Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beets, you say?

So every weekend at the farmers market I ogle fresh beets, but I have no clue what to do with them. They look so beautiful, but so tough, like maroon rocks with stalks. How can you possibly soften those babies up?

Well, ye of little faith. I finally bought a bundle of seven healthy beets this weekend, forcing myself to learn what to do with them. I love pickled beets, but I didn't know what else to do with them, and pickling can be tricky. Right? Not sure I'm there yet...

Thanks to some simple Googling, beets aren't as intimidating as they look. Here's what I did with them.
  • Preheated the oven to 400 degrees
  • Wrapped each beat in aluminum foil and lay all beets on a baking sheet
  • Baked for 45-60 minutes or until soft enough to stab easily with a fork
  • Gently peeled off the stem and cut off the stalks
  • Sliced each beet lay slices out on a plate
  • Thinly sliced 2 fresh peaches and lay directly on top of beets
  • Lightly drizzled honey over beets and peaches
Voila! I also made wax beans tossed with fresh tomatoes, onions, peeled green peppers, dijon mustard and crumbled feta cheese. I couldn't resist these beautiful purple, green and white beans. I'm such a sucker for colorful produce!

Joe made caprese with a homemade mint/jalapeno drizzle. Again, everything we ate was bought from local vendors at the farmers market. It's the only way to go.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cantaloupe soup with chives

We tend to blow out the cooking on one major meal per week. The rest of the nights are pretty simple recipes that have fallen into our "go to" file for quick fixes.

But last night was a blow-out night. The clock was ticking on some produce bought Saturday at the market. We had a bunch of veggies and fruit, but no standard starch to act as a foundation. Not that you always need a starch, but I wasn't in the mood for a standard stir-fry.

So we made cantaloupe soup with fresh chives as the appetizer, and a mushroom, basil and red wine sauce served over sweet white corn cut off the cob. We paired this with a bottle of Jack Merlot, which wasn't too bad for only $7!

Cantaloupe soup for 2:
  • Slice one half of a ripe cantaloupe into chunks.
  • Puree in a food processor with a splash of lime juice until all lumps have disappeared.
  • Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Serve chilled with minced chives and ground pepper sprinkled on top.
Goes great with French bread for dipping! I loved the final result. The soup was so light and fresh, and not too sweet with the pepper and chives on top to add some contrasting flavors.

Maybe next time I puree cantaloupe, I'll add a little milk and make a milkshake. I could also picture adding green peppers and maybe even tiny diced tomatoes to the cantaloupe soup to make it a more formal evening course.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A picnic worth a symphony

My parents were up visiting this weekend from Virginia, and it was so great to have them on my home turf! My OCD tendencies came out, and I had created an itinerary for us full of fun stuff and local events, (which I got ragged on about all weekend long. Thanks guys!).

Friday night we ate at the ever-disgusting Don Pablo's in Owings Mills. Don't ask why. I had a hankering for bad Mexican food. Well, mostly just chips and salsa, and Don Pablo's was near my office where my parents met me. Barf.

When that miserable experience was finally over, we saw Mamma Mia! at the nearby theater. IT WAS INCREDIBLE! I was grateful that my parents had raised me to be ABBA-lovers so that I could sing along and dance in my seat. I was grinning ear to ear! Some critics have ruled it "silly", but I wholeheartedly bought into the goofiness. In fact, I would have been disappointed if I had not walked out of that theater feeling buoyed and slap happy. Mamma Mia, here I go again. My my, how can I resist you?...

Oh. Right. Sorry.

Saturday we tackled Artscape , the country's largest free public art festival, in the sweltering heat, which unfortunately left me slightly less curious about the festival than under normal, more bearable temperatures. I had to indulge a childhood memory, so we waited in line to ride the ferris wheel, and the breeze at the top of the rotation was worth the wait!

But Saturday night, my parents, Joe and I headed out to Oregon Ridge Park to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's "Hocus Pocus" program of songs from magical movies. (This was one of the Summernights performances). It was our first time, and I strongly encourage everyone to go. There must have been 5,000 people spread out all over the park to hear the beautiful sounds of the orchestra on a warm summer night with a jet black sky and twinkling stars. We arrived right at 8:00pm, start time, and even though we sat almost as far towards the back as you could, the sound was loud and as audible as if we were in an enclosed auditorium.

