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

6th day of GP Christmas

This might be a bit of a cop-out tip because I've sung the praises of Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream for ages now, but a list such as this would simply not be complete without it and I have both sent and received this spectacular treat as a gift, so it fits the theme.  And, full disclosure, I had my big Christmas party with my girls last night and I'm sitting here by the fire with a glass of red wine (little hair of the dog...) in a food coma induced by a yummy pot roast I made for dinner (it was a comfort food kind of day)... I've been saving the "obvious post" for a day when my brain was not in full gear and this, my friends, is it.

Still, if I have said it once, I've said it a million times - don't let an opportunity to taste this little scoop of heaven pass you by should it ever present itself.  Something sweet would really round out what is otherwise a very lovely evening and I would just about give anything to have a bowl of salty caramel handy right now!

I do have Jeni's cookbook here (another great gift from foodie friend...) but I think looking at it right now would just make me sad.  Will have to wait until I splurge on a new shipment...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

5th day of GP Christmas

I discovered the topic of my last post, Bourbon Barrel Foods, and many other fun finds in Imbibe Magazine.  So, a tip in which to find tips.  If you haven't had a chance to peruse an issue of Imbibe, you're missing out.  Great articles, recipes and photos.  It's exactly what the title implies - all things liquid ... wine, beer, booze, coffee, tea, etc.  It's a totally fun read for foodies who love to drink.  Drinkies? Hmmm, there's gotta be a better word.

Speaking of foodies who love to drink ... nap time before a rocking Christmas party! Happy Saturday everyone.

Friday, December 16, 2011

4th day of GP Christmas

I had a couple days of cheese, now a couple days of Southern-inspired treats...

When my friend's birthday rolled around this past March, she was pregnant.  I'd been down to visit in February and she did lament how she missed wine and her beloved bourbon.  Flipping through a magazine, I  discovered Bourbon Barrel Foods.  They do smoked salt and sugars using old bourbon barrels.  I thought "What a neat way to get great flavor."  I was able to give my friend something she missed, you know, without that pesky fetal alcohol syndrome issue.

In fairness, I have yet to sample these goodies myself, but my friend raved.  She also sent me a blog post (I want to say it was a cookie recipe) by Ruth Reichl herself that mentioned "If you are lucky enough to have a friend that sends you bourbon sugar, you are lucky indeed."  I'm that friend!!  Since the stuff has received glowing reviews from two women whose opinions I value, I felt it safe to pass along to you all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

3rd day of GP Christmas

My foodie friend, who hails from Kentucky and is now settled in North Carolina, often accused me of being afraid of the South while we spent time together living in the Mid-West.  Not true!  I'll admit I dug into my Northeastern persona when I suddenly found myself no longer surrounded by fellow Northeasterners.  And Deliverance scared the crap out of everyone.  (Kidding, of course, I don't think the film is representative of an entire region.  Still, it was scary...)

But in my defense, it's soda, not pop and the appropriate answer to my missive that "I miss the coast" is not "Just head up to Cleveland, the Lake is there."  Still, foodie friend took a lot of pride in teaching the Yankee to drink bourbon and worked hard to get me to appreciate grits.  She openly laughed at me when I saw biscuits and gravy on a breakfast buffet for the first time (And we were in Indy, NOT the South).  Again, I really don't think being surprised by GRAVY for BREAKFAST is all that crazy.

Anyway....

So, for one birthday, she sent me a North Carolina staple - Moravian Cookies and Cheese Straws from Salem Baking Company, a gift I openly bragged about here.  The nice thing about this tip, at least for you Capital District folks, is you can just march your butt over to the Fresh Market and pick up the cookies.  I'm not sure if they carry Salem Baking brand cheese straws, but they do have their own which aren't too bad.  The Gingerbread variety is fantastic, as is the Myer Lemon.  My favorite were a special edition wafer with caramel, dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with fluer de sal.  If anyone sees those, you know where to find me!!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

2nd day of GP Christmas

Sticking with the cheese theme for a bit, I have to share this amazing discovery I happened upon while spending New Year's in Bodega Bay, CA last year.  I quite literally just grabbed Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam on a whim while picking up groceries.  I liked that it was local.  I liked that it was triple creme.  Other than that, I had no special insight.  When a vacation housemate with more experience in the area showed up with groceries saying "You MUST try this cheese" and took Mt. Tam out of the bag, I knew there had been some divine intervention in my impulse buy.  I think we all know the frequency with which I pray to the cheese gods, so I'm not surprised they looked out for me.

So we had a lot of very rich cheese between 6 adults and I can honestly tell you not a bit went to waste.  The best was having it for breakfast spread over fresh sourdough toast instead of butter.  Heart attack waiting to happen, but so very worth it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

12 Days of Xmas, GP style

I know, I know.  The 12 days of Christmas are technically after Christmas, and twelve days starting now will just get us to Christmas Eve.  But I said this was GP style and I do things my own way.  Plus, I've taken a real hiatus and this is going to get me back into the swing of things.  You know you missed me!

I think I've mentioned my dear friend with whom I have a great foodie birthday tradition.  It started years ago and we always hunt down some fun, new treat to share with the other for her birthday.  I keep my eyes peeled all year and I've been turned on to some great treats from her.  So, for the next twelve days (I'm going to try really, really hard to stay on schedule!) I'm going to share some of my fantastic finds.  Granted, it may be a little late to have some of these shipped for Christmas gifts so instead you should think of the tips as my gift to you.   A big thanks for sticking with me through postings, prolific and sparse.

So, without further ado... The first day of Christmas, GP style:

Breakfast Cheese from Belle Chevre.

Holy good God.  This is GOAT CHEESE you spread on breakfast items.  Yummy, flavored, whipped goat cheese.  This was my birthday present this year and I'm still savoring it.  When it arrived, I didn't have bagels in the house (it's billed as a cream cheese substitute) but I did have wheat english muffins.  Perfect.  I've also tried it on multi-grain toast.  Also perfect.

I received the Fig, Honey and Coffee varieties.  Fig is gone.  Long gone.  I just opened Coffee this week.  It's good. I mean it's goat cheese.  But the coffee flavor is pretty subtle, which is a departure from the very figgy Fig variety.  Maybe that's ok though.  I'll be sure to let you know about Honey in the future.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fantastic pizza


I used my oven dried tomatoes to make a pizza the other night.  I picked up Portland Pie Co dough - the beer variety (with Shipyard beer!).  This was the first time I've used this particular dough and I was really pleased with it.  Thanks to a comment from DelSo, I was thinking about caramelized onions so that's the route I went - white pizza with oven dried tomatoes and caramelized onions. Soooo yummy

Monday, October 24, 2011

So I'll file this one in the "completely off the cuff" and "has potential but needs refining" categories.  I had some thinly sliced steak that I planned to use in some carne asada/rice and beans/tacos type thing tonight.  Before I headed off to the gym I whipped up a quick marinade with some chile, lime juice, salt, cumin and oregano.  I had every intention of popping into the grocery store to grab some tortillas, but just didn't feel like it when I drove by and went straight to the gym.  I figured instead I'd do some rice with lime/cilantro and black beans.  Then I got home and discovered I was out of black beans (unheard of!) and didn't really feel like rice after all.  As I was spinning my grain and starch lazy suzan and pouting at my rice selection, my container of egg noodles caught my eye.'

