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Friday, December 30, 2011

Back to Real Life in the Kitchen

After making that fantastic rib roast for Christmas, and spending three days prepping for a major meal and multiple desserts, it's hard to know where to go next.  I need to eat to live and I should cook if I want to eat, but what?

I decided to start small and simple, using just what I had in the house.  This is so basic, I don't need a recipe.

Brown 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs on both sides in a little olive oil.  You can use breasts if you prefer.


Remove from pan and saute` two large diced shallots until soft and add 3 cloves of minced garlic.

Deglaze the pan with a cup of white wine.  Scrape up the brown bits in the bottom.  Add about a tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary and the zest of a lemon and the juice of half a lemon.


Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and add chicken back to pan and cook another 10 minutes (more if you're using thicker pieces of chicken).  Finish the sauce with a pat of butter if you're so inclined.

I got a bit more elaborate with the next meal because I used up all of my duck fat at Christmas and wanted to make more duck so I would have a supply of duck fat again.

I took a whole breast, scored the skin with a knife, and put it skin-side-down in a pan at a very low temperature for 20 minutes, pouring off rendered fat periodically and saving it.


Then it went 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven. 

Meanwhile I caramelized an onion, then added some port wine (about a cup) and chopped dried figs (around 6).  I let the figs soften up in this mixture and let it simmer and reduce down.


It all got whirled in the blender with some stock and a pinch each of cinnamon and powdered ginger.

 It went over the finished duck.  I served spinach on the side, but for once I didn't cream it.  (Yes, I do have an obsession with cooking spinach with lots of onions.)

Hope everyone has a very happy new year.  What are you doing to celebrate?  Going out somewhere fancy? Staying home?  Going to a house party?  SPP and I will be hanging at the home of one of our horsie set friends and spending the weekend at a B&B.  I'm making Emily's Chocolate Rum Cake for dessert.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Live Blog

Hi-Ho and Ho Ho Ho to all of my TERP Muffins.  Christmas is here and it's going to be a doozy this year.  Saturday night I'm hosting Christmas Eve dinner for Dad's side of the family at my place.  Sunday evening it's a Christmas dinner at Mom's. 

I have tons of stuff to do. It's so overwhelming.  I decided that I'd blog the whole process.  I doubt many readers care about every detail of Christmas dinner, but I am hoping that by keeping an account I will keep my sanity, and perhaps stay better organized.

It's Thursday morning and I probably could use this day off to relax, go riding, and take a breather before the real stress, but I decided to stay home and start putting dinner plans in motion.  The more I spread the chores out over the next three days, the less overwhelmed I feel.

Right now my to-do list consists of:

Buy coffee, milk, and ice
Buy wrapping paper
Wrap gifts
Iron table linens
Bake two kinds of cookies
Bake one cake
Make chocolate pudding
Clean the house from top to bottom
Prep anything I can prep ahead of time for dinner

My menu for Christmas Eve:
Cheese and pate` tray
Chianti risotto (another imitation of Italy)
Beef Rib Roast (using this method Susan recommended)
Shrimp roasted with lemon and herbs (Thanks to Sir Pickypants, I can't have a seafood-free Christmas Eve)
Green beans sauteed with garlic
Duck Fat Smashed Potatoes
Dark Chocolate Pudding in Snickerdoodle cups

I'm taking two desserts to Mom's house:
Cranberry and Chocolate Chip Cookies
Emily's Chocolate Eggnog Cake

Right now my house looks like this.
Can I pull off a Christmas miracle in 3 days?  Can I do all of this cooking and baking, get my gifts wrapped, and make my home look like civilized people live there?

I do have my trusty guide containing all recipes and a game plan for what needs to be done and when I should do it.  I didn't get fancy and bind it this time.

So...let's get this holiday started.

10:05 AM - Just did a big sweep through of the house, revealing my dining room table and trashing (via recyling of course) any excess paper.  My goal is to simply be rid of anything that doesn't need to be there.

My next stop is CVS.  I need more wrapping paper and gift bags.  This time of day it shouldn't be too crowded.  We shall see...

1:40 PM - I checked out our wrapping paper supply.  We did, in fact, have two large rolls of it, but the large rolls were bent to fit into a small drawer, crushing the paper and leaving it in deplorable condition.  I decided to buy some new paper anyway.  I finally have all of the gifts wrapped and under the tree.  I confess that during my lunch break I did some extended time in front of the Idiot Box.  I watched Gorden Ramsay and was reminded to stay in line and cook good food on Saturday.

I had to hit the supermarket as well.  At first I thought all I needed was ice, but then I realized I had very little coffee in the house (I only keep it around for guests, so I don't keep track of the supply).  While I had heavy cream, half-and-half and eggnog, I had no milk.  I also noticed I had very little Windex and a very dirty bathroom mirror.  The store was suprisingly quiet and uncrowded today.

I cam home to find my Christmas gift from my BFF had arrived. 

I could put these lovely artisinal Italian salami out in the appetizer tray for dinner.

But I won't. (evil grin ensues)

My next stop is to work out.  How else will I maintain this girlish figure during the holidays?

3:20 PM - RIP to my trampoline.  I decided I needed to shake up my cardio routines a bit and that I hadn't used my trampoline in a while.  I pulled out my Urban Rebounder DVD and did two of the workouts on it (they're short).  I heard something snap while I was bouncing around.  I assumed it was just the elastic on the mat cover and thought nothing of it.  I would just pull off the matt cover and trash it after my workout.  After I was finished, I turned the trampoline over to take the legs off and put it away when I saw that one of the springs had snapped off.  If the spring next to it had snapped off, the mat would have pulled away from the frame and probably would have caused a broken bone somewhere.  My trampoline is no longer safe if the springs are going to be breaking off.  I'm afraid I had to send it to the compactor room. :-(

9:00 PM - I think I have accomplished everything I want to do today.  I did laundry, cleaned the hardwood floors and ironed all of the table linens.  I feel uncommonly exhausted.  How will I feel tomorrow after hours of baking and more cleaning?  Find out in the next liveblog entry.

Friday

8:45 AM - Last night I tucked myself into bed with my annual reading of Paul Theroux's A Christmas Card.  It's the best children's Christmas story ever.  It's about a little boy whose family gets lost on their way to their new home.  They are given shelter for the night in the home of a strange and mysterious old man who disappears the next day, but leaves them with a Christmas card that seems to have magical powers.

I slept kind of fitfully, which is why I'm up so late.  I have taken my ingredients for my first batch of cookies out of the refrigerator and I'm going to work out while I wait for them to come to room temperature.  I'm a little angry with myself since I neglected to print up one of my other cookie recipes.  Good thing I was going to come here and live blog since I was going to be at the computer anyway.

