Friday, September 26, 2008

Turnip fries

Now that fall is officially here, roots and tubers are turning up everywhere at markets. I HAD to find something to do with turnips. No one ever uses them, but they're a vegetable, so how bad can they be?

Try this for a quick, healthy finger food:
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil
  • Peel turnips and slice like French fries
  • Toss in a large bowl with olive oil
  • Put fries in a one-gallon freezer Ziploc and generously sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dill (salt to your liking)
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes until crispy
WARNING! These turnip fries are addicting, so they're best shared with friends.

Or maybe I'll make some tonight as I indulge in my just-purchased Sex and the City movie...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Love was in the air

Saturday my best friend surprised her parents with a 30th anniversary party and recommitment ceremony, so I went home to Virginia to help out. I was a little nervous about how they were going to react to the surprise nuptials, but everything turned out beautifully in the end. I'd never witnessed a vow renewal ceremony, and I was very touched by the celebration of two people who have actively lived their marital vows for 30 years. This wasn't doe-eyed romance - this was the product of for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, two kids and everything else in between. Very inspirational.

Saturday night I trained up to NYC for a Sunday wedding in Westchester, about an hour north of the city. Our Baltimore friends tied the knot at a gorgeous (albeit HOT) ceremony at a Japanese garden that you'd never know was there. The entire wedding was themed Asian with Chinese lanterns, a themed cake and bamboo everywhere.

These two are big foodies, too, and we knew they'd put a lot of thought into their wedding menu. Everything was delicious and chosen with such care, including a wide array of vegetarian options (!), but our favorite passed hors d'oeuvres were the zucchini patties with dill and the artichoke bruschetta. Dinner was stations of Caesar and Asian salads, pesto or butternut squash pasta, and steamed vegetables, potatoes and salmon, I believe. (Correct me if I'm wrong, lovebirds!)

But the star of the afternoon, after the bride of course, was the cake. Their good friend is a reknowned cake designer and created the most beautiful cake I've ever seen or, more importantly, tasted. The cake was decorated to look like a purple kimono to fit with the Asian theme. I had the raspberry creme layer, and it was heavenly. Apparently there was a chocolate peanut butter layer, too, and possibly others.

After the wedding, Joe and I headed back to NYC and had dinner at a Thai-French fusion restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. The sheer selection of restaurants in New York is enough to make you want to pack up and relocate on the spot. But we didn't. Back to Baltimore we went.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Home cooking

Finally got to be home all night and just unwind and cook. I found an entire bin in the fridge FULL of tomatoes. Again. And they needed to be used. So I made homemade marinara with eggplant, scallions and garlic. It was just ok.

Something I enjoyed more was taking baked sweet potatoes, mashing them and topping them with chopped peaches and tomatoes. Delicious! The warm mash with the cold, sweet fruit was just what I needed.

Joe also sauteed onion layers in balsamic vinaigrette and Herbs de Provence. Great for nibbling while you're stirring an endless pot of tomatoes :)

We made do with the random produce left in the fridge. We were totally out of olive oil, and I felt paralyzed! I had no idea how much we relied on olive oil to sauteed stuff or thin it out. Never again! I'm going to the store tonight!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New fall menu at Wine Market

Got together with a few girlfriends last night at Lime, the tequila bar on Fort Ave. Unlike my friend who drinks tequila like water, I'm not a fan. Tuesdays are 2-for-1 night on all drinks, if anyone's interested. They had one Chardonnay, which worked for me.

Joe met us at the bar later in the evening, and he and I headed down the block to the Wine Market. For once, we weren't at the Wine Market on a Monday night!

We immediately noticed a menu overhaul - much more fall-ish recipes. For example, I had a cup of the sweet potato and apple bisque. It was deliciously simple, and I immediately starting thinking about how we could re-create this at home. I had the vegetarian special, which was spaetzle with spinach and melted goat cheese. Good, but nothing to write home about. Joe got the mushroom omelette with truffle oil, which smelled almost as good as it tasted. Truffle oil on anything is guaranteed to be fantastic.