I love egg noodles.  I think it's a childhood thing.  You know, those fond memories of cube steak and egg noodles that really should remain memories because I don't really crave cube steak.  Or noodles and butter. Now that I'm an adult, I love me a good beef stroganoff.  Odd, I know, for a mushroom hater, but I just pick them out.

All of a sudden I really wanted egg noodles, and I had beef but the flavor profile of my marinade seemed a little, well, not quite right.  But I figured what the hell...

I sauteed some white onions, garlic and cubanelle peppers, then tossed in diced steak and an extra squeeze of lime juice and tossed a cover on the skillet.  When the noodles were just about done, I tossed them in and let everything cook together.  The juice from the steak made a nice, light sauce and I only had to tweak the seasoning a bit.  I didn't bother to take a picture - the steak was a tad gray and only the cubanelles added some color.  I think next time I will use a different cut of meat and give it a good sear.  The chiles were a good addition, I will likely play around with the combo and maybe toss in some corn.

For something borne out of not really wanting anything I'd planned on, dinner didn't turn out so bad.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Oven-dried tomatoes

Before...

For all my bragging about speedy meals, I really love laboring over something that takes hours.  Taking the time to make a good risotto is one of the most therapeutic things ever.  Tonight, I decided to take my first stab at oven-dried tomatoes.  I snagged a bunch of plum tomatoes at the market this weekend for a good price.  You may recall that my friend the Tomato King passed along a jar of these last year and I loved them.  His approach involves roasting all night.  I've struggled with keeping the temperature in my oven low enough to pull that off, but not quite three hours in and I've made some progress.  Once again the house smells awesome and I have something I can check on and fiddle with for hours.

About two hours in
I quartered the tomatoes and cleaned out the seeds and guts.  Then I stuck them in a strainer over a bowl and gave them a good sprinkle of kosher salt and let them sit for a bit to draw some more moisture out.  Then I tossed them with a count or two of olive oil, freshly ground black pepper, finely chopped garlic and a bit of oregano.  I think I have a little way to go but they're starting to taste great.  I doubt I'll preserve them, they will either end up on a pizza or in a pasta later this week.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Navy bean and ham soup

Last weekend I grabbed a small ham from Oscar's when I was up north closing up camp.  Of course, it would be a mortal sin to let any go to waste, so today I decided to use some in a soup.  The nascent idea involved white beans, spinach and the ham, but other than that I had no idea what I was doing.  It came out great and I did a little social network bragging about how awesome my house smelled, prompting recipe requests.  Y'all know me when it comes to measuring anything, but here's my best shot as describing the process..

I started by building a nice sofrito base, cooking down some chopped onion, garlic, and black pepper in a little bit of chicken stock.  When the onions were getting all nice and melty, I added about half a bag of dried navy beans, rinsed but not soaked.  I think this is the first time I've ever cooked with dried beans.  As long as you have the time, it's great.  For the next hour or two, I just let the beans slowly simmer in the sofrito, chopped rosemary, thyme, a bay leaf and stock, adding a bit more stock and then a couple pints of water as needed.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do about adding the ham - I wanted the smoky flavor to build into the soup but I didn't want the ham to get all chewy or anything.  In the end, I put the ham in about an hour after the beans, maybe a little less.
Still bubbling...

That was pretty much it.  I just let the soup simmer until the beans softened up, playing around a bit with the spices along the way until it seemed right.  A pinch of kosher salt here.  A shake of boquet garni there.  Once the beans were finally soft, I tossed in some chopped spinach, let it cook just a bit more, and that was it.

While the soup was cooking, I whipped up a quick apple crisp.  Although a normal person would eat soup and then dessert, I'm not going to lie.... straight for the crisp for dinner.  Like magic, the chill in the air seemed to drag me right back into the kitchen.  Yay!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dried Milk?! No, it's not 1963

I've been very neglectful of Green Peccadilloes lately.  In all honesty, I've felt fairly uninspired and haven't spent much time in the kitchen, and when I do, it's nothing to write home about.  I've also been fighting this change of seasons bug or something for a week or two, which has had my palette all messed up.  I mean, who wants to hear about ramen and ice cream for dinner. (Although I know you all secretly love it too...)

Tonight I decided to get back on the horse and come up with a way to cram a whole bunch of vegetables down my throat in a last ditch effort to get back on track.  I figured some spice wouldn't hurt either, so I planned a thai red curry/vegetable dish over rice.  Easy to make and good for me.

Typically I just stir fry up some veggies, dump in some coconut milk and a healthy dollop of red curry paste and I have an easy, inexpensive, reasonably tasty dinner.  I'm often frustrated, though, because I only use about half of the can of coconut milk and the rest goes to waste.  What the heck do you do with leftover coconut milk?? I've searched for smaller cans to no avail.  One day I found a powdered version and was intrigued, especially as it's really only a vehicle for the curry paste.

I had some serious flashbacks to home ec while playing with the powdered milk.  Was it just my school that was super cheap and only used milk in a box when teaching kids to cook?  Unsurprisingly, the result was less than perfect and my sauce wasn't nearly as creamy as it normally is.  The flavor was fine though and the meal served its purpose.  I did feel better that I wasn't as wasteful, but it's certainly not something I'd serve to company.  Ah well - maybe I'll just keep searching for smaller portions of coconut milk that's actually hydrated.  Lesson learned.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Stripping as metaphor

Paint, folks.  I'm stripping paint.

Lately I've undertaken home improvement projects with new zeal.  I guess I'm finally ready to accept this home as my own and I'm taking steps to get it to a state where it feels that way.  My biggest project at the moment is redoing the spare bedroom  Bye bye pre-teen boy cammo colors.  The first major accomplishment in the room was ceiling painting.  Gross.

My house is pushing 85 years old and there must be at least 50 years of paint slathered on my window moldings, especially in the room I'm working on now.  You could hardly see the detail in the molding and I knew yet another coat of primer and paint would only make it worse so I'm undertaking the very messy project of stripping the wood.  My first adventure in this realm has taught me many lessons:

1. Sometimes something that won't open isn't meant to be opened.  The first can of stripper I bought was IMPOSSIBLE to open.  I tried multiple times, and while I'm not a brute, I'm also not a weakling.  A return trip to the store yielded me a better smelling, more protective product that works better than the first even claimed to.  Giving up on the old and moving on to the new was a good call.

2. Patience is a virtue.  The new stripping agent can sit on the wood for up to 24 hours.  If you just back the hell off and let it do it's work, life is much easier.  I'm not so good at patience.

3. A little hard work never killed anyone.  See # 2.  As I'm not patient, I've been working harder than I should have to.  I find it therapeutic to dig and scrape at 10 layers of paint.

4. You can only put so much work in to something.  While I've enjoyed digging and scraping, it comes to a point where I just had to chill out, sit back, and let the chemical do its job.  At some point, work for work's sake becomes futile and you need to step back, have a beer and take a break.

5. Don't worry if what you find under the surface isn't perfect.  Nothing is.  My plan all along was to repaint right over the wood.  I thought maybe if I found something spectacular under all that paint I'd work extra hard to get it perfect and stain instead of paint.  I'm not yet sure which conclusion I reach.  If I get what I planned for, great.  Should I find something unexpected, fantastic.  Either way, I win.

