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Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Food Traditions

I wrote the following for my January 2011 newsletter, but thought it was appropriate for today.

Like most holidays, New Year's Eve/Day has a number of traditions associated with it.  And like many traditions, food has a starring role.  Interestingly, cultures around the world see many of the same foods as lucky while heading into the New Year.  Here are just a few.

Grapes:  In 1909, grape growers in Spain started a tradition in order to get rid of a surplus of grapes.  At the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, it's customary to eat 12 grapes--one for each stroke of the clock and month of the year.  If your 5th grape is a little sour, for example, then maybe your month of May won't be so great.  The custom spread to Portugal and to Spanish and Portuguese colonies and continues today.  It's said to be especially lucky if you can eat all 12 grapes before the clock is done chiming.

Legumes:  Beans, peas and lentils are considered lucky at the New Year all over the world because of their resemblance to coins.  In Italy, Germany, Brazil, Japan and many other countries, eating things such as Lentil or Split Pea Soup or Sausage and Green Lentils at midnight brings good luck.  In Southern US, Hoppin' John, a dish made with black-eyed peas, is eaten.  Most believe that eating 1 pea for each day of the year brings the most luck.

Fish:  Since the Middle Ages, cod has been a traditional New Year's dish--probably because it was easily salted and preserved for eating during the winter.  The Danes eat boiled cod; Italians, baccala (dried salt cod); Poles and Germans eat herring and carp at midnight.  The typical Swedish New Year's feast is a smorgasbord of fish dishes.  In Japan, lucky fish dishes include herring roe (for fertility), shrimp (for long life) and dried sardines (for a good harvest--dried sardines were once used as fertilizer in rice fields).

Pork:  The meat most associated with New Year luck is pork.  Cultures around the world see the pig as representing progress--since the animal moves forward as it roots for food.  The rich, fatty meat also is symbolic of wealth and prosperity in some cultures.  Cuba, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Austria, Sweden, Germany and Italy all have traditions of eating some sort of pork for the New Year.  Of course, we of Pennsylvania Dutch persuasion know all about eating pork and sauerkraut for luck on New Year's Day.

Greens:  Greens are considered a sign of financial fortune in the New Year--simply because the leaves look like paper money when folded up.  Again, many cultures eat greens for luck--kale with sugar and cinnamon for the Danes; collards in the Southern US; sauerkraut for the Germans (and PA Dutch).  Many believe that the more greens you eat, the bigger your fortune will be in the coming year.

Cakes/Baked Goods:  Like most celebrations, baked goods are a part of the New Year's festivities all over the globe.  Donuts, pastries, special breads and cakes--too many to mention--hold special meaning for the coming year.  Many traditions hide trinkets, coins or whole nuts in a part of the treat.  Whoever gets the piece with the prize in it gets the most luck.

Of course, there are some foods that you shouldn't eat at New Year's.  Stay away from lobster, which swim backward and chicken, which move backward as they scratch for food.  (Sort of the "anti-pigs" in New Year's superstition beliefs.)  In fact, avoid any winged fowl because your good luck could fly away.

Whatever foods you eat for your New Year celebration, I hope it's tasty!  Have a fun and safe holiday.  And I wish you a healthy, happy and delicious 2012.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Dinner

Hi everyone!  I hope you all are having a tasty holiday. 

We hosted Christmas dinner this year and everyone enjoyed the nice mix of food.  I grill-roasted a turkey.  Not only does it give you a juicy, smoky turkey in a relatively short time, but it frees up oven space.  (See this post for how to do it for your next turkey dinner.)  Along with the turkey, we had one of Blooming Glen Pork's delicious spiral honey-glazed hams. 

Me after 4 straight days of holiday eating.
Sides included Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, Sweet Potato Casserole, Lettuce with Hot Bacon Dressing, Green Bean Casserole, Waldorf Cranberry Relish, MB's Stuffing, Mom's Applesauce, broccoli and corn.  Everyone ate so much they didn't have room for dessert.

But that didn't stop us from eating dessert: Chocolate Cream Pie; some sort of dessert with pound cake, pudding and cherries; Apple Crisp, Pumpkin Pie, ice cream.  MB made some of the best cookies I've had in a long time--Ginger Snaps made with fresh ginger--spicy and crisp and Pine Nut Cookies flavored with ground fennel seed.  Unfortunately, she forgot to put them out with the desserts.  Fortunately for me, there's more for me to eat.