We ordered the monthly flight of wines, three 3-oz glasses for $11.75. The featured flight was Rhone Reds, a blend of Syrahs, Grenaches and Mourvedres. Very good, but overall a little peppery for my tastes. The flights are a great deal if you want to try multiple wines.

The Wine Market menu hasn't been updated on the website yet, but I'm looking forward to working with a new selection on our next undoubtedly Monday night visit.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bicycle and a farewell

For the second time this week, we got together with our Italian stallion friend (ha!) and his lovely wife to say bon voyage to a UMMS attending who's leaving for a new hospital. After being little Betty Crocker inside all day, I was ready to do something civilized.

The five of us met at the Bicycle and were, I'm sure, the bain of our server's existence for the night. We were THAT table that, no matter how many times she came to take our order we were never ready, we returned the first bottle of wine because it wasn't what we thought, we never shut up long enough for her to offer us fresh pepper, and so on. However, I have no doubt her tip was good.

I got the chilled melon soup to start, and Joe got the sashimi tuna and avocado tartare. I know better than this! I should have gotten that too. It's the most incredible thing on the menu, hands down. We both got salads as our entrees, and before we knew it, two bottles of wine were down the hatch between the five of us.

Two things the Bicycle doesn't have: 1) mixed drinks and 2) espresso. For our Mexican friend, these were both travesties.

So dessert and coffee moved to our friends' house two blocks away. After two mottled attempts, we gave up on the vintage espresso machine and settled for multiple cups of coffee. Our friend opened this beautiful bottle of 10-year old Portugese Port. Very smooth.

Bonus! They had ripe figs growing on a tree in the back yard, so we did a little picking and had fresh figs and Port for dessert. That was my first fresh fig experience. What a gorgeous fruit - green on the outside and fleshy pink on the inside. Of course the Italian would have a fig tree in Baltimore. It's all or nothing, baby.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stocking up for winter

The Ravens traffic around our house today reminded me that I'm not going to be able to enjoy fresh summer produce much longer. We hit the market this morning, and I came home with a plan to start preserving stuff to freeze.

After much Googling, I learned you apparently can't just throw stuff in the freezer and expect it to come out tasting good in December. That worked for the mint leaves, but not the corn or peaches.

If anyone's interested in a little summer preservation, is a great site that gives directions for how to freeze pretty much any type of produce.

We also bought our first Canary (aka, Juan Canary) melon today. The bold yellow color was too appealing to walk away from. According to the farmer I spoke with, this melon is almost a hybrid between a cantaloupe and a honeydew melon. I wasn't able to find too many recipes for using it, but fresh chunks are always a winner (maybe with a touch of cinnamon on top), or chilled soup.

Red Canoe - coffee and books in Lauraville

I've been reading a ton about restaurants popping up in the Hamilton/Lauraville neighborhoods, but I had no idea where they were. So this morning, after referencing the September issue of Baltimore magazine, I jotted down directions to Clementine, and we hit the road seeking breakfast.

Long story short, I got distracted from my end goal when I saw Chameleon Cafe (another new restaurant I've heard tons about), so I parked and got out, only to find that they're closed on Sundays. Whoops. Fortunately, a bookstore and coffee shop called Red Canoe was next door and looked inviting.

Great find! The interior is super cozy, just like you'd imagine a bookstore and cafe to be. We decided to stay once we saw they had 1) breakfast burritos and 2) outdoor seating on a back deck. We pretty much had the back yard to ourselves, and we were happy to enjoy our accidental find. I would highly recommend the breakfast burrito with basil pesto. It gave a new flavor to a regular menu item.

I never did find Clementine, or Hamilton Tavern for that matter. But Red Canoe is worth a try. As we ordered, I could hear kids upstairs rehearsing music, and later a little ballerina came in for classes. Someone's making good use of all the floors of this rowhome.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Duel of the Italian stallions

Last night we went over to our newly married friends' house to do some long overdue catching up. I love these two, but I must say that whenever the new groom and Joe get together, I feel like I'm witnessing the battle of the Italion stallions. It's hysterical watching them challenge each other to see who knows the most Italian card games, who can pick the best wine, who can make the best Italian dish, etc, etc. They take themselves so seriously, but I was laughing to myself the entire time.