Every muscle in my body aches right now.  I wonder how I'll survive another day on my feet.  A good workout should get the blood flowing.

11:15 AM - Just baked my first batch of cookies.  My chocolate chip-cranberry cookie recipe made so many that I had to bake two shifts.  That is setting my day back by quite a bit.  One would think all of the cookie dough I ate would keep the number of cookies to bake down. ;-)

I wanted pictures of them, but my camera battery died.  I'll be charging the battery while I head out to buy some more liquor, some toilet paper (the supply is way too low in the house for 8 guests) and take a shower  (I did just work out after all).

1:05 PM - Made a batch of cookie dough that is chilling in the refrigerator.  You'll have to wait to see my plans for it.  Then I headed to the liqour store.  I just wanted some spiced rum for my cakes and a bottle of white zinfandel for my mother-in-law to drink at dinner, but ended up with a very pleasant surprise . There sitting on a shelf was Brolio Barone Ricasoli chianti!  To think I had trudged all the way to NYC for a bottle of that stuff and it was right there in my neighborhood!  I asked if they carried it regularly.  They said they had just gotten it in and didn't know if they would continue to carry it.  I snatched up a bottle right away.  Let's keep those memories of Italy going!

Time to indulge in less fun activities like cleaning the guest bathroom and dusting.

4:10 PM - Just had my first flop of the holiday.  When I decided to serve chocolate pudding for my dessert, I realized I had nothing nice to serve it in.  I had some small, ugly bowls.  I also had nice ramekins, but only 4 of them.  Should I go out and buy some nice dessert cups? 

Then I had an inspiration.  I saw an idea online where you bake cookie dough over an inverted muffin tin to create little cookie cups.  There was my solution.  I could serve my pudding in cookie cups.  I had been planning to make snickerdoodles on the side since the pudding is garnished with ginger and the cinnamon cookies would make a nice accompaniment.  I figured I could just bake my snickerdoodles into cups.

After I had baked them, I realized I should have used a recipe that was specific to being baked this way.  Any old cookie recipe just doesn't cut it.  My cookies spread way too much and were thin on the top (where they needed to be thickest) and thick on the bottom.

Only 3 or 4 of them were able to be separated from the tin reasonably intact and they looked awful.  I ended up with a lot of cookie crumbs.

I didn't want to waste all of that butter and sugar, so what was I to do?

I have since been inspired.  I will take some of my small highball glasses and layer the cookie pieces with the pudding in them - like a freeform pie or parfait or trifle.  This is not the first time I have destroyed a cake or cookies and had to use what I had salvaged creatively.  I think it's going to turn out well

My cranberry-chocolate chip cookies are excellent though.  Now that the camera is charged, I got a photo.

The guest bathroom is clean now too and I even cleaned the glass doors on the shower in the master bathroom.  I dusted and vacuumed (but I will have to vacuum again due to all of the cookie crumbs that fell on the floor.  Next step will be the pudding.

6:05 PM - Pudding done and successful.  I made up my little snickerdoodle parfaits and wrapped them up and put them in the fridge.  Tomorrow evening all I have to do is top them with the whipped cream and candied ginger.  They don't look beautiful, but I think they are a fine example of making lemonade when life hands you lemons.

Waiting for the hubs to come home from the barn.  I'm sure he's going to hit terrible traffic over the Tappan Zee Bridge tonight.  I have told him that I'm NOT cooking.  He said, "Why should you?"  I said, "That's exactly right."  Takeout for us tonight.  The Christmas TV special for "Wait Wait, Dont' Tell Me," is on tonight too.  Have to chill out and watch that.

Tomorrow will be super busy.  I'll have to jump out of bed and start prepping veggies.  I have to keep everything on schedule if I want my roast to cook properly and my meal to be served on time.

Saturday

7:05 AM - The countdown begins!  Last night we ended up going out instead of takeout so we missed "Wait..Wait".  Oh well.  I'm staring down a few veggies that need prepping right now.  Then there is laundry to do, a master bathroom to clean, and a kitchen to clean.  I want all of that done before the roast goes in the oven.

12:05 PM - Just got back from Mom's to pick up some extra folding chairs - which I will have to return to her tomorrow for her holiday dinner.  Master bathroom is clean, laundry is done, and veggies are prepped. I just took my roast out of the fridge to let it come to room temp.  I'm doing the same for the eggs and butter for the cake.  Then the kichen will need a good cleaning.  Once I finish that, all I need to do is set the table and wait for the guests to arrive.  Hard to imagine the idea that things could be this close to finished!

2:00 PM - Kitchen was tidied up and roast went in the oven.  Right now I'm defrosting the shrimp and waiting for the cake to cool before taking it out of the pan. I'm afraid it was a little overbaked, so I hope it doesn't crumble to pieces when I take it out.


Roast about to go into the oven.  I rubbed it with a mixture of salt, pepper, dry mustard, garlic powder and orange peel.  I had it sitting out for two hours, but it still doesn't feel like room temperature.  I hope it isn't too cold!

4:30 PM - Guests are due to arrive in 30 minutes.  My husband isn't even home from the barn yet.  I have the roast in the oven doing its thing.  Everything else is prepped to be cooked in its own time.  Let's hope it all goes smoothly.

As for transforming the house....

I got rid of a lot of clutter - or more accurately, hid much of it in the spare room and shut the door.  The towels on the couch may not be the most attractive thing on earth, but I just had that couch reupholstered a few months ago and I'm not taking any chances!


My appetizer table.  I have cheeses, pate`, and various accompaniments.  See?  I didn't need to put out my new salami.  I have plenty of other good options (and it has nothing to do with the fact that I managed to polish one of those salami off myself in the past 3 days - nothing at all).

Drinky drinky.  I think I'm very clever for turning my front hall table into a bar.  We will be drinking lots of chianti tonight.  Some of it comes straight from Italy, but all of it comes from the wineries we visited in Italy (Brolio, Arceno, Pacina)

Now I have to actually cook dinner!

9:55 PM - Dinner is over and everyone has gone home.  I think I was right to start dinner early and go through each course at  a leisurely pace.  No one felt rushed, but the folks who shouldn't be up too late were able to leave at a reasonable hour.

I never took a picture of my chianti risotto.  Sadly I didn't make enough of it though.  The hosts had to have rather measly portions.

The meat was PERFECT.  I can't say enough good things about how wonderfully tender and perfectly cooked my rib roast was.  That cooking method was amazing.