So that was our Christmas dinner.  If you're interested in any of the recipes, let me know and I'll share them. 

I hope you've been eating well and continue to as we move into the new year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Well, it's almost here.  (For our Jewish friends, it's already here!) 

The constant Christmas music on the radio and decorations in the stores since October makes you feel like it will never come, but it's just a few days away.

The other night, Jacob was talking about Christmas and I said, "In less than a week, it'll be Christmas".  And then it hit him--"This week?!"  The look on his face was priceless when he realized that all the waiting was coming to an end.

I'm not sure when I'll be writing again, so I want take this time to wish all of you a wonderful holiday--whichever holiday you celebrate.  May it be filled with food, friends, family and fun.  Enjoy the end of the wait and look around at what makes the holidays so special.  And savor it!

All the best from us here in Blooming Glen...

Monday, December 19, 2011

Edible Stocking Stuffers

A candy cane sticking out of the top of your stocking is a classic image of Christmas.  Growing up, other foods made up a big part of what was stuffed into our stockings.  And it still is both here at home and at our parents' houses.

Of course, as you might expect, all sorts of chocolate plays a big part.  Traditionally, it was Reese's, Hershey's, M&M's, etc.  And, thankfully, they still show up.  These days, however,  Santa's tastes have expanded a little bit and he treats us to Godiva, Ghiardelli and Lindt (that, I assume, was on sale at the North Pole CVS). 

In days gone by, fruit--especailly citrus fruit--was a much-anticipated stocking stuffer.  And fruit still makes an appearance in our stocking sometimes--mostly clementines since they're small and don't take up too much room.

If you've read my blog for a while, you probably have read somewhere along the line about my favorite Christmas morning snack that would be found in our stockings--Slim Jims.  It just wasn't a Christmas morning for my sister and I without munching on a stick of meat.  It still hits the spot.

Last night, we were out at Luberto's and Jake was enjoying some red cabbage from our salads.  I told him that if he was good, Santa might fill his stocking with cabbage or cole slaw.  He said, "Hey--if you're bad, you get coal.  If you're good, you get cole slaw!"  Guess you had to be there, but it was kind of funny.

What are some of your favorite things to eat from your stocking?  Could be things that Santa brings now or things that make you reminisce about your childhood.  Send a comment and share!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Healthy at the Holidays?

As crazy as it may seem--with the way we can so easily overeat at holiday dinners and parties--holiday food can be healthy.  All it takes is a little bit of smarts, self-discipline and moderation.

If you have a choice between something fried and something baked or sauteed, choose the baked (although fried food done correctly isn't as bad as you might think).  Still, shrimp sauteed in olive oil is better for you than fried shrimp. 

Try to avoid pre-made dips and salsas.  Dips and the like that are pre-packaged usually are loaded with sodium and preservatives.  And they don't taste all that great either.  It's so easy to whip up some hummus or some other dip with fresh ingredients (I just made a red bean dip for a party in literally less than 5 minutes).  Better taste, healthier and less expensive--why wouldn't you make it yourself?  Eat them on whole-grain breads, chips or crackers and it's even healthier!

Choose things like salmon, chicken or shrimp for a low-fat option (not to mention the anti-oxidants in the seafood).  Beans, cheese and nuts have protein.  Even dark chocolate and red wine are said to be healthy.

The common factor in all this is moderation.  A few pieces of cheese provides some good calcium and protein.  Eating a pound of cheese throughout the evening provides fat and cholesterol that outweighs the benefits.

So control yourself and know what you're eating!  Life's too short to deprive yourself of great holiday food--just be smart!

Thanks to this USA Today article for some information on this subject.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Finger Food Help

This time of year, most of us are trying to find quick and easy foods for entertaining--whether it's for a party or for when people unexpectedly drop in.

Yes, having cheese and crackers on hand is helpful.  But doing just a little bit more can make a great impression--and create some tasty treats.

The New York Times' Mark Bittman always seems to come up with some great templates for how to make delicious food (see some of the other items I've posted in the past using his articles). 

This time, Bittman lays out a flow chart for creating great finger food with little prep time.  Most of the ingredients he uses might just be in your pantry or fridge when you need them. 

He divides good finger food into 3 parts: The Base--crackers, celery, etc that will hold other ingredients; The Spread--something to spread on The Base that will be flavorful and hold The Finishing Touch--something with flavor and texture.