So not to be outdone, our friends made homemade ravioli with a mushroom sauce for dinner. The ravioli was completely from scratch and tasted just gorgeous. (I was supposed to be on recipe watch for my brother who wants to make homemade ravioli, but it was already done when we got there so I don't have any tricks to share. Sorry dude). To start us off though, they had a spread of olives, homemade red pepper hummus, baba ganoush and fresh pita bread. Joe was battling food coma before the real dinner was even served!

We were in charge of bringing wine and dessert, so we picked up four bottles on the way, including a 2006 Santa Margherita Chianti Classico that managed to survive our bottomless glasses and came home with us to enjoy tomorrow. During our last-minute scramble to come up with our end of the bargain (plan in advance? please!), we found a new bakery and cafe on Light Street named DeDe's across from Dangerously Delicious Pies. While I circled the block, Joe ran in and got four BEAUTIFUL individual desserts - a mango cake, traditional cream puff, strawberry shortcake and a chocolate mousse pie. The four of us took turns sampling. They weren't too sweet, so it didn't feel like dessert overload.

We wrapped up with a couple friendly hands of Spades and then went home. I will say, this round of the Italian stallion showdown had to go to our friend. But dinner's at our place next time.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My first First Thursdays

My friends have been buzzing about First Thursdays in Mt. Vernon all summer, and last night I finally made it!

First Thursdays takes place the first Thursday of every month (surprise!) in Mt. Vernon Square from 5:30pm til whenever the crowd fades out. Although I didn't indulge last night, I hear that Brewer's Art supplies the booze, and different up-and-coming artists perform each month. 

Last night I was intrigued to hear, or get a look at, more honestly, singer/songwriter Ben Taylor, son of James Taylor and Carly Simon. Sadly, despite all my Andretti moves on the beltway coming home, I missed dear Ben in his opening act. However, the guy that followed him sounded JUST like Ben's dad. So much so that I kept wondering when the second act was going to come on so they would stop looping James Taylor. Whoops! The guy had a great sound, although obviously it was not terribly original.

First Thursdays faux pas: I showed up empty-handed! I planned on just grabbing a glass of wine and food from a vendor on-site, but the entire square was packed with people who'd thought more ahead and packed food - including my friends! 

Must-have list for First Thursdays (and probably any outdoor music festival):
  • Blanket or chair to sit on
  • Finger foods that are immune to grass from dogs digging nearby
  • Multiple bottles of wine
Like the dork that I am, I'd packed The Omnivore's Dilemma, thinking I could conquer a few pages to the soothing sounds of some folk music. Um, no. Clearly I live in some dream world where it's appropriate to read books in any setting. For instance, at picnics with your friends, or at a bar. That's right, Joe. A bar! 

Maybe I should work on my social etiquette a bit more.

Last First Thursdays is October 2. Be there!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Going French

After a quick workout last night, I convinced Joe that we had enough ingredients at home to bypass an expensive dinner splurge at Whole Foods. (Poor guy. I could see him salivating just thinking about fresh salmon).

Turns out, I think we did QUITE well for creating an ad hoc menu with random produce leftover from Sunday's farmer's market. For starters, I took our four-day old baguette and sliced in half lengthwise. I set the oven to Broil and then sliced up red peppers, tomatoes, white onions and eggplant. I layered each vegetable across the baguette halves and drizzled olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, basil and parmesan cheese. I put these bad boys on a cookie sheet and broiled for 8 minutes - just enough to soften the crunchy bread and blacken the tops of the veggies.

Meanwhile, Joe was manning the stovetop. He broke down whole yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant into a hearty soup seasoned with salt and fresh tarragon. Now here comes the French part. He served the soup in small bowls and placed one fried egg on top of each soup. The yolks were slightly undercooked, so they oozed when we cut into the egg. A really interesting combination of textures - pureed vegetable soup and chewy egg whites.