Ok, time to inhale some more fumes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Roasting Chiles

As chili season is rapidly approaching, I grabbed a handful of peppers at a farm stand recently and I've begun to build up my supply of roasted chiles.  I'm very much looking forward to chilly fall mornings, spending hours slowly building a flavor base for a big 'ole pot of chili and I learned last year that taking the time to roast my own chiles makes a difference.  However, if I can cut some time off a dish, I most certainly will and pre-roasting and freezing chiles is a great way to go.  I have a handful of packets of jalapenos already in this fridge and this was a mix of fairly tepid peppers.  I need to grab some gloves before playing with anything too spicy...I've learned that lesson before!
 roast
The process, while sometimes time-consuming, is fairly simple.  Toss the peppers in some oil, throw them in a hot oven and away until the skin starts to pucker and blacken in spots.  If you're lucky like I was this go around, it will be fairly easy to separate the skin from the pepper with a sharp knife (I keep both my favorite chef's knife and paring knife handy).  Give the seeds a scrape - this is where the heat is, so adjust accordingly - and you're set.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Desperately Seeking: Carne Asada

On a few evenings this August, we took our track winnings and headed to Cantina in Saratoga for some tasty dinner.  Ok, some of us went to drown our losses in tequila, but you get the idea.  Over the past few years, I've learned to develop a taste for "real" Mexican food.  While it's tough to come by around here, I've rarely been disappointed with a meal at Cantina.  My dining companion was thrilled by his discovery of this gem and was especially taken with their carne asada.  Now obsessed, he's been on the lookout for a pre-made carne asada marinade and has been unable to find one.

Frankly, I think this is a good thing because I'm guessing I can do better than some bottled, processed junk.  Maybe I'm being immodest, but I'm guessing some fresh ingridients and a little help from Penzey's will be a much better way to go.  I've been doing some research and think I can come up with a decent mix of dried spices that can be added to liquid/acid along with, maybe, some fresh ingredients like cilantro, onion and garlic.  I am, however, hoping to perfect "easy" and be able to say "here, throw a few tablespoons of this in with lime juice and you're good to go."

I've done some research and have my ideas, but as there is no "official" recipie, I thought I'd throw it to my loyal following to see if there are any good tips to be had.  I'll be sure to share details of my quest for the perfect spice blend as it moves forward.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Blueberry-Peach Crisp

It's always risky taking a new dish to a gathering.  It's especially risky when you're the new dish going to the gathering.  But, liking to plant my flag in the culinary prowess camp early with new folks, I faced the challenge head on.  And I - gasp - baked.

Those of you who read the blog regularly know I'm not one for recipes or measuring per se.  So baking and I have a touchy relationship, being that such things are important in baking.  I can, however, handle crisps and cobblers because other than remembering some proportions for the topping (and there's even some flexibility there) I get to play around a bit and usually not mess things up too bad.

I've done some mixed berry crisps before, but I decided to take a new spin - peach and blueberry crisp.  I had blueberries leftover from last season but I was a little worried about texture after so long in the freezer.  I decided to make a blueberry syrup - bit of water, bit more sugar and a nice slow boil and I was good to go.  I tossed the peach slices in a little sugar (less than normal because I'd sweetened the blueberries) and corn starch.  Then I drizzled the blueberry syrup over the peaches.  I was worried about how soupy the mix would be so I started to cook the fruit a bit before adding the topping.  When I was comfortable that it wouldn't be a total mess, on went the topping.


The crisp came out pretty good - a tad soupier than I would have liked but the flavor was good and my hosts were very gracious and seemed to enjoy it.  I even ended up with some extra blueberry syrup.  I sense some vanilla ice cream in my future!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A good lesson


I learned a good lesson today.  Well, it's one I already knew, but it's a good reminder.  I grabbed some veggies at the Waterford Farmers' Market today and instantly started to crave kebabs on the grill.  I'd been focused on a grill-based dinner as I was planning to have friends over for some much needed quality time and it's an easy entertainment approach.   The larger gathering was postponed due to an under the weather munchkin, poor guy, but I had company nonetheless.  It had been a challenging day as a close friend is going through a rough time, and I really needed the therapy of standing in my kitchen preparing a meal.  I think there is little else in this world that can put me at peace as quickly as some quality kitchen time.  Sharing the meal makes it that much better.
How pretty are these?

I grabbed a london broil on sale and cut it up into cubes.  It soaked for a bit in a quick marinade I with onion, garlic, vinegar, oil and some char grill spice blend I had.  On my drive home from other obligations today it dawned on me that I'd probably discarded the package of skewers I had during my kitchen meltdown and was about to stop and grab some more when I remembered I'd received these grill/kebab/cage things for christmas.  I figured I'd play with a gadget and save myself a trip.  I didn't even snap a picture of them, but you know what I mean.

I only had two of the fancy grill cage thingies so that  limited the volume of meat and veggies I could cook at once.  They got hot and messy.  I may have dropped one.  I might have uttered an expletive.  I found myself missing simple bamboo skewers soaked in water.

Lesson:  Sticking with simple tradition is not always a bad thing.  Plus, there's something cathartic about shoving a skewer through big chunks of meat that loading up a metal cage just doesn't replicate.

Still, dinner came out pretty good.  I let a bit of olive oil soak up flavors from some onion, garlic, salt and pepper and then quickly tossed the veggies in it before grilling.  The orange and red cherry tomatoes may have made my week.  All in all it was a fairly healthy, fresh and satisfying meal and, as with any good kitchen time, I felt better when I was done than before I'd started.  Maybe there's a lesson in there too.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gummy Chicken?

I have this fun little device that tells me about five of you are out there in the world reading Green Peccadilloes.  I love you all dearly.  Second to the idea that anyone at all is reading, my favorite part of the tool is that when someone stumbles on the blog via google (or, I suppose, some other search engine - but really, who uses another search engine?) I can see the search terms he or she used.  Occassionally it's good for a smile or, like today, a bit of puzzlement.

Someone in Kansas found me (and if you're still reading...welcome!!) by typing:

"How do you cook chicken breasts for chicken salad so it's not gummy?"

I do realize I just wrote a post on chicken salad, but I'm still surprised google analytics put GP high enough in the search results to get a hit on this.  Further, gummy chicken salad?  Can someone explain this phenomenon to me?  I'm completely fascinated.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Go Jeni's!!

It's been a while since I extolled the vitures of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams here on Green Peccadilloes.  I know there's little reason to beat a dead horse, but my very favorite ice cream in the whole world just received a nice honor - to be named one of the Top 5 Ice Cream Parlors in the world by a travel mag

I enjoyed myself a little Queen City Cayenne just the other night, a remnant of my last shipment.  Might be time to sell a kidney and order another 9 pints...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chipotle Chicken Salad

I threw some chicken on the grill on Sunday night.  This was very exciting for me as I've had a grill sitting sans tank in my backyard for longer than I care to admit.  I don't really like messing around with propane tanks so I just never dealt with it.  But facing a beautiful evening and thawing chicken on Sunday, I bit the bullet and decided to finally get the grill functioning.  By that I mean I offered this proposal to someone with a Y chromosome "I'll make dinner if you will make my grill work."  Deal.  I'm a little ashamed a made a boy help me, but it's less of a girl thing as a "if something can go wrong it will and I don't want to blow myself up" thing.  Either way, problem solved.

So threw two of the four chicken breasts I'd thawed on the grill with a fantastic marinade I made with Penzey's Trinidad spice and enjoyed a tasty Sunday dinner.  Determined to stop wasting food, I knew last night that I had to cook the remaining two breasts. (Please don't ask why I didn't just do it on Sunday, there is no good answer).