Check out his chart here.  Then just wait for guests to show up!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Martha's Cake

Most Christmas food traditions are handed down from previous generations.  Our Christmas dinners contain many of the dishes that have been part of the feast for years and years.  And often, we enjoy starting new traditions with our kids--ones that might be around long after we're gone.

Here's a recipe (of a sort) that was emailed to me.  It's from none other than our first First Lady, Martha Washington. 

Martha's Christmas Cake was apparently an annual tradition at Mount Vernon--and from the look of the recipe, it must have fed a load of people.  I did a little bit of Internet surfing to see if I could find out any more about it and found that there are some modernized recipes out there for the cake.  But I find Martha's original interesting.  It's fun to think of her or her servants throwing all of this stuff together for their holiday celebration. 

These are supposed to be the exact words that she put in her recipe for a "true Virginia Christmas":
Take 40 eggs and divide the whites from the yolks and beat them to a froth, start to work four pounds of butter to cream and put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well worked. Then put four pounds of sugar finely powdered to it in the same way, then put in the yolks of eggs, and five pounds of flower (sic), and five pounds of fruit. Two hours will bake it. Add to it half an ounce of mace, one nutmeg, half a pint of wine, and some French brandy.
Somebody better have a big pan!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Gift Certificates

I'm going to use today's blog for shameless self-promotion.  I'm allowed to do that.

There's always one or two people on our holiday gift lists that are just impossible to buy for.  They don't really have hobbies.  They don't read much.  They have pretty much everything that they need.  For these hard-to-buy-for folks, may I suggest a Dinner's Done Personal Chef Service gift certificate?

You can buy gift certificates for a certain dollar amount, which the recipient can use as they wish.  Or you can buy a certificate for a specific service.  Check out my website for more information about the services that I offer and how much they cost. 

A Dinner's Done gift cert is a unique and fun gift that the recipient will remember and enjoy for a long time.  Interested?  Just give me a call (215-804-6438) or send me an email!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Say Cheese!

I love cheese. 

Sharp or mild, goat or cow, soft or hard, blue or white or yellow or green, stinky or um...not stinky.

But I know that, being someone with slightly high cholesterol numbers, I shouldn't eat too much of it no matter how yummy it is. 

Alas!  A new survey has me thinking that Danish researchers are geniuses!  (And not because I like to eat Danish, too.)

According to a recent Danish study, cheese may not be so bad for cholesterol after all.  OK, they compared it to eating butter--but it shows that in moderation, cheese isn't as bad as you might think.

According to an article from the Chicago Tribune, here's how the tests were conducted:
The group surveyed about 50 people. Each person was put on a controlled diet and added a measured amount of cheese or butter daily.

Throughout, each participant was compared against his or herself, to follow changes in the body caused by the foods. Researchers gave each person cheese or butter, both made from cows milk, equal to 13 percent of their daily energy consumption from fat.

During six-week intervals, each person ate the set amount of cheese or butter, separated by a 14-day cleansing period which they returned to their normal diet. Then they switched, and for six weeks those who had eaten the cheese before, ate butter, while the butter eaters in the first phase ate cheese.
While eating cheese, the subjects showed no increase in bad or overall cholesterol, while when they were eating butter, their cholesterol increased by an average of 7%.

According to the article, it could be the calcium and/or protein in cheese that helped these results to occur.  Whatever the reason, I'm all for it. 

So does that mean that on a grilled cheese sandwich the cheese and butter cancel each other out and it's just like eating toast? 
 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Blooming Glen Christmas

Here in our little village of Blooming Glen, we had a nice tree lighting celebration yesterday. 

Earlier in the year, the Blooming Glen Garden Club started and worked hard at tidying up the one-room schoolhouse and the grounds surrounding it.  And for the Christmas season, they planted a tree and decked it out in all sorts of ornaments--many of them handmade by the club members.

It seemed like most of the village showed up (it's a pretty small village) for hot cider, home-baked cookies, carol singing and getting to know their neighbors.  Young and old, long-time residents and newcomers--all together to celebrate the season and our community.

It was really nice--with a real old-fashioned feel.  We need more stuff like that. 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Traditions

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, you know that food holds a pretty central spot in many of our holiday customs--candy canes, cookies, the holiday feast, sugarplums, etc. 

If you read my December newsletter, you learned a little bit about how important the Pennsylvania Dutch are to many of our Christmas traditions.  (If you didn't get my newsletter, send me an email and get on my list!)

Long-standing historical traditions are great, but what makes many of our holidays really special are those traditions that have been created by our own families--maybe by our great-grandparent, maybe by our parents, maybe by us. 