On a side note, I'd never paid close attention to how tarragon tastes independent of other flavors. To me, it was like eating licorice! I looked up how to make licorice in countries all over the world, but tarragon is no where to be found. I thought for sure they had to be cousins.

For a hastily compiled meal of straggling market produce, we were quite pleased with the results. Granted, we didn't start eating until 10pm, but isn't that what the French do anyway?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Zucchini steaks and homemade gnocchi

Joe had several hours to himself yesterday before I returned from my weekend away, and he whipped up a fabulous dinner to greet my return :)

True to our local passion, he used ONLY ingredients from the farmer's market. I love that he's embraced the local movement as much as I have.

We started with zucchini steaks (chunked zucchini that was breaded and fried), topped with a tomato and hot pepper salsa and drizzled with freshly squeezed lime juice.

Next was homemade gnocchi from Yukon Gold potatoes. (According to our friend Dex, these are the best for gnocchi. Makes for a sweeter taste). Joe had boiled fresh tomatoes and eggplant down to a thick sauce, and he topped the gnocchi with this.

It was amazing! Do I really get to eat like this all the time? We bookended the meal with a nameless Cabernet Sauvignon and Pink, a special rose that my brother chose for me from Sullivan Vineyards when he was in California. A delightful wine that added a sweet ending to our dinner. We'd been saving it for a significant meal, and last night was perfect.

Labor Day in the Valley

I went to my parents' house in McGaheysville, VA, the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, for Labor Day weekend, knowing I'd feel a million miles away from Baltimore. And I did.

I met the fam for lunch Saturday at Earth and Tea Cafe in downtown Harrisonburg. I'm proud of conservative H'burg for supporting even this mildly exotic restaurant. (My home county is not the most "progressive", shall we say). The menu ranges from middle eastern dishes to South American  and African bites. I started with the East African soup of the day and the chicken curried salad. The best part, though, is the tea menu. I had the Chinese Fine Ti Kuan Yin, which, according to the menu description translates as the "Iron Goddess of Mercy" with a mild, orchid-like flavor. A small pot gets you three cups of tea. The decor feels like an Indian lounge. Lots of warm colors and tapestries. There's even a corner bed with curtains to curl up and read on in one corner. The dining tables are framed by pawn shop chairs and vintage couches. Disheveled but totally inviting. Perfect place to go on a chilly day with a good book.

I guess we were feeling a bit nostalgic because after lunch we walked down the street to the Rockingham County Library to check out our favorite childhood stories and see if they're still as good as they were way back when. We had this specific collection of ghost stories in mind, but I wanted to find all my Beverly Cleary books. Anyone else a fan of Ramona Quimby? Ramona the Pest? Beezus and Ramona? I can vividly remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Burner, reading Ramona the Pest to us as we sat on the carpet at her feet. The book's threadbare cover was mauve, and I can see Mrs. Burner's gnarly knuckles supporting its broken spine. She would turn the book around to show us pictures of the characters running through our imaginations. My Ramona! I found her!

From the library, we crossed the street to the weekly farmer's market, which was all but packed up.  A Mennonite family had the most beautiful display of produce. Rockingham County is blessed to have a heavy traditional Mennonite population who take such pride in all their belongings. The produce was stalked perfectly by item so that no two types of produce were touching. I couldn't stop asking the farmer question after question about his gorgeous selection. We bought a patty pan squash and a carnival squash, neither of which I'd ever seen before but I had to have. And there's no rush to prepare them. These squash can hang around for months and still be good! (I like low maintenance vegetables like this!)

We had a hodge podge dinner on our back porch - ravioli with vodka sauce and portabello sausage for Timothy, fried okra for me, and canned corn for Erika. Maybe a nasty combination, but all comfort foods prepared with love. We took turns reading our long lost children's books out loud at the table. And yes, I still jumped at the scary stories as my brother read them.