I was tired, and wanted to neither eat nor cook so I put NO effort into these chicken breasts.  I thought I'd make chicken salad for lunch, so I didn't even bother to season them.  Shameful, I know, but straight onto the grill they went while I sat down to watch Ally McBeal on Netflix.  Off the grill and into the fridge with not as much as a second thought went my poor, neglected chicken breasts.

This morning, feeling a tad less apathetic, I set out to make chicken salad for lunch.  No celery, no nuts, no tarragon.  Nada.  My poor cuppords are still bare.  I ended up starting out simple with just some salt, pepper, and mayo then I decided to give the salad a little shake of chipotle powder.  Genius!!

The chile plus the char from the grill work together perfectly to make what was going to be my very boring lunch much less so.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I absolutely cannot wait to eat this tonight

Monday, August 8, 2011

Picnic Dinner

The other night some girlfriends and I descended on Tanglewood.  Our college was doing a little alumni thing and we used it as a great excuse to all get together, as it had been far too long.  The four of us were all in a freshman year mentor class - something our small college was trying back then - so I met them all even before our first day of class and too infrequent visits aside, we're still together even after our ten year reunion.  Needless to say, I love these girls.

And I love Tanglewood.  I've been there three times now - which shocks me as it's so amazing and so close - and each visit is special to me for different reasons.  It's hard to have a bad time in such a beautiful spot.  The alumni even provided us with light dinners and we brought along wine, cheese and chocolate.  As you can see, I am not above wine in a Solo cup.  Sometimes that is just how I roll.

The dinner came with a quinoa salad with corn and black beans that was great.  It reminded me that I haven't made quinoa in forever.  I don't have any in the house after the great grain purge, but I'll have to pick some up soon.  It was a perfect evening, with good food and wine, better company and a sky full of stars as I lay on my back and listened to John Willams conduct his ET score.  A week later and I'm still smiling over it...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A meal like no other

This post is WAY overdue.  A few weekends back it was hot and I didn't especially want to do my weekend chores, so I called and invited myself to my Uncle's pool.  It's family, so it's not really inviting yourself, right?  No one was home so I left the "hey, haven't seen you guys in a while, are ya sitting by the pool?" message and crossed my fingers.  In fact, I ran out to cross some things off my to-do list and inadvertently left my phone behind.

When I returned, I had an email from my Uncle and a voicemail from his girlfriend.  The gist of both was this:  Grab your suit and bring a live lobster with you.  It's not a message one gets every day, but boy was it a welcome one.

The kitchen is always an
adventure for Wonderpup!
Needless to say, they'd picked up a few lobsters and suggested I do the same and get my butt out to the hilltowns for a fantastic evening.  I probably left tread marks I flew out of the door so fast!  My main issue, however, was securing the lobster with wonderpup.  It was one of those days where I refused to leave him in the car for even a second.  Thank goodness for quiet, suburban strip malls.  I parked in a slightly inconspicuous spot outside the Yuppie Chopper and left the car running and the A/C cranking.  I've done this before, but this time for some reason, I didn't have my spare key.  I made the mad dash for my singular crustacean and was back in no time.  Thankfully, my guy didn't really notice there was another live creature in the car and the rest of the drive was without incident.

A little pool floating, a pitcher of something purple and potent, and some snacks made for a nice lead up to the main event.  Wonderpup was introduced to a new creature - he was intrigued.


I'm not sure how to describe the dinner to those who don't know my family, but to those that do, this makes perfect sense.  My Uncle insists on french fries with lobster, a combo I don't remember having before (not counting lobster rolls, of course) but I will most certainly enjoy again.  To compliment the lobster and fries was a fantastic bottle of white.  This coming from someone who can often take or leave whites. I wish I'd snagged the name, but of course I didn't.  Again, knowing my hosts, it wasn't an inexpensive bottle.  Then, for ambiance, Zappa was blaring in the background.  A toast to family who also happen to be good friends and the evening was just perfect.

Whatta meal...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Time for cukes!

Maybe it's the WASP-y roots I try to cover up with allegiance to my poor, Irish-Catholic ancestors but I do love me a good cucumber sandwich.  None of this brown bread at tea time crap though, the cucumber sandwiches I grew up with came on wonder bread and were slathered with mayo.  Gummy, processed white bread really is still a necessity for me this time of year - neither cucumber sandwiches nor tomato sandwiches are quite right without it.  I've tried to use better bread and tomato sandwiches can come close because they're on toast, but I just can't stray with cucumbers.  Moreover, the sandwiches can only be consumed this time of year with fresh from the garden cucumbers.  Don't even bother with off season store bought junk, not even the same sandwich.

My cukes are coming in slowly and they're small, but I think they'll come.  My plants have lots of flowers.  My dad sent me home with some bigguns' this weekend, but without white bread (or any bread for that matter) in the house, I had to resort to enjoying them in a healthy, fairly-unprocessed fashion with a dollop of spinach tzatziki sauce which I did not make myself.  I may have to stop at the store for bread on my way into work in the morning and make myself a sandwich for lunch (week two, no lunches out!).  I might look strange walking into the office with a loaf of bread though...

Friday, July 29, 2011

It may be no big deal to you...

...but it's a very big deal to me....  Ah Lyle.  Anyway, an exciting, if trivial milestone.  It's Friday, I worked every day this week and I did not once purchase breakfast or lunch.  No trips to Starbuck's for coffee cake. No walks to the Capitol carts.  Nada.  I did grab a bros tacos burrito on the way home for dinner once, but otherwise, I was really good about the evening meal too.

I'm trying to be better about both money and quality food consumption and as regular visitors know, the workday is my downfall.  Sometimes I'm tired and forget lunch.  Or I really just don't feel like what I brought.  Or, most likely, I just have to get up and take a walk.  Whatever the reason, despite mountains of good intentions, I very easily fall off the "I'm not buying lunch" wagon.  Then breakfast kicked in - I'm an up and out kind of person in the morning and don't eat first thing, so I'd often find myself at my desk an hour into the day STARVING and without morning-appropriate munchies.  The combo of stocking up and actually slowing down in the morning and easing into the day a bit, leading to breakfast at home, has helped tremendously.

It's silly, I know.  There are much bigger problems in the world than my effort to save some money and not eat garbage, but it's still a nice little step toward some changes I'm trying to make.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Weeknight ribs

The other night I offered to make dinner without thinking.  As you're all aware, I am just reclaiming my kitchen from the moth disaster and I have barely prepared a meal for myself let alone anyone else in weeks.  But I opened my big mouth on a week night and offered dinner.  Worse, I specifically mentioned I had country style ribs in the fridge.  After said mention, it dawned on me that in the past I had either A) cooked them FOREVER or B) not been pleased with the result.  Yikes.

So here I am, preparing a meal for someone for the very first time, in my cobweb-ridden kitchen, facing a meal that I'm sure is doomed to failure.  But, I'm a tough chick and I was determined to persevere.  I have to say, if you'll pardon the bravado, that persevere I did.

I tossed the ribs in my trusty le crueset with almost a bottle of beer, a few garlic cloves, peppercorns and a healthy dose of "road kill grill" seasonings and let them braise for about an hour at around 300.  A beer or two and good conversation and the time flew by.  I honestly can't say if it really was an hour - check temps if you're trying this at home!  Then I finished them off on my cast iron stovetop grill to give a nice char.   Despite my anxiety, they came out perfect - the braise kept the pork from drying out but the grill added a critical touch.  I'd highly recommend the combo to anyone.