Joe and I had prepared a picnic extraordinaire in my wicker picnic basket, and since it was our menu, we treated my meat-loving parents to a vegetarian picnic, Meghan and Joe-style. All ingredients were purchased at the Waverly farmers market that morning with my parents in tow so they could appreciate the in-season selections.
  • Fried eggplant slices with dollops of homemade pesto
  • Fried green tomatoes
  • Sauteed slices of zucchini and squash
  • Miniature crab cakes (only store bought item from Wegman's)
  • Olive tapenade
  • Diced cantaloupe
  • Sliced peaches with honey
  • French baguette with white truffle oil
  • Chardonnay from Cross Keys vineyard in Virginia (courtesy of mom and dad)

The spread was fantastic, the music was flawless, and the company was perfection. The BSO finished the concert with a fireworks display choreographed to a medley of theme songs, like Superman, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To anyone looking for a great date night or a little culture for your kids, pack it up and head to Oregon Ridge. All you really need is bug spray. The rest can be purchased on-site at concession stands.

But a picnic made with love is unforgettable.

Eat Local Week

I feel like such a blogging slacker! I had family in town this weekend, and haven't caught up on my posts yet.

But for tonight, I'm enjoying the night to myself, listening to the new Coldplay album and lounging in PJs and ponytail. Heavenly.

I didn't even intend to be home right now. After work, I caught up with a girlfriend and then headed down to the BWI airport loop to ride my bike for a few hours. When I pulled my bike out of the car, it was all funky, and my short patience fuse blew before I could figure out how to fix it. So I drove home with my only sweat having been earned from frustration instead of arduous pedaling for dozens of miles. I was not a happy camper.

This week is officially Eat Local Week in Maryland, and possibly other places, and I'm happy to oblige. The challenge to consumers is to eat 10 local products during the week. My pleasure!

Since I had only myself to impress with dinner tonight, I made two quintessential summer snacks - sweet white corn on the cob and ripe heritage tomatoes on crackers with homemade pesto. The corn, tomatoes and basil for the pesto were all purchased on Saturday at the Waverly Farmers Market on 32nd St. Light and fresh, colorful and local. Local foods taste so much richer and more complex than vegetables grown in greenhouses and shipped from California. I don't have time to go off on my local food tangent right now, but there are other financial, environmental and economic reasons why it's best to eat local products.

I'm getting a little nervous thinking about how I'm going to make it through the off-season without local produce. I wasn't nearly as conscientious about eating locally last winter, but after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and working for a local beef producer, I'm a changed soul. Will I get as creative as Kingsolver did in my in-season preservation methods? If so, I better get started canning and freezing! On second thought, not quite sure I have all that in me. Maybe I'll just limit my off-season selection to whatever is for sale locally instead of trying to preserve everything now.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Crab feast is right

Last night was my annual company crab feast, and I certainly had my fill. My lips were red and burning from the Old Bay, and my skin was red up to my wrists. I held nothing back.

But while I was busy indulging, I was surprised at the number of native Marylanders around me that have sworn off crabs. They are "too messy", "it's too much work", or "crabs are scavengers. Do you really want to know what you're eating?" And this coming from so-called "manly men".

So what gives? I'm not a native Marylander, and I don't give worship the always-acceptable seasoning that is Old Bay, but I can appreciate a good crab feast. Who can deny cold beer, brown paper tablecloths and messy hands all over some friendly conversation?

Oh well. More for me.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cross one off

So I'm a little out of order with my posts, but I thought this was worth mentioning. We went to Lemongrass Tuesday night. It's been on our "need to go" list for a while.

Lemongrass, the Thai fusion restaurant that originated in Annapolis and is now open in downtown Baltimore, has an amazing outdoor dining area. Tsunami and Lemongrass share the outdoor dining space, which is in between the two restaurants and not visible from the road.

The outdoor area is about the size of a rowhouse, and I could honestly live there full-time (given perfect weather year round and no rain, of course). The exposed brick walls have been painted a tan color, and about 10 old wooden beams are the only things separating you from the sky. A simple, sleek bar divides the terrace in the middle, and soft lighting makes for an intimate setting. Super chic.

Since we have a tendency to go out on odd nights of the week, such as this Tuesday evening, there weren't too many people hanging out. However our waiter, who we'll just call "Awesome" for privacy sake, was FULL of stories. Joe and I are suckers for burgeoning artists, and this struggling poet was hungry for an audience. And I learned way more than I was comfortable knowing about certain businesses. Let's just say Tony Soprano had nothing on our waiter.

Had an appetizer tray of chicken satay, spring rolls, crispy wontons and fried calamari with a glass of Arrogant Frog Chardonnay. We'd intended to stay only for a drink and appetizer, but surprise, surprise, we ordered dinner. (Give us a good outdoor table, and we'll camp out all night!). The Pad Thai Tofu was a delicious vegetarian option.