On the side I sauteed some blanched green beans with garlic and powdered ginger.  The whole smashed potato didn't work too well for me.  I find it's very hard to smash a boiled potato and have it stay in one piece.  Once my potatoes started to fall apart I decided to just keep smashing them and made a sort of duck fat hash brown dish.  It was a big hit.

My snickerdoodle pudding parfaits were perfect.  I think they were even better than the cups would have been.  They were quite rich.  Not everyone could finish them easily.

The dishes are running through the dishwasher now and I'm ready for bed.  I'm so glad we weren't up all night.  I can go to bed early and wait for Santa! 

Let's see how tomorrow's Christmas dinner goes!

8:00 AM - Christmas morning.  I'm the kid who can't sleep.  Husband is still in bed.  He had a long day (and a big disappointment after seeing the Jets lose yet again).  We'll open up each other's gifts soon.  I have one more cooking thing to do and that's make the frosting for Emily's cake.  I have my cream cheese and my butter softening up in the kitchen right now.

11:50 AM - I frosted the cake.  Doesn't look as pretty as it does on Emily's blog, but I'm sure my family will eat it anyway.  Just finished my workout, so now all I have to do with my day is hang out till dinner.  Sounds like a plan!


Monday

7:30 AM - So I came home a bit late to blog about Christmas dinner, but I will say it was a huge success. My desserts went over well. We also had a trifle provided by one of the guests.





Dinner offerings included beef tenderloin, lasagne biachne with mushrooms, mashed poatoes (high-fat Pioneer Woman style), Cajun turkey breast, and brussels sprouts.

We had a very nice load with the loot, but also just enjoyed a wonderful evening with friends and family.

Happy New Year from the Pickypants-(dis)Order Family!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Should Probably Make a Post, Shouldn't I?

I will start by saying this post is just a placeholder. 

I have been cooking, but I haven't cooked anything new or noteworty recently.  Also, work is getting busier and I have less time to compose blogs during down time as I am sometimes known to do.  (Knowing I'll be laid off next year, I'm really hoping that future potential employers aren't reading this.)  I'm also so focused on Christmas that it's hard to want to be creative with upcoming meals.  I just want to have dinner on the table.  I envy all of you who never seem to lose your creative juices and keep blogging away.

So let's talk about Christmas.  Is everyone planning the big meal right now?  I feel like those people who wait until the last minute to shop. I know what I need to do, and I know what I'm making, but usually by now  I would have at least started compiling all of my shopping lists and put a game plan together.  I'm just not getting my butt in gear this year.  It's like how I finished all of my gift shopping, but no gifts are wrapped and the ones that need to be mailed have not been mailed.  This weekend I have promised myself that I will take care of the gifts.  Let's hope that I can also finish the shopping lists and game plans.

I am making Christmas Eve dinner for 8 people this year.  There will be a blog all about that when all is said and done, so I won't give away too much.  Suffice it to say, I won't be doing the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes.  I know being in Italy this fall inspired me, but it didn't inspire me quite that much.  I will be making one of my Imitations of Italy recipes though. 

I'm also making cake and cookies for Christmas day dinner at Mom's.  I'm trying to decide on what kind of cake.  As always, I take a lot of inspiration from Emily!

Hope everyone is enjoying the planning and enjoying the season.  Can't wait to read everyone's Christmas blogs!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Still More Imitations of Italy

Stews have never been my favorite food.  I don't know what it is about stews.  I think it's because my first experience with stew was a classic beef stew, which consisted of overcooked beef and vegetables all mushed together in a homogeneous and mucky tasting bowl of glop.  All too often it would contain foods I disliked like peas or mushy, overcooked carrots.  The worst part was the potatoes.  How I hated those starchy lumps of potatoes clinging to everything!

Even as I grew up and my tastes became a bit more sophisticated, and I tried other versions of braised beef dishes, they never really tickled my tastes buds.  I can even remember tasting a well-executed Boeuf Bourguignon as a teen and feeling sort of lukewarm about it.  I did a bit better with pot roasts in my twenties.  I guess that's because the meat can more easily be separated from the mush that surrounds it in a pot roast.  You can remove the roast from the muck and cut it separately.

I think part of it is I always preferred tender cuts of beef served rare.  I always wanted a steak or roast beef and not a burger as a child (and don't get me started on meat loaf).  Beef that had strong flavor and longer cooking requirement just never tasted quite as good.  If I had a burger it had better be cooked less than what today's food fascists would ever advise you to cook for a child. 

I had to ask myself, "What about a nice barbecued brisket? How about a nice slow-cooked bowl of chili?  What about short ribs? That's long-cooked beef."  So I think more about it and think that while a rare steak is still my preference over beef that's been cooked forever, maybe if I cooked beef forever in the right flavors, I would make a stew or pot roast that I really loved.

My first experiment was last year where I used a wine with an edge and sweet spices.  I avoided the mushy vegetable problem by browning the vegetables first, then removing them, and only adding them in at the end of the cooking.

While in Italy I ate a wonderful beef stew that was nothing more than onions, tomatoes, and red wine.  The flavors were perfect and there were no mushy bits of veggies clogging up the meat or the sauce.  Potatoes and vegetables were on the side rather than turning to sludge in the stew.

It's December and winter braises are on everyone's mind, so I decided to try to imitate my Italian meal yet again.

I started with bacon. (Isn't that always the best way to start?)  I doubt that's how they did it at the farm, but I'm American and in this country we believe everything is better with bacon!  (Wave your flags now.) 


I had about two pounds of beef.  I cut a chuck roast into chunks.  I could have bought stew meat already cut up, but it's cheaper to cut up a whole roast.  Money was a big factor in this because I wanted to get the best quality, most local, most lovingly-raised beef possible. That would be the closest to the kind of beef I had at the farm.  That kind of meat is going to be pricier.  I save money where I can.

I also added some red pepper flakes, garlic, and oregano.  Everything went into the oven for a little over two hours. 

The result was a mouthwatering combo of flavors and fall-apart tender beef.  Even the smell was irresistible. The long cooking mellowed out the flavor of the Chianti nicely. I served with with fried potatoes like we had at the farm along with a veggie mixture of mushrooms and spinach cooked in olive oil and garlic.

I think this will be my go-to beef stew recipe from now on.

Chianti Beef Stew

Ingredients
  • 2-3 pounds beef chuck, cut into chunks
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 strips thick-cut, uncured bacon, cut into small pieces
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups Chianti wine
Heat oven to 325 degrees.