I didn't snap a picture of the ribs.  I have yet to share my blogging alter ego with my dinner guest, so random photos of the food would have been confusing to him.  I did, however, snag a shot of his contribution to dinner...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I've been told it is a bad year for berries, but I'm sad to announce that it was downright devastating for my always productive blueberry bushes.  I got next to nothing and I'm so bummed about it.  I can blame it on the rain or the heat, but I think to some degree I just have to look in the mirror.  I've done nothing to maintain the bushes, just took for granted that they would take care of me.  That's a good reminder - just because something  provides you happiness for some period of time doesn't mean you can take for granted that it will always do so without some work.  Lessons for the garden and life, I suppose.

I clearly had gotten a little cocky about my abundance of berries with no effort, but I've learned my lesson.  Dust off, learn what you can, and try harder next time.  Looks like I'll be doing some reading about how to care for blueberry bushes!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Happy Sunday!

I'm sitting on my back patio in my new outdoor chair (it's only taken me three summers in this house to break down and buy something that allows me to sit comfortably out here) with a stack of magazines (Imbibe, Food & Wine, Wine Spectator...) and my pup patrolling the yard.  Ok, he's eating sticks.  The heat has finally broken and there is a gentle breeze and a blue sky.  Happy, happy Sunday!

I decided today was the day I was going to take back my kitchen.  I'm still spraying a moth or two a day with my eco-friendly spray but I just can't stay out of the kitchen any longer.  I ventured off to the Schenectady Greenmarket and then did some other grocery shopping.  All afternoon I've rotated between enjoying the back yard, cleaning and cooking.

Although I was loathe to turn on the stove in any fashion, I got over it to make a big pot of black beans.  This approach deviated a little from my normal black beans, but they came out good.  I'd grabbed a huge bunch of cilantro at the market and wanted to use it right away.  So, garlic, onion, 3 cans of beans, one can of diced tomatoes, a can of New Mexico green chiles from Trader Joe's, salt and some other powdered chiles and I was good to go.  Oh, and a healthy dose of lime juice.


I let the beans cook for a bit to let the flavors work their magic.  Then for a late lunch I toasted up a couple of tortillas, dumped some beans on top and finished with more cilantro and some queso blanco.  It was tasty, inexpensive and pretty good for me.  A nice Dos Equis, or better yet a margarita would have finished the late lunch off perfectly, but alas I fear my summer full of dining out and grabbing beers after work may be catching up with me and today's a good a day as any for a little detox/calorie-saving.

 I've got some other goodies in the works, but they'll have to wait for a future post.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

My very first eggplant

Isn't it pretty?? I was out tending to the tomatoes yesterday and there, tucked under great big leaves, was this little bugger.  It's just about ready to be picked and I didn't even know it existed.  What a fantastic surprise.  I've never grown eggplant before and the mind reels with all the stuff I could do with my first.  Other than some lettuce, this was the first real product from my garden this year and it's exciting.  But...the tomatoes are coming!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Wonderpup!!

A special happy birthday to Wonderpup! He's always a great companion in the kitchen, the garden and in general.  He's the best friend a girl could ask for and - not to minimize the critical role of my fantastic friends and family - I'm not sure I would have faced recent challenges nearly as well without him.  Loyal, faithful, a great snuggler and always the life of the party, this guy makes me laugh every, single day.  And really, isn't that what it's all about?



Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thanks H!

Recently I had my dear friends come visit camp for a little fun in the sun and beach time.  As it was only my second trip up and my first in a few weeks, my culinary stock wasn't quite as robust as I like it to be for camp cooking, but we made do.  Beach munchies, cold beer, caprese salad and chicken over the fire - not bad.

But, by far the best part was the dessert.  H, who is the best big sister anyone could ask for, biology or just a week between aside, knew from her devoted reading of Green Peccadilloes that I was craving strawberry shortcake.  And she made it for me!!  I never have the patience to make the biscuits myself so this was an extra special treat.  What was even better is there was enough left over for breakfast.

It was Wimbledon weekend so strawberries and cream were especially fitting, but really nothing quite says summer like fresh, homemade strawberry shortcake.  Ok, well maybe that and fun times on the beach with old friends and new with a little waterfight thrown in.  Good thing for me I got it all.  Due to my work schedule, my summer really doesn't start until the 4th and what a fantastic way to start what  already has been a happy, exciting summer.  Lucky girl, I am.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gnocchi!

I first had gnocchi on a trip to Italy well over ten years ago. (how on earth is that possible...feels like yesterday)  Instantly I knew I was in love.  When done right, there is really nothing better that those little pillows of potatoey goodness.  Back in the States, it's not something I have often - when I'm out I'm picky and always think "Oh, I can make this myself" and when I'm home I almost never make it and when I do it's often not quite what I was hoping for.

I picked up a package at my recent trip to Ragonese Imports and gave it a whirl the other night.  I had a friend in school who swore it was easy to make from scratch, but who has time for that?  I haven't been cooking a lot lately between my kitchen drama, the heat and the fact that I'm just busy enjoying all that is wonderful about Summer, but the other night I did whip up this quick dish and it reminded me how easy it is to prepare good food quickly.  I feel like I say that a lot here, but it's true and it's sadly something I often forget.

I just made a very quick sauce with olive oil, my leftover garlic scapes, a can of tomatoes, salt and pepper.  And basil from the garden - can't forget the piles of fresh basil.  Makes all the difference.  Start to finish I think this took me ten, maybe fifteen minutes and I had two meals for, oh, $6 total.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Wonderpup and I joined some girlfriends last weekend for good old fashioned car camping.  It was an easy and fun way to spend a few nights.  I contributed a bit to the cooking.  The night before we left I was up late making marinades from scratch instead of packing, a choice which led to yummy chicken but a very disorganized departure.  Ah well, we all have our priorities, right?  I did one batch of chicken in a pretty basic lemon, oil, pepper, onion, garlic and rosemary mix and another with beer and smoked paprika, with a few peppercorns thrown in.

I also chopped up some potatoes I had in the house and tossed them in canola oil and a healthy dose of cayenne and chipotle pepper.  Maybe a tad too healthy a dose for the sensitive palates in the group (mine included) but even overly spicy nothing beats taters cooked to a nice crisp in cast iron over an open fire.  Regular readers may recall my potato troubles at camp last summer, but no issue this go around!

Wonderpup wasn't so sure about sleeping in a tent, but he sure loved having a blanket by the fire and the piece or two of hot dog he managed to score.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Herby help?

I've been a very neglectful person lately.  I've neglected my garden.  I've neglected my yard.  I've neglected Green Peccadilloes.  I do have some holiday weekend fun to share, but said sharing involves uploading pictures, something I've neglected to do this week.  I have not, however, neglected outdoor drinking and dining.  I have my priorities.

I have also been a vigilant moth-killer.  I think my devastation is under control (knocking on wood as we speak...) although I'm scared to put my kitchen back together and as a result still haven't really cooked since the "incident".  That also contributes to a slow blog week.

So, I figured this is a good opportunity to seek insight from my knowledgable readers.  Who out there is a successful cilantro grower?  I know I pop up in the RSS feed of at least a few garden gurus, so give it up!! I've never been especially lucky with growing cilantro, but this year is just rediculous.  Each plant has about three leaves and then went straight to seed.  I tried to keep it trimmed back, to no avail.  How on earth am I supposed to make fresh salsa with my homegrown tomatoes and peppers if my cilantro won't grow??