We'll be back for outdoor cocktails in the next two weeks, I bet.

Cheesy Eggplant Sandwiches

So yesterday I was home sick, but I'd begun to recover around 4:00. Having eaten nothing all day, I was seeking something brilliant. Thankfully, I'd shopped the other day for ingredients from a Food & Wine recipe for Cheesy Eggplant Sandwiches. My two hearty eggplants in the fridge were screaming to be fried in something delicious.

The gist of the recipe is to bread and fry 16 slices of eggplant. Then you mix up provolone and feta cheese, basil and parsley leaves, sauteed onion and a little salt and pepper. Spread this cheese mix in between two slices of fried eggplant to make an eggplant sandwich. Bake 8 sandwiches for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Drizzle lightly with pomegranate molasses (which I had to make myself since the store was out).

It sounds like weird combinations - fried eggplant, cheese and molasses? But it was DIVINE! Eggplant is such a neutral vegetable, so you can use it as a foundation for really distinct toppings. The molasses was pretty powerful, so I'd recommend only a very light drizzle.

Frying eggplant in vats of oil made for quite a smoky house, but thankfully we were able to look past the billowing clouds of smoke to enjoy a new recipe. Today, however, my clothes definitely smell like fried eggplant. Hope my colleagues like eggplant!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dining with strangers

Good news! We didn't scare off the couple we met at a hostess stand a few weeks ago! You might recall, on our search for outdoor dining we introduced ourselves to a couple on the same hunt and ended up sharing dinner together at the Wine Market. Joe and I had a great time, but it's quite possible the other couple could have found us to be weird, desperate, overbearing whack jobs.

Alas, this is not the case. (Self-esteem still in tact - whew). Steve and Kelly suggested another night out in a few weeks, so we're looking forward to a night with our artsy fartsy friends. The more culturally aware friends I can accumulate, the better. When we parted ways last time, Steve was about to participate in his first "poetry orgy" for class, so I'm anxious to hear how it went.

And p.s., major kudos to the professor behind that syllabus. What better way to get a bunch of college kids interested in poetry than to promise them an end of year "orgy"? Well done. What do you think Whitman would say?

Smitten for Cape Cod

So I took a couple days off from posting to enjoy a rare FULL weekend out of town with Joe. We actually spent 3 days at a family member's house in Cape Cod, and for the life of me, I can't name one think that wasn't perfect about the weekend. Twilight hours on the Cape are perfection and uber Americana. The house we stayed in is in Hyannisport, reknowned for housing the Kennedy clan, but for a town with so much clout, Hyannis boasts very few sophisticated dining options. Maybe that "pretentious" dining is just what people come to get away from.

But we didn't. Friday night we dined at the Roadhouse, a cozy spot with dark wood paneling and weekend piano player. (I must admit, I was thrilled to hear him bust out his interpretation of Kermit the Frog's "Rainbow Connection" on his shiny baby grand). I enjoyed one of the specials - almond-crusted Haddock with rice pilaf accompanied by a buttery glass of St. Francis Chardonnay.

We picked up lunch at the beach club on Saturday, (Nantucket chicken salad wraps and Cape Cod potato chips. How's that for local pride?), and then made a drugstore run for cheap champagne and hair products. Hey, it was slim pickings, people! It turns out, cheap champagne enjoyed on the back patio of an 1825 Cape Cod estate ain't so shabby.

Saturday's dinner was at, quite possibly, the only Italian restaurant in town, Ristorante Barolo. When traveling with Italians, it's inevitable that we must pay homage to the mother country at least once during each trip. Fine by me. The penne alla bascaiola (penne with sauteed mushrooms, Parma Prosciutto finished with mascarpone cheese and a touch of tomato) was literally heaven on earth.

After a flawless weekend of perfect weather, convertible rental cars and strolls through THE quintessential American neighborhood, we rounded our trip out with a 10-hour travel experience at Providence airport. Weather delays turned our 4:30pm flight into an 11:00pm flight. Awesome. Obviously we had to eat at some point, but I will make this next statement as a reminder to myself for all future Providence airport dining: Never, no matter how long the flight delay, fall prey to TGI Friday's. Trust us. It can make a bad flight even more miserable. Enough said. Two bags of Southwest peanuts and a ginger ale later, we were back in Charm City and longing for the northeast.