In a large saucepan or dutch oven, cook the bacon until crispy and fat has rendered.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside.  Try not to eat it all before the recipe is done.  Pour off a tablespoon or two of fat if it makes you feel less guilty. 

Add onions and red pepper flakes to the pot and cook until soft.  Add garlic and cook for another minute. 

Lightly sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper.  Remove onions from the pot and add the beef. Cook until browned.  It is a good idea to do this in two shifts as adding it all at once risks crowding and your beef will steam more than it browns. 

Add onions back to the pot with the beef.  Add the tomatoes, wine, and oregano and stir to combine well.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven.

Cook for 2.25 hours.  Sprinkle whatever reserved bacon bits you haven't already eaten over the top. Serve with potatoes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More Imitations of Italy

Although it's been over a month since I returned, I am still working on trying to recplicate some of the dishes I had in Italy.  For such simple, homemade cuisine, some of it was rather complicated.  For example, my attempt to do the egg-stuffed turkey rolls was not going to make it onto this blog (unless I felt brave enough to post it in the "Flops" category).

One thing I felt pretty sure I could do though was the lasagne dish.  It didn't seem to require any complex techniques and contained basic ingredients: white sauce, zucchini, mozzarella, and noodles.  That seemed easy enough.

I did my best to put a little of my own spin on it.  I added mushrooms along with the zucchini and sauteed them with garlic.  I fried the zucchini in olive oil first before adding it to the lasagne as well.  I like that it added more flavor.  Besides, the extra olive oil it brought to the dish was very much like the olive-oil-soaked dishes we ate on the farm.  The garlic is also my own spin.  I know Italians don't use nearly as much garlic in their cooking as Americans think they do, but as an American, I need my Italian food to be splashed liberally with garlic.



Certainly you could just slice the veggies into the dish raw, but cooking them really does add something to the dish.  I suppose if you're health conscious, you could try spritzing them with olive oil and roasting them instead of frying. 

The recipe is easy, but it is a bit time-consuming as there are several components.  The results are well worth it though.  This is a very tasty dish!


Lasagne Bianchi con Zucchini e Funghi

For Veggie Layer
  • Copious amounts of olive oil for frying
  • Salt
  • 6 small zucchini, sliced thin
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
For White Sauce
  • 4 Tbl butter
  • 4 Tbl all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
For Assembly
  • 1 package no-boil lasagne
  • 1 pound mozzarella, grated
Lightly salt the zucchini.  Cover the bottom of your biggest frying pan with plenty of olive oil and heat to medium high.  Fry zucchini slices in a single layer until cooked through.  You will need to work in batches.  Set aside.

Lower heat and add garlic to pan.  You might want to add some extra olive oil, but don't go too overboard as the mushrooms will give off plenty of liquid.  When garlic is fragrant, add musrhoom slices.  Cook until they are browned and give off their liquid.  Add zucchini back to the pan and toss together.  Set aside.

In a large saucepan melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Cook for a few minutes until the roux doesn't taste like raw flour.  Slowly whisk in the milk.  Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Add the nutmeg, pepper, and cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a layer of white sauce at the bottom a 13"x9" pan.  Add a layer of noodles to cover the bottom.  Then add a layer of white sauce, a layer of vegetables, and a layer of grated mozzarella.  Cover with another layer of noodles and repeat until you have used up all of your sauce, vegetables, cheese, and noodles.

Cover with foil and bake 50-60 minutes.

Monday, November 28, 2011

So What Did I Have For Thanksgiving?

As always, I had a fabulous time in Chicago.  Kevin, Mom, MIL and I enjoyed some great meals, some great sightseeing, and of course, lots of quality time with family.   

Our food explorations started before we even left the airport.  The new Jet Blue terminal at JFK has a pretty aspirational food court.  In one area of the terminal you will find a grouping of international restaurants: Italian, Spanish Tapas, Steakhouse, Asian Fusion, and Mexican.  Kevin suggested we give one of them a try.  I said we should try Piquillo, the tapas place.  Some of us had eaten large, late breakfasts, and some of us had eaten small, early breakfasts.  It was 2pm and half of us was starving and half was not really up to eating much.  Tapas fit the bill since everyone could order as many small plates as needed.  I didn't have my camera handy to dig out of my bags, but I had a pretty good deal on a 3-item meal.  For $17 I had a dish of chorizo and potatoes, a dish of asparagus with sherry vinaigrette, and two croquetas.  I was expecting smaller portions with the tasting menu, but they were full-sized plates (which were tapas plates, so they were smallish to begin with).  Considering if I had ordered a la carte, two dishes would have cost me that much, I thought it was a good deal.  The food wasn't brilliant, but it hit the spot. 

We arrived in Chicago in the early evening.  After settling into our hotel, Kevin's brother and SIL took us out to Abruzzo.  It was a nice, casual Italian restaurant.  Once again I forgot my camera.  Although it had been almost 5 hours since my last meal, I had been well fed by the tapas and wasn't looking for anything heavy.  I chose a chicken breast in tomato-basil sauce.  It was a simple grilled breast, so it was perfect for my small appetite.  I was trying to be a good girl and not eat the pasta that came with it, but the sauce was so tasty, I had to eat the pasta to make sure I got every bit of it. 

The next day was Thanksgiving.  Once again we went to Lovell's of Lake Forest.  Once again I had the option of ordering turkey or not ordering turkey.  So I ordered...

*cue drum roll*

...a salad with a tasty mustard vinaigrette.

(What you want more details?)

and...

Roast duck!  No, it's not turkey, but it's still poultry and it tastes better.  My only complaint about this duck is the skin could have been crispier.  I really liked the rice mix on the side.  Behind the duck is a poached pear filled with nuts and granola.

Dessert I was as predictable as always.

They call it the "Muca Muca Cake."  Off to the side is a coffee liberally mixed with Baileys.

The next day we spent walking around Chicago, hiking up Michigan Avenue, fighting the Black Friday crowds, and showing Mom the Art Institute for the first time.  To fortify ourselves for the sightseeing, we started out with an early lunch at the Signature Room.

We had a great table, decorated for Christmas, with a spectacular view.


Once again, I neglected to take photos of the actual food.  I was told the Signature Room is better known for its views than for its food.  I didn't want to eat too heavily after the big Thanksgiving dinner, so I had a Thai chicken salad that was perfectly acceptable.  I really liked the dressing.  The table split some appetizers, most of which were unremarkable except for a flatbread topped with gruyere, caramelized onions, and bacon.  The "flatbread" was actually a thin piece of puff pastry.  I think if I had just ordered that and eaten it all, I would have been just as happy.