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Red, White and Blue...in a can.

Well, as I didn't have the time or wherewithal to make an apple pie, this will have to suffice for my All-American post ... Happy 4th All!!

The delicious dish...

... of cheese and duck fat was at the Gingerman.  I neglected to add the link in the original post and for some reason my ability to respond to multiple requests for the info in the comments section isn't working lately.  I do hope it makes another appearance.  My arteries disagree but I don't care.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Violet Vinegar, take 2.

 I got this idea last year from another local blogger, now found at Crunchy Chelle, and I thought I'd give it another shot this year.  My yard was gorgeous this spring when the violets were in bloom and I sat myself down one sunny weekend day and just picked.  I don't put anything on my lawn so no worries there.  I gave the flowers a good rinse, packed them in a mason jar, filled it with white vinegar and let time do it's work.  I only made one jar so I don't have a lot of product, but I will get a salad or two out of it.  Mostly, I just thought it was pretty sitting on my windowsill.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

After a long, miserable day of cleaning, I snuck out for a beer with family and friends at my favorite local watering hole.  Having absolutely no desire or ability to cook in my kitchen, I glanced over my shoulder at the special board to see if there was anything I wanted to take to go.  I think I exclaimed out loud, because my companions also turned to look and we were all drawn to an appetizer special.

House-made Mozzarella, pan seared in duck fat, with avocado, mango and raspberry gastrique.

Hoooollllyyyyy Crap.

My Uncle, who almost never orders food at the bar declared that we MUST try this and ordered up a serving for us to split.  It was amazing.  Better with the mango than avocado, but just, absolutely amazing.  I'm sure my heart will stop from eating cheese fried in duck fat but I don't care, I'll die happy.  The picture simply doesn't do it justice but I took it on the sly!

Pantry Devastation

I've been meaning to undertake a significant pantry/kitchen storage system overhaul.  I never quite loved how things were organized when we first moved into the house, but I just never came up with a better way.  Eventually, even the loose sense of order gave way to chaos.

I am currently in the midst of a major overhaul, but only because my hand was forced.  I live in an old house and it's not uncommon to see a creepy crawly now and again.  I seem to have lots of spiders and thanks to the hole Wonderpup scratched in the sliding glass door screen, flying critters will occasionally come in for a visit.

Just a day or so ago I noticed a handful of larvae of some sort on my kitchen ceiling.  Eh, something flew in, or came in on my veggies.  No big deal.  I climbed on a chair and squished the inchworm-like creatures and thought nothing of it.  I don't get overly girly about such things and I was in the middle of a major kitchen scrubdown anyway.  But they didn't go away, they multiplied.  I noticed a small moth flitting around the kitchen. I snapped out of my denial and this morning, when there were more crawlies on my ceiling than I care to admit, I hit the interwebs.

I very quickly determined that my problem is some sort of pantry moth - a grain moth or an Indian Meal Moth.  Whatever did we do before Google?  My sense of satisfaction over identifying the problem quickly evaporated as I read about how the problem materializes and how much of a pain it can be to resolve.  I was so disturbed by my findings that I left work to come home and address the issue immediately.  I now have pheromone traps set up (the horny little bastards came out of the woodwork for those!) and my kitchen smells of cinnamon and peppermint thanks to the pet safe insecticide.  Soon it will smell of Simple Green.

I am in the midst of completely emptying my pantry.  I'm heartbroken and majorly creeped out.  Currently, I'm taking a break between garbage bag numbers three and four.  Most upsetting is the loss of my King Arthur mixes, Trader Joe's cornbread and other assorted goodies.  However, after reading that these suckers can come from commercial plants, chew through thin cardboard and can leave eggs in that half used box of pasta for up to a year, it's all going.

Hey, at least now my cabinets will be nice and organized - stacked to the brim with airtight plastic containers.  Bed Bath and Beyond is going to LOVE me.

I send this as a warning to my readers.  Maybe I'm the only dumbass that didn't think too much about the box of cornmeal over the stove or the half used bag of pasta.  But just in case ... because, boy, have I learned my lesson.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sounds I love, and the tastes they inspire

Right now the rain is gently giving my garden a drink so I don't have to.  Thanks rain.  It's also bouncing off my air conditioner when the wind is just right, pinging away to make itself heard.  Wonderpup is curled up near my bed, but for some reason on the hard floor and not in his own comfortable spot.  He's huffing away in the heat, a bit of panting, a bit of snoring, and the thunder is just far enough away to make its presence known but not near enough to disturb any of the other sounds.  It's a perfect balance.

This, right now, is the sound of summer.  It makes me miss my grandmother's back porch and the camp we used to spend time at on Lake George.  Wonderpup's huffing is the only new addition, but it's a welcome one.  I suddenly have an overwhelming desire to drink sun tea, play gin rummy and eat tomato sandwiches.  I'm also dying for strawberry shortcake.  The real stuff, with biscuits, not those spongy things you buy in the store.  Maybe it's the beers or the lingering effects of good company, but gosh the sound of the rain makes me happy... and hungry.

I'm curious, what are the summer flavors you can't live without?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Another Ohio treat

Exciting news delivered by the good folks at All Over Albany - another Ohio favorite, Graeter's Ice Cream is now available locally.  I'm not sure I care to admit how often the treat served as a meal in and of itself during my time in Columbus.  I'm trying really hard not to get in the car and drive to Latham right now.

Using the arugula

On my drive home today I was pondering what to do with the arugula I picked up yesterday at the farmers' market as I knew I was racing against time to avoid a wilted mess.  The mental inventory of my fridge and pantry was depressing, and then I realized I'd be home early enough to hit up my local Italian import store - Ragonese.  Visions of cured meat and mozzarella danced in my head and I had my answer.  I only had to resist just buying a hunk of eggplant parm and calling it a night.

Ragonese is a local gem, one which I don't frequent enough, especially considering it's right around the corner from my house.  For some reason, I had it in my head they closed at 6pm and I was pleased to see that they are indeed open until 7, affording me much more opportunity to visit.  My wallet and waistline might not be happy with this revelation, but my taste buds sure are.

I envisioned a big sandwich, and grabbed some sweet sopressata, prosciutto and mozzarella.  Unfortunately, however, they didn't have any good sandwich rolls, just Freihoffer's bread - which certainly wouldn't cut it.  I toyed with swinging by the local bakery but I had Wonderpup in the car with me and I was already feeling guilty for my very quick run into one store.

So sandwich morphed into salad, which is probably better anyway.  I mixed the already wilty arugula with some lettuce freshly picked from my garden, threw the meat and cheese on top and whipped up a quick balsamic vinaigrette.  Presto, dinner was done.  I'm not going to say it was healthy, per se, but boy was it yummy.  Maybe next time I'll even add some vegetables.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Swiss Chard take 1

I decided I couldn't wait until tomorrow and cooked myself up a little pre-Sunday cocktails snack.  I'd poked around the internet for swiss chard ideas and pulling a little from here and a little from there, I came up with this:

A handful of chopped garlic scapes and chard torn into small pieces, sauteed in olive oil.  A few turns of the black pepper grinder, a pinch of kosher salt, squeeze of lemon, some freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of celery salt.   Ok, it was supposed to be a pinch, but the celery salt came out a bit too fast and the result was good, but a tad too salty.  I'll probably skip the kosher salt next time until I'm closer to finished so I can better adjust.

It was a yummy little snack, not the least bit bitter and nice and balanced.