We're counting the days until we go back in early August for the annual family lobster feast. You want to talk about a way to spend an evening? Stay tuned, my friends.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Celebrating the radio

Last night was the first time Joe and I had seen each other in three days, so when I got home from work, we headed to Fell's Point in search of, as usual, outdoor tables for two. After three miserable attempts to parallel park across from Meli, I continued down the block until we decided on John Steven.

We'd eaten here for lunch, but we'd always heard the back patio was great. The back patio looked nice enough, but there was a huge awning over the tables, so you weren't actually exposed to the sky. No thank you. We settled for a table on the street facing the water. We snagged a bottle of Fifth Leg, a Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc blend, and some calamari and settled back in our chairs to relax. He had a caesar salad with grilled shrimp, and I had grilled tuna with sesame seeds and ginger sauce, accompanied by rice and veggies. Overall, it was a decent meal, but I don't think we'll be rushing back anytime soon. I will say though, the view sitting on Thames Street looking out over cobblestone roads and historic brick buildings on tree-lined streets isn't half bad. And the breeze coming off the water was just heaven. Warm breezes like those always affirm my love for summer evenings.

But while we were sitting there leisurely sipping chilled wine, we heard that Joe's band, the Aeroport Rocking Chairs, was about to come on the radio! Hence, the end of a leisurely meal. He sped off to the car to tune in while I wrapped up the check, and then we drove around town until it came on.

And oh my gosh. You've never seen a happier guy. This was their radio debut on WTMD, 89.7. "And next up, the latest from the Aeroport Rocking Chairs, Hold On To Me from their new album, YourEvolution." AH!

So then of COURSE we had to celebrate somewhere. I mean, come on. In usual Meghan and Joe style, we do our partying on Monday evenings when nothing is open in Baltimore. Except our tried and true Wine Market. Back again for dessert and a half price bottle of Miyone Old Vine Grenacha from Spain. (Mondays are "Neighborhood Night" and select bottles of wine are half price. A very nice selection to choose from, I must say). It was medium bodied and fruity and went surprisingly well with our Lavendar Fig bread pudding.

And once again, surprise surprise, we were the last ones out. We offered to let someone at the restaurant pick up our bill for us, but amazingly no one jumped at the opportunity. Oh well. There's always next Monday.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Seedless watermelons are no fun

I know I just posted an entry, but I have something to get off my chest. What is the deal with seedless watermelons?

I stopped at Wegman's this morning to pick up a watermelon for a radio contest for a client. The deejays planned to have a watermelon seed-spitting contest on-air. I saw bins and bins of seedless watermelons that had dwindling supply, and only one bin of "whole" watermelons. I bought a "whole" watermelon (which, by the way, shouldn't need any special "whole" label since it is the original watermelon form) and cracked it open at the station for the deejays. We were SHOCKED at the lack of shiny black seeds. Where did they go? The "whole" watermelon had tiny little white seeds that I guess are supposed to count, but those aren't spitting material!

Given the lack of spitting ammunition, the deejays settled for spitting chunks of watermelon instead of seeds, so it all worked out in the end. But I must say I'm disgusted at yet another display of American laziness as we genetically alter the true forms of our produce to make them easier to eat. Ew.

I'll take a shiny black seed-spitting contest any day over a face full of mutant watermelon any day. Just don't swallow the seeds. My dad, probably like yours, always warned I'd grow a watermelon in my stomach. No thanks.

Unwinding at Baltimore Chop

I had Tuesday night all to myself, and given my regular craving for books, books and more books, I headed down to Baltimore Chop for literature and entertainment. According to its website, Baltimore Chop was hosting a New York-based band for a chill night of folksy-pop. Count me in.

While the name Baltimore Chop always strikes me as odd for a bookstore, it's always a welcome respite for my inner nerd. (According to Wikipedia, the Baltimore Chop was a hitting technique used in baseball's dead-ball era and popularized by the O's). The store is a typical Baltimore rowhome with original hardwood floors and stacks and stacks of books. If chaos or clutter aren't your things, don't bother visiting. The owner, while super laid back and friendly, isn't much of an organizer. But the shop is cozy with a variety of books and a sweet selection of coffees.

Tuesday night, though, I settled for hot lime tea and excerpts from Augusten Burrough's "Magical Thinking", a collection of short, funny stories of his life. The visiting band, Benyaro, was a brother-sister duo who played sets for the next couple of hours. Overall they had a pleasant sound, but the brother's voice was rich and dynamic, while the big sister's voice was lackluster and predictable. (Good thing he's leaving her behind for his solo tour across the U.S.).

For good books, live music and an intimate setting, check out Baltimore Chop in Ridgely's Delight.