Our final meal was at Mortons.  This Mortons has some rather special meaning for our family.  Three years ago it was where Kevin's nephew celebrated his bar mitzvah.  It was the last time Kevin's entire family was gathered together before some of them passed away.  I'll always think fondly of Mortons for that.

The food isn't too shabby either!  I joked I wasn't taking photos of this lovely ribeye for my blog.  I was taking it to hang on my wall.

Still more chocolate cake for dessert.  How did this compare to the Muca Muca?  Hard to say.  This one came with ice cream.  The other one came with creme anglaise and strawberry puree`.  How can one really judge?  We had some chocolate souffle with this as well. 

We went home the next day with full bellies and said hearts knowing we had to leave our loved ones again for a while.  We are all so grateful for the generosity of Kevin's family with both their money and their time.  We hope it won't be too long before we're all together again.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Nod to the Season with My Good Friend Dan

I'm very excited about Thanksgiving this year.  Once again I will avoid having to cook for 17 people and I'm heading to Chicago to spend the holiday with Kevin's family.  My mother will be joining us as well this year. (It's like the opposite of most holidays where Kevin's mother celebrates with my family.)  It will be her first time ever in Chicago, so she's very excited.   It will be a nice relaxing holiday since no one has to cook!  We will be back in the same restaurant as last year. 

I'm looking forward to eating in Chicago restaurants.  I can't wait to trash them.  I want to make snarky remarks about kitschy decor and take offensive photos of lamb chops!  (Can you tell I'm really hoping that my brother-in-law is reading this post?  Hi Bob!)

I still had to make one more meal before we left.  I wanted to make something that would remind me of Thanksgiving, but wouldn't actually be too Thanksgiving-like.  I don't know if I'll decide to have a traditional turkey dinner in the restaurant on Thanksgiving day, but I figured it was best to err on the side of caution and make a dinner that was a little different. 

I knew I wanted to make a poultry dish, but which poultry would I choose?  Last week I made a meat loaf with that beloved Thanksgiving meat, turkey.  What would I use for my last dinner before vacation?  Chicken? Duck?

I saw these quails in the freezer at Whole Paycheck and decided it was time to try cooking them.  Experimentation is good for the soul.


I had no idea what the best way to cook them was.  There was a recipe on the side of the package for making them with mushrom stuffing, but I had other ideas for how I wanted to flavor them.  Do I wrap them in bacon?  Put them on skewers?  Pan fry? Roast?

I had a pre-Thanksgiving chat with a friend on the phone while trying to figure this all out.  I said I was trying to figure out how to cook Dan and Marilyn.  He told me not to serve a potatoe with them.  Will anyone reading this laugh at the 20-year-old political humor?

I decided to go with roast.  Jamie Oliver's book Jamie's Italy had a method for roasting quails.  Granted he suggested covering them with pancetta, which I didn't do, and it probably would have moistened the meat a bit more.  I did rest them on a bed of fresh herbs as Jamie suggested though.  I went out on my balcony to pick the thyme and rosemary.  It was a horrific, rainy, chilly night and the 30 seconds I spent out there cutting herbs was torture.  The things I do to feed my family!
What was my sauce? Cranberries!  That was my nod to the season.  I like how at Whole Paycheck I can get loose bulk cranberries so I don't have to buy way more than I need. 

I went a little crazy and decided to try them with tangerines and port wine.  I just went nuts.  I was inspired somewhat by my mother's delicious port-ginger cranberry sauce.

The sauce had a little bitterness that I wasn't fond of, but otherwise had good flavor.  The quails were a tad dry but the flavor was decent.  They are really hard to eat.  You have to work hard for very little meat.  Not sure I'll make them again, but I'm glad I did the experiment.

See you all after Thanksgiving.  Hope you have a wonderful celebration with family and friends and delicious food.  I will leave you contemplating the myster of whether or not I will actually order the traditional turkey dinner...

Wishing you all a very happy happy happy Thanksgiving.  Hope you enjoy your meals and your loved ones, however you decide to celebrate.

Quail with Cranberry Tangerine Sauce

Ingredients for Quails
  • 4 quails
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Several sprigs of rosemary and thyme
  • 4 Tbl butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sweet wine
Ingredients for Sauce
  • 1 cup cranberries
  • 1 cup port wine
  • Juice of 2 tangerines
  • 3 Tbl honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp peppercorns
  • 1 Tbl butter
In a small saucepan combine cranberries, juice, wine, honey and cinnamon stick.  Place the peppercorns in a tea ball or cheesecloth bag and add to the pan (you don't want to have to be picking peppercorns out of your sauce later).  Bring to a boil.   Reduce to a simmer and simmer about an hour, letting sauce reduce and craberries soften and lose their shape.  Remove peppercorns and cinnamon stick.  Stir in butter.

Meanwhile heat your oven to 375.  Brush your quails with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place each quail on a bed of rosemary and thyme sprigs on a baking sheet.

Roast 35 minutes.  About halfway through cooking pour the butter and wine over the quails.

Serve quails with sauce. This recipe serves two.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More Meat Loaf Variations

It's not just Christmas that gets rushed.

I was just thinking of how back in my college days the week before Thanksgiving the cafeteria would put on a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the students.  For this dinner you had to have your group reserve a table and then you would be presented with a turkey and all the fixings for your group.  The real novelty was that members of the faculty and administration would volunteer to serve the students, so it could be fun to have your prof waiting on you (and you would be nice to him or her if it really was your prof since your grade could hinge on it).  I remember one year my totally non-sports-loving friends and I had the honor of being served by none other than exalted Skip Roderick the soccer coach (kind of like the Joe Paterno of Elizabethtown but without any child molestation scandals). 

It was all very nice until the next day.  Also the following day.  Then the day after that.  You see, the Elizabethtown College cafeteria was no different from any other host of Thanksgiving dinner.  They had to use up those leftovers just like the rest of us.  So for a week we had turkey noodle soup and turkey tetrazzini and hot open turkey sandwiches and turkey croquettes.  After a week of turkey leftovers, we would all go home for Thanksgiving dinner with our families and then spend the remainder of that weekend eating turkey leftovers.

Now (CENSORED) years later, the cafeteria in my office building is offering a special pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinner this week. 

How much of this stuff are we supposed to want to eat?  Does everyone really want constant turkey dinners in November?

Turkey has never been one of my favorite proteins.  I find the meat is often unremarkable and rather bland.  I like things like pork and lamb and duck.  Turkey sandwiches have never topped my list of favorites (although I have often favored them for health reasons).  I like my meatballs and burgers made out of beef and my sausages made out of pork.  (Does that sound slightly off color?)