To market I go

Determined to prepare my own food again after a long few weeks completely estranged from my kitchen, I bounded off to the Schenectady Greenmarket this morning.  I'd hoped for a fairly quick trip but some ex-pass apparently had other plans as exit 24 turned into a giant parking lot.  I was in good spirits for first fifteen minutes or so, hanging out with the windows down and the radio up.  The old dude in the white chevy next to me might not have enjoyed the wait as much as I did, but I'm sorry, if you can't appreciate a little White Album on a Sunday morning, well then I just don't have much use for you.  I did start to get a little fidgety when I realized that no ex-pass lanes were open and my side of the exit had 3 available lanes to the other side's 9.  It took me a solid hour to get to the market and as a result I spent much less time actually there than it took me to get there, but that's ok.



In my quick run through the market, I grabbed all sorts of exciting bounty.  Without my CSA I haven't had any garlic scapes yet this season, so I was excited to see them still in abundance.  I picked up some chard to experiment with before I cut down my own and I was thrilled to see great big zucchini already available.  Radishes and wild arugula rounded out my shopping bag.  Not the most coherent shopping day, but that's not altogether unusual for me.
 
I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my bag o'veggies, I plan to brainstorm while I'm putzing around cleaning the kitchen - a critical first step before starting any cooking.  But alas, despite my grand plans, I've already made plans for the evening that will take me away from the kitchen.  It's the thought that counts, right?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Life is short...

I went home today to see my youngest brother graduate from high school (gosh, I don't know how that's possible...) and on the way back to Albany I passed a car that had a bumper sticker which read "Life is short, play with your dog."  Truer words were never spoken.  I've missed my guy tremendously these past few weeks when I was trapped in the office and the bumper sticker made me smile even as I was yelling at Wonderpup to get back into the backseat.

While finishing the drive, I got thinking about other ways to complete that phrase - Life is short: read more, drink good wine, pick flowers, play outside.

Back at my house, the wreckage from weeks of quite literally coming home just to sleep is all around.  The house needs cleaning, my garden needs love, laundry needs to be done.  But more importantly my body and mind need a break and my puppy  needs some snuggles, so all that will have to wait.  So my exciting Saturday night plans are to settle in on the couch with a bottle of wine, my friend Cormac McCarthy, maybe some mindless tv and my Wonderpup.  I might be getting old, but it sounds just perfect.

I opened up my wine cabinet, craving red, and found the only such bottles were on the "bottom shelf" - the spot where I keep the good wine/special occasion bottles (backwards, I know).  I've been trying to dabble in learning a bit more about wine and I like to segregate the bottles I put some thought into from my standard everyday drinkables.  Mostly, I so rarely indulge in a bottle much over $15 that I want to be sure I don't grab it when I'm already a few glasses deep and can't truly enjoy it.

I lingered over the frissante white and the rose, but it's just not hot enough for either, I want red.  I lamented for a moment and then thought about the bumper sticker and my list - who says I can't drink a nicer bottle of wine by myself on a Saturday.  In fact, I absolutely should do that... so an '07 Sterling Cab it is.  I'm writing this post in an attempt to distract myself while letting it breathe.  Happy Saturday folks!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yay Bettie!

As the legislative session drags on beyond its scheduled end, I continue to live at the office and hope that someday I'll return to my kitchen and garden.  I'm thankful for the rain because it means I'm not out trying to water my tomatoes in the dark.  There are some bright spots in my sob story though - my employer is great about feeding us to avoid mutiny and for the most part dinner for the past two weeks has been from Cardona's.  That in and of itself is almost worth the 14+ hour days.  But today, it got even better.  Bettie and her cupcake truck came down to the Capitol in the deluge and she was handing out free cupcakes to anyone who supports marriage equality.   As no one wanted to come out of the Capitol to brave the rain, she was sending her delicious treats inside to provide a little pick me up. Love her, and loved this...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Welcome Summer!!

What a spectacular day it was today.  The only thing that could have made it better is if I was up at the Lake spending time with my Dad, but work often interferes with celebrating Father's day on the correct weekend and as I have the world's most understanding father, next weekend it is.

I was driving along today, windows down, tunes up and heading home to make my first caprese salad of the season.  I'd been unable to stop thinking about it since noticing my basil growing like a weed, and a big red beefsteak tomato at Fresh Market put me over the edge.  The simple salad is one of my favorites and I got thinking today about how it represents achievements and goals for me.  Silly, I know, but hear me out.  I've admitted here more than once that I struggle against a black thumb.  I've come a long way though - having decent success with (some) herbs for a couple of years now and managed to pull off tomatoes last year. (Two years ago with the tomatoes was totally not my fault...everyone had trouble!)  I'm not a master gardener, nor do I aspire to be, but I get a lot of joy out of creating some fresh ingredients in my own yard. Recently, I've been thinking about cheesemaking.  I think about it in the same way I think about canning, a good idea in theory but I'm convinced I'll somehow kill myself or others.  But still, in all my spare time, I think it would be cool to try making cheese.  Someday.

So in the flash of inspiration that always comes with a windows down drive on a beautiful day, I thought how cool it would be to someday make my favorite simple little dish with ingredients that I grew or made myself.  To do so, I'll have to keep plugging away at the progress I've made with an eye toward a more lofty goal in the future.  I like the idea, both with respect to dinner and in general.

As I pondered caprese salad as a metaphor, my iPod, sensing my mood as always, flipped to this fantastic tune by the Decemberists, pointing out very clearly that summer is here and after a long, hard winter, that can't be bad.

Who needs the gym...

The torture implement and a
little inspiration
...when you have a beautiful day, a ton of yardwork and a reel mower?  Phew, maybe it's the quick beer in the evening that turned into multiple and a later night than planned (what can I say, I'm a sucker for a nice summer night and outside drinking), but I need a break.  I'm trying to crank out some work on my very neglected yard and garden, but I'm getting more of a workout than I'd planned. Pushing the reel mower along the hill in my front yard is a great little exercise.  The backyard was another story.  My giant tree sheds sticks all the time, so before mowing I had to take care of the presents Wonderpup left  me and rake up all the sticks.  Then I mowed.  I did not heed a dear reader's warning and the grass was looooong.  So then I raked again to pick up all the clippings.  I actually should mow again, but I decided to come inside, put my feet up and write a post instead.

I have some motivation to get my backyard in a bit better shape.  I'd really love to sit out there with a cold beer and a little blaze in the firepit I finally put together.  It would be extra nice to have company join me and have the yard look respectable.  Not good, mind you, I'm just going for respectable this season - one step at a time!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

No worse for the wear

I had to count on mother nature to tend to my garden this week, as my work schedule barely allowed me to take care of myself let alone any other living thing.  Thank goodness for an army of help to keep Wonderpup entertained.  Upon inspection this morning, I was happy to see that things are plugging along but for my disappearing swiss chard.  The case of the disappearing chard has been building for a couple of weeks.  I planted five or six plants, which were slowly and meticulously raided by some OCD rodent.  The pillage was not haphazard in the least, but a calculated move from one plant to the next, sparing only my one remaining plant.  Nothing else has been touched - lettuce is fine, other veggies are fine, I swear the critter is just trying to mess with my head.  Other than that, things seem to be going alright it's already time to harvest some basil to keep the plants cranking and it's too early to say if I've killed my tomatoes or not yet!

the surviving chard

Just waiting for the tomatoes

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nostalgia

I’ve been on this kick lately of stopping at the grocery store on my way to work to pick up a supply of breakfast and lunch items. I’m one of those people who can’t eat first thing, and as I don’t take an hour to get ready for work, I’m rarely in the house long enough in the morning for breakfast. Stopping on my way to work and stocking up the fridge there seems to be working better for me than remembering to open my own fridge and bringing something in. It’s sad, but true.