I used to really hate turkey in most forms, but I guess turkey meat producers are doing a better job of putting out better tasting turkey products.  Still, the way I enjoy turkey most is a whole roasted turkey, covered in nice crispy skin, where I can chow down on drumsticks and pope's noses and cover everything in tasty gravy.  Otherwise, I can take it or leave it.

Then I met my husband who is sensitive to more robust meats.  It's all about the turkey for him.  The blandness is exactly what he loves and craves.  That has put me on a lifelong quest to make turkey meat taste more interesting.

So despite it being a week before Thanksgiving, I'm making a turkey dish.

I've never been fond of meatloaf in general, even the beef variety.  I think that's because I have spent my life eating your standard beef-breadcrumb-egg loaf that was dense and weird in texture and less-than-thrilling in flavor.  I know that meat loaf can be transformed by being made into meatballs as they sit simmering in tomato sauce soaking up moistness and flavor, so there have to be other ways to improve upon it.  Once I started cooking my own meatloaf, I found I could make it taste decent.

One of my favorite variations is my Feathers and Fruit Loaf, but as husband and I are trying to get away from the gluten, I have been keeping it out of rotation.

I saw an interesting recipe for a turkey and veggie meatball on a Paleo website.  I wanted to give it a try so I decided use it as an inspiration for a new meatloaf recipe.  My binder was almond flour instead of breadcrumbs (I have learned I just HATE gluten-free breadcrumbs).

Making this meatloaf was a comedy of errors.  I didn't realize when I was making it that I was out of eggs.  It was dark and rainy outside and I had no desire to get in the car and drive to the supermarket to buy eggs.  I did the unthinkable and walked down the street to CVS and bought the cheap eggs there.  I like to think of myself as an egg snob who always buys fresh, local eggs.  I felt so dirty buying CVS eggs.  I felt less dirty when I paid for them.  They were cheap to begin with, but I found out they were on sale.  Eggs for under $2?  I think I'm a convert! 

Then there was the issue of sides.  I made no vegetables because I felt the meatloaf was veggie-enriched enough.  I still wanted to serve more on the plate than just a slab of meatloaf.  I raided the cabinets for something usable.  I guess I cleaned out the cabinet pretty well in the past.  I had no rice or other grains.  All I had was a box of cornmeal.  Since I had some rice flour in the freezer, I made some gluten-free cornbread on the side.


The meatloaf was really good - for turkey meatloaf anyway.  It was flavorful and light-textured.  Husband has requested I make it more often, so it's a keeper.  I think I'll wait until a few weeks after Thanksgiving though.

Turkey-Veggie Meatloaf

Ingredients
1 package ground turkey
3 carrots, cut in chunks
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
10 ounces cremini mushrooms
2 Tbl tomato paste
2 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 eggs
2 cups almond flour

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

In a food processor puree carrots, onion, and mushrooms until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and add tomato paste, salt, and smoked paprika.  Taste for seasoning.

Mix in ground turkey and eggs.  Add almond flour.  You may want to adjust your amounts if you feel your mixture is too gloppy and needs more flour to absorb some of the liquid.

Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray.  (You can't free-form this meatloaf.  It's too wet.)  Place turkey mixture into the pan and bake for one hour.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Forget Italy. Let's Go Back to Paris for This Post

Compare and contrast my last two anniversary celebration vacations.  For both trips I went to Europe.  One was spent in a big city.  The next one was spent on a farm.  For the first trip we got around on trains and on foot.  For the next one, we moved around mostly on horseback. One one trip Kevin did all of the talking (French) and on the next one I did the talking (Italian).  For both trips we drank more wine than we ever do at home.  Both trips had fantastic food, but for one of them we ate only in restaurants and the other almost all of our meals were cooked in the farmhouse kitchen. 

We loved our meals in Italy, but when I remember our Paris trip, one of my most vivid memories was of the hearty French food we ate.  One of my most memorable meals was our anniversary dinner at that Paris institution, La Coupole

If you are a regular reader of TERP, you may remeber (I can also jog your memory for you) of how I ordered Jarret de Porc at La Coupole.  Then I realized that I didn't know what "jarret" meant and freaked out for a few minutes until my dinner was actually served to me.  The hock that was my dinner turned out to be perfectly delicious and was an even better choice than I had originally anticipated.  Score one for me.  It was the kind of meal I thought would be once in a lifetime.

Quite recently I caught this post at We Are Never Full.  Amy and Jonny are never ones to shy away from new and different ingredients.  Looking at their rendition of Jarret de Porc, I knew it was possible for me to recreate my Parisian adventure.

The only real obstacle to making the recipe would be finding the ingredients.  Most markets carry smoked hocks since they are such a flavorful addition to legume-based soups.  Fresh ones can be a little trickier.  Not all markets are likely to carry nose-to-tail meats. 

I am very lucky to have the Norwalk Shop Rite just a stone's throw from my office.  (How I will miss this palce after I'm laid off next year!)  I have seen all sorts of interesting animal parts there from fresh tongue to tripe to pork skin to fresh pork neck bones.  It is my supplier of smoked turkey tails.  I made a trip there to see what they could offer me and sure enough I saw pig's ears, necks, jowls, and most importantly, fresh hocks.  I was ready to go.

My intention was to follow Amy and Jonny's recipe.  I was a little puzzled by it.  I am used to regular stewing methods where you brown your meat first and then cook it in liquid. This recipe had it backwards.  First you poach the pork and then you cook it in the oven.  This was my first time cooking with a new ingredient, so I wasn't about to start experimenting.  If it worked for them, then I would do it that way.  If you're going to alter something about an untried recipe, alter the ingredients and not the method.

I did alter the ingredients a bit.  Pork tastes great with reisling and it tastes great with apples.  I replaced two cups of the water in the poaching liquid with two cups of reisling and also added a quartered apple to the mix. 


The hocks were slightly problematic as they stuck to the pan terribly when I roasted them, ripping off some of that lovely skin.  I also think I probably didn't need to roast them the entire recommended time (I guess I just have a hotter oven or used smaller hocks.)  My pan drippings were a little burned. 

I will not post the recipe here, as I don't want to be poaching anyone else's work.  Please refer to the link to We Are Never Full if you are interested in making this.  My only difference in preparing the pork is that I added the apple and the reisling to the poaching pot.


I served it with plain mashed potates instead of garlic-parsley ones and my plating just isn't as pretty (a dish this special probably deserved the light box for the photo, but I was lazy) but it was one tasty dish.  In some ways I liked this better than the one I had in Paris because I was able to really taste the meat naturally and not flavored heavily with sauerkraut.  The reisling and apples gave it some sweetness and some sharpness, but I could still taste lots of porky goodness.  Pork hocks do taste very similar to ribs.  If you're a rib lover, you definitely have to try these.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Imitations of Italy

As soon as we returned from our trip SPP started talking about how I should make the stuff we ate in Italy.

Easier said than done.  The food in Italy was just so darned divine and quite hard to imitate.  Why do you think I keep saying I never want to eat my own cooking again?

But the meals we had in Italy were relatively simple dishes, even if they were so expertly prepared.  I could at least attempt them and make them my way.  I still kept things simple, so there are no official recipes here, just suggestions.

I started with the Zucchini in Parmigiana. 

I thin-sliced 4 zucchini and coated them in egg and then in a mix of a little cornmeal and finely-grated parmesan.  This was my first deviation from the recipe at the farm.  I don't think they breaded their vegetables at all.  I fried them in LOTS of olive oil (they didn't skimp on olive oil at the farm, so why should I?) and layered the slices in the dish with some of the cheese, then put most of the cheese over the top.  I poured 2 cups of my lovingly-made-from-farm-market-tomatoes sauce and baked the thing for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

It was cheesier and less saucy than the farm version, which I guess is just my American showing.  I only used a half-pound ball of fresh mozzarella to make this and it was still twice as cheesy as the Italian version.  I still liked it a lot and so did SPP.

I served some chick peas boiled with sage and rosemary and a little garlic then doused with olive oil on the side. I was still trying to imitate the meal I had at the farm.
Kevin's favorite dish of the week was the simplest.  He loved the spaghetti with herbs. It's an easy dish, although there is an actual recipe available for it.  It's garlic, parseley, and a little hot pepper in olive oil. 


Then I tried to do their frittate.  These were harder because they were called "omlets" on the farm and weren't exactly like traditional omelets, but also weren't thick like a frittata would be.

I cooked 3 chopped onions until they were super soft, almost caramelized.  Then I browned some mushrooms with them.  I placed them in a small frying pan with lots of olive oil poured 3 eggs over the top.  I cooked that until it was barely set and then placed it in a 400 degree oven until it was cooked and a bit brown on top.  I served it over mixed greens.  Not quite the farm, but pretty good.


I suppose in my kicthen I can keep a bit of Italy with me always.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Because I Have To Cook Again Sometime

After eating all of that fabulous food in Italy I swore I could never eat my own cooking again.  There are a couple of problems with that though.

1.  I have to eat to live.  So does my husband.
2.  I have a food blog, and food blogs aren't much use without content.

So this week I did have to drag myself back into the kitchen.

Since I am the (dis)Order cook, I do tend to do things backwards all over the kitchen.  I cook what I feel like cooking when I feel like cooking it, regardless of season.  If I want to make ice cream in January and fried chicken in June and soup in August, I will do just that .

I'm actually managing to get with the season right now.  Maybe Italy had a good influence on me.  After all, while I was there I ate vegetables grown on the farm and locally produced cheeses, eggs, and meats.  I was beginning to understand true seasonal food.

I have been thinking quite a bit about about stews and braises lately.  I want to expand my horizons with that type of cooking.  The only thing I ever braise are chickens because that's all my husband will eat, but I really want to try other meats.  It's time to make the effort and make two meals and start looking at ways to prepare lamb shanks (something I love to order in restaurants) or beef stew (like the one I had in Italy). 

Despite wanting to expand my horizons, I  wanted to start with chicken this week.  One of my favorite braised chicken recipes is my cider braised chicken with cream.  If I wanted to do another chicken braise, I should at least try a new recipe.

This month's issue of Food & Wine had an article about hard cider.  I went through one very brief period in my life where I drank hard cider.  I decided to try it when I was in Ireland 8 years ago.  I didn't love it, but it was better than beer and less fattening than Baileys or Irish coffee.  I haven't touched the stuff since.  Seeing the article made me think about how I might use it in my cooking.  Cider is a fall beverage and would be an interesting braising liquid for fall recipes.  It would be better than beer, but less sweet than sweet cider.

As an interesting coincidence is that the local Whole Paycheck was pushing a certain brand of hard cider in the Darien store this week.  I considered that fortunate and bought that very bottle.  The cook had to taste a bit before putting it in the pan.  This was sweeter than the cider I drank in Ireland, but still had a bit of bitter aftertaste that wasn't to my liking.  I knew I would rather cook with it than drink it.

I was braising chicken, which doesn't have a very strong flavor.  I needed to enhance my dish with things that could really stand up to the strong flavor of hard cider.

Bacon!

 Sausage!  (I used turkey sausage, but pork would be just as good)


Carrots, mushrooms, and lots of onions.

This ended up as one very tasty dish.  The flavor of the cider was sweeter and mellower after a good long braise and the chicken had great flavor without having to add a lot of unnecessary seasoning.  It had a lot of steps, but it was worth it.


It wasn't Italy, but it was good!  I served some braised swiss chard on the side (made me think of Italy) and some roasted potatoes (ditto).

Hard-Cider Braised Chicken and Sausage

  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into small pieces
  • 3 lb chicken pieces of your choice
  • 1 lb mild Italian sauasage (about 4 large links) cut into small links
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 large yellow onions, diced
  • 3 large carrots, cut into chunks
  • 10 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cups hard cider
  • Olive oil (as needed)
  • Chicken stock (as needed)
In a large saute pan or saucepan, cook bacon until crispy and fat renders out.  Drain off excess fat.  Set aside.

Brown the outside of the sausage links over medium heat.  Set aside.

If you feel your pan is too dry, add a little olive oil.  Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper and add to the pan, skin-side down and brown well on both sides (about 5 minutes each).  Remove from pan.

Add your onion to the pan and saute until soft.  Add the carrots and cook them to allow them to take on a little color.  Add the mushrooms and cook until soft.

Add chicken and sausage back to the pan, nestling everything well among the vegetables.  Add the cider.  Simmer another 30 minutes.  If you need more liquid, add some chicken stock (or more cider!).

Serve with potatoes or noodles.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm Back From Italy and I May Never Eat My Own Cooking Again!

I apologize in advance for the screwy formatting of this post.  Just when I thought Blogger had its act together on such matters, it goes haywire on me again.

What a fabulous trip I had!  It exceeded my expectations in every way.  I could not have had a more perfect 10th anniversary celebration.  Everything was fabulous.  This post will be about the food, of course, but you can read more detailed stories of the trip here, or just look at the full set of photos.