I haven’t yet decided if these whirlwind shopping trips save me money or help me eat less junk. I’d like to think yes on both counts, I’m certainly walking down to the coffee shop for food and caffeine less. The other day, though, I had this overwhelming craving for Eggos. Blueberry eggos to be exact, and I’ve been enjoying them for breakfast for about a week. The nostalgia they incite is odd, I remember not particularly liking them as a kid (now, Aunt Jemima French toast, that’s another story … I don’t think I’ve even THOUGHT about that stuff for 20 years, and while writing this I just had a major flashback… anyway). I tried to eat the grown un, healthy waffles, I really did, but they just don’t cut it. I’m sure I’ll finish the box and not touch them again for years, but I am enjoying eating breakfast like a 12-year-old for the moment.

More in the vein of what I normally like to eat, I was slicing up a mango this morning to snack on later and suddenly could almost feel myself back in Costa Rica. I guess that’s not really all that surprising, it’s grey and rainy here, I’m chained to my desk and behind on housework – of course a tropical escape would be a nice thought. I was lucky enough to spend about a month in Costa Rica almost – gasp – fifteen years ago and gosh do I miss the food, especially the fruit. It took me years to be able to eat a banana here again after picking them straight from the tree and understanding what they’re really supposed to taste like. Sunshine, warm beaches, fresh tropical fruit … good thoughts to get one through a day like today. I think I will focus on this food nostalgia instead of Eggos.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I really shouldn't be lamenting my lack of CSA this season as much as I am considering the fact that I can't even remotely keep up with my minimal farmers' market purchases.  Case in point, I learned this week that neglected leeks have a mind of their own:


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Today I got something back that I'd really believed was just out of my life forever.  I had my first successful run in well over three years.  During that time, I've been struggling with a back injury that has at various times left me frustrated, depressed and pissed off.  Chronic pain will do that I suppose, but I've been working very hard at learning to live with bum discs by adjusting my lifestyle and practicing pilates religiously.  I've gone from hurting every day to discomfort to actually feeling pretty strong and while not completely back to where I was pre-injury, in a much better place.

I've been told that my running days are over, but I have dabbled with it lately and it just hasn't clicked.  I feel a tweak or twinge in my lower back and I have to stop.  I was starting to think the naysayers were right.  But today, out of the blue at the gym, I started and just didn't stop.  I got past the wall, which came embarrassingly early, and just kept running.  I might be the only person in the world who would use an acoustic version of Moon River to push through, but it was Josh Ritter, a guitar and one of my favorite songs - I think that could get me through the Blitz.  Before I knew it, 20 plus minutes and a couple of miles were gone and I was rocking one serious runner's high.  I really, really missed that feeling.

It got me thinking about working hard at something.  I've spent three years relearning how to stand, correcting my awful posture, strengthening the muscles I need to stay out of pain and all of a sudden it just came together.  A little patience and a lot of perseverance, I guess.

To celebrate, I made myself guacamole.  A metaphor for patience ... I COULD eat it now, but it will taste so much better in a few hours.  For this batch I used, in addition to the avocado of course, garlic, lemon, red onion, cilantro and a nice dose of this ground California chile that I picked up in, well,  California.

With respect to perseverance, I got thinking about that too.  I've been in a culinary rut for ages.  I have little flashes of experimentation, but lately I'm barely cooking let alone cooking anything new, which is silly.  When I first lived by myself back in college, I learned a ton about cooking by just trying it.  That was when I really started to love it.  If I royally screwed something up, it was no problem because no one knew and I just tried again.  You don't learn anything if you don't screw up a bit along the way, and success without a few bumps in the road certainly isn't as sweet.

It won't happen this week because I'll be living at the office, but I think it's time to get back to pushing through some experiments.  Who knows when I'll have another breakthrough like today!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The holy trinities

It's said good things come in threes.  There are many such trinities worth worship.  Gin, tonic, lime.  Bacon, lettuce, tomato.  Three snuggling boxers.   Tomato, basil, mozzarella.  Wine, cheese, wine.  I could go on all night.

I'll be honest, I had a real shit day today.  I won't get into details, but suffice it to say there was venom running through my veins all day.  A nice lunch out with a good friend helped take the edge off, but still, I was just not fit for consumption for most of the day.

I had a scheduled workout class, and the stretching and torture that comes with pilates did help to take my edge off a bit.  My luck started turning around though when I got to my car.

Apparently I'd gotten out of the car with the new 90s and more station on (Love you, Crush 105.7) and when I turned the key Sinead O'Connor was signing her heart out.  Nothing like belting out an early 90s classic heartbreak tune at the top of your lungs in the privacy of your car (that last part is CRITICAL for me) to lift your spirits.  So sing along with my crazy Irish sister I did.  Then I glanced at my phone and noticed a waiting text message.  It was from an old, dear friend telling me he was in town for a wedding.  Said friend just happens to hail from the Emerald Isle as well, so score two for the Irish.  It's been far too long since I've seen my friend and his note quite literally made my week.  Facing hunger, an empty fridge and a powerful thirst, I headed to the bar for a quick bite. (Sorry wilting beet greens, I just couldn't cook you tonight...)  I ordered myself a McSorley's to round out my Irish trifecta and with the first sip I felt the last of my venom float away.  Good songs, good friends and good beer, all with an Irish twist ... perfect.

To fight off the hunger I went for another trinity and ordered myself a BLT.  A quick run through the summer rain and home to my pup to rescue him from the thunder and my night was complete, and better than it started.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

mmmm, pie!

Sometimes, it’s the simple pleasures that are the best. I love pie for breakfast. I mean, I love pie any time and would often choose it over cake any day of the week, but there is something spectacular about pie for breakfast. I’m sure I’ve confessed to this here before. Typically, pie for breakfast is a holiday thing – I’ll have it for a day or two after Thanksgiving or Christmas when my Mom bakes enough pies to sink an army. Trust me, with my stepfather and two teenaged brothers measuring in at 6’4” and 6’7’ I’m not employing a lot of hyperbole here. You can imagine how much pie she has to make for there to be leftovers.

I went to the Troy Farmer’s Market on Saturday with an old friend and as we wandered by the pie vendor, I paused. They had small pies for sale and a rhubarb one jumped out at me. But I wanted STRAWBERRY rhubarb and of course they only had it in the normal pie size. As I pondered the purchase, the sweet gentleman behind the counter explained to me that I could cut off a chunk and freeze it. It was then that I realized, who am I kidding? I can eat a whole pie. That’s not to say that I should eat a whole pie, but lord knows I can. Metabolism don’t fail me now.

So pie for breakfast it is, a few days running now. It’s great, I pack up a slice in foil and march off to work. You know, like old Welsh miners did back in the day, but a 21st century, kinda yuppie version. I don’t feel the least bit guilty and it’s not like this is an everyday occurrence. I just really wanted a strawberry rhubarb pie, it’s late spring and you’ve got to get while the gettin’ is good. No, I didn’t make it myself and I’m ok with that. Full confession here – I can make a mean crumble top, but I can’t tell you the last time I made my own crust. It’s something I’d like to work on, but now is not the time.