During our trip we did not eat out.  When I first planned this trip, I was actually a bit sad about this.  Restaurants are one of the best ways to explore a foreign country.  I had little trouble getting over that disappointment once we arrived.  The food on this trip was fabulous in every way.  Each day was full of wonderful home-cooked food from the farmhouse kitchen cooked by our host, Sadio, or their housekeeper/cook Gioia.  Most of the food was local, often coming from their own kitchen garden. 

Any regular reader of this blog knows of how I have to cook around the delicate widdle tum-tum of my darling husband, Sir Pickypants.  I never know the whims of his digestive system and often things that should be on his "safe" list leave him complaining of tummy trouble.  On top of that he is prone to migraines and has to be careful about his consumption of alcohol.

Not once on this trip did he complain of an upset stomach or a headache.  He ate cheese daily.  He drank wine - red wine - with abandon.  We both ate bread and pasta, undoing months of trying to see how removing these things from our diets might benefit us.  We were never healtheir.  Every day we ate this fabulous food and had energy to spare for hours spent in the saddle. 

It makes me wonder exactly what is in my food here in the States.  What are we all eating?  How is it being prepared?  That's why I concentrate as much as possible on fresh food these days.  When you spend time eating real food, you understand just how bad processed food is for you.  Your body knows what it needs and tells you in the subtlest of ways sometimes.

Rather than go day-by-day as I often do with vacations, I'll just showcase our meals.

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Breakfast

This was the simplest meal, eaten around the farmhouse table.  Every morning we had a selection of salame along with hard boiled eggs (often still warm).  We had homemade walnut bread daily with a selection of interesting jams.  There was cake as well and homemade yogurt.  Sometimes it was chocolate cake.  For two days we had a thin rustic cake topped with lemon curd. 





There was always a fruit bowl as well, served atop this charming table that had once been the farmhouse sink.
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Antipasto

Always served with table wine, sometimes served with an aperitif.  On chilly nights we ate them by the fire. 



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Lunch

When we rode the full day we had picnics in the fields.  There was always a cold pasta dish such as penne with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, or bowties with pesto, mozzarella and tomatoes.  One time we had spicy couscous instead.  There were always fresh garden tomatoes and a selection of local cheeses to accompany them.  The wine flowed freely. 



The days we rode half of the day we had lunch on the club house patio. 



One day it was ribollita.  Another day it was gnocchi with pecorino sauce, followed by a homemade pizza covered in cauliflower, pecorino and olives. 


On the last day lunch was this.  What's this Scooby Doo box about?
Pizza!  We decided to try the local pizzeria.  Sadio set the table with cute themed plates and we had an accompaniment of zucchini carpaccio.  My pizza was covered in prosciutto while my companions tried a caprese pizza with cherry tomatoes and an artichoke pizza.  The pizza had a very thin crust and a very nice quality cheese.  I am still pretty loyal to NY pizza though.  Italy may have invented pizza, but NY perfected it!

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Dinner

There were always two courses at dinner.  The first course usually pasta, but sometimes it was other types of starch.



Spaghetti pomodoro, followed by a lovely mixed grill of ribs, sausage and chicken (this was on my first night and it was quite a welcome to have several of my favorite foods on one plate!). The fried potatoes were so crispy, but Gioia doesn't disclose her secrets on how she got them that way. Also on the side was some braised swiss chard. They don't add much seasoning to it, so they encourage us to pour lots of olive oil over it.

Bread is typical Italian bread made without salt. It's quite bland, but once you get used to it, you understand it's meant to be eaten with the salty foods on the table.

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Chianti risotto followed by zucchini parimgiana (Sadio is a vegetarian and he tended to cook accordingly) and chick peas.  I like zucchini parmigiana more than eggplant parmigiana.  Then again, I like zucchini better than eggplant.
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Lasagne Bianche with zucchini followed by free-range beef stew and white beans with more of those crispy potatoes.   Kevin had local chicken sausage, which he shared with me. 

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Bowties with cauliflower and broccoli, followed by chicken saltimbocca. I had to apologize to Sadio about my issues with peas. He was cool with it and never cooked with peas again that week. (Our cauliflower pizza from lunch had olives on it and I had to explain that I wasn't fond of olives either. He said olives were, "big black peas." I think for the rest of my life I will refer to olives as "Big Black Peas.")

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Fettuccini with cherry tomato sauce followed by thin and delicate frittate.  One was made with onion and one was made with potatoes.  We had white beans on the side.
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Pasta in a simple sauce of garlic, oil, and parseley and then some stuffed turkey roulades.  The stuffing was made with eggs.
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Our last night was a lighter meal of Pappa Al Pomordoro (tomato and bread soup) and then eggs baked with asparagus and tomatoes (tomato version not shown).  The potatoes were thinly sliced and roasted with parsley this time.
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Dessert

We teneded to just have things like store-bought ice cream, but sometimes we would have biscotti with vin santo (sometimes we had that for lunch too!). 

We did make sure to buy gelato when we had an afternoon in Siena though.  I had my favorite - nocciola (hazelnut).

How about some chestnuts literally roasted on an open fire?

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Wine

This was a riding and wine-tasting tour, so we drank more than just the table wine served at meal times.

We joke that we drank wine with every meal except breakfast, but one day we came close to even having it for breakfast.  On our third day we rode to Arceno vineyards.  They sold mostly chianti wines with one more complex blend in the mix.  After tasting all four, I had trouble getting back on my horse.


Another day we went on foot to Castello Brolio.  This is the birthplace of Chianti wine . They have a much wider range of wines to try.  I went for a very robust chianti that day, while my husband stuck with an ice wine.


We rode to the organic vineyards of Pacina the next day.  They make a robust chianti, Collo Senese (named for the hills of Siena that surround them), a milder chianti, Secondo, named because it comes from younger vines less rooted in the soil, and a Syrah.  The Syrah grapes do surprisingly well in the dry, clay-like soil.  We were given a tour their cellars so we could see the winemaking process.




They gave us a bottle of Secondo for our picnic, which I loved.  We had a bottle of Collo Senese with dinner that night, which I found it a bit too oaky. 

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After eating all of this fabulous food it really is hard to want to eat anything else.  It's a good thing I have this blog so I am always challenged to keep going in the kitchen.

Donatella saw my interest in the food with all of my photographs and such and said I should open a trattoria back home.  At many of the meals she ate with us, she would say, "You can use this recipe for your trattoria."  Not a bad idea, but it would be hard to make such a place fly in a country where people think the Olive Garden is the pinnacle of Italian cuisine.

 Buon Appetito Everyone!