Lynne Goldman (of Bucks County Taste) has written an article for Bucks Life magazine that discusses the family holiday traditions of local chefs (me included!).  From Jell-O to stuffed cabbage, from eggnog to Slim Jims, these chefs have lasting memories about the food that represents their holiday to them.

Read Lynne's article here.  And it would be great if you would share any fun or meaningful food memories that make your holiday special.  Just click below to comment!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recession Meals

This time of year is perfect for slow cooker meals.  (Remember, Crock Pot is a brand of slow cooker--although most people use it as the generic term.)  Comfort food like stews and slow-cooked meats are great on cool nights.  We're all very busy with the holidays, so having an easy meal to be ready at dinnertime is terrific. 

And in these tough economic times, slow cookers work wonders on cheaper cuts of meat like chuck roasts, pork shoulder and even chicken.  And they use a tiny amount of electricity.

But really, slow cooker meals can be delicious and incredibly comforting.  Pulled pork, beef stew, soups--what's not to like?

Now, slow cooker meals--GOOD slow cooker meals--are not always as easy as dumping stuff in the cooker and turning it on.  To get real good taste, vegetables and meats sometimes need to be browned or sauteed.  You might have to do a little work right before serving, too.  But it's worth it. 

Here's an article from the Salt Lake Tribune that has some recipes included. 

And here's a great recipe I made the other day from Slow Cooker Revolution by America's Test Kitchen.  I only had about half the meat that's called for, so I halved the recipe and it worked great.  Try it!  You'll like it!

BEEF BURGUNDY (serves 8)

INGREDIENTS
1 (5 lb) boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2" chunks
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 oz bacon (about 4 slices), minced
3 onions, minced
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1/4 c tomato paste
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp minced fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
1/3 c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 c Pinot Noir
1 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth, plus extra as needed
1/3 c soy sauce
2 bay leaves
2 c frozen pearl onions
1/2 c water
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp sugar
1 lb cremini mushrooms, trimmed and halved if small or quartered if large
  1. Dry beef with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.  Place half of the beef in slow cooker.  Heat oil in 12" skillet over medium-heat until just smoking.  Brown remaining beef well on all sides, 7-10 min; transfer to slow cooker.
  2. Cook bacon in skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 5 min.  Stir in onions, carrot, tomato paste, garlic and thyme and cook until onions are softened and lightly browned, 8-10 min.  Stir in flour and cook for 1 min.  Slowly whisk in 1 1/4 cup wine, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps; transfer to slow cooker.
  3. Stir broth, soy sauce and bay leaves into slow cooker.  Cover and cook until beef is tender, 9-11 hours on low or 5-7 hours on high.
  4. About 20 min before serving, bring frozen pearl onion, water, butter and sugar to a boil in 12" skillet.  reduce to simmer, cover and cook until onions are fully thawed and tender, 5-8 min.  Uncover, bring to a boil and cook until all liquid evaporates, 3-4 min.  Stir in mushrooms and cook until browned and glazed, 8-12 min; transfer to slow cooker.
  5. Add remaining 1 1/4 cup wine to skillet and simmer until it has reduced by half, 6-8 min; transfer to slow cooker.  Let stew settle for 5 min, then remove fat from surface using a large spoon.  Discard bay leaves.  (Adjust consistency with additional hot broth as needed.)  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve over mashed potatoes or buttered noodles.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Anniversary at Earl's

Hi everyone.  I trust you all had a fun and tasty Thanksgiving.  I heard that on average, people take in about 4600 calories on Thanksgiving.  To work that off, you'd have to walk approximately 30 miles.  Hope you've got good shoes.  I guess that since we did 2 dinners on Turkey Day, we've got 60 miles to walk.

And that's not to mention the delicious dinner MB and I had at Earl's Bucks County on Friday night for our 17th wedding anniversary. 

I've heard much about this locavore restaurant, but had never been there until Friday.  I wish we had gone earlier.

What a great place--an incredible menu with lots of choices, flavors, ingredients.  The cool thing is that for many of the ingredients in each dish, they list the local farm or producer where the food comes from.  The freshness of the ingredients comes out in the dishes.

We started by sharing an appetizer of mini tacos with braised short ribs, butternut squash, crema and freshly made corn tortillas.  I could have eaten about 20 of them.  The meat was melt-in-your-mouth.  They even brought them out on 2 plates since we were sharing them. 

For the entree, I got trout with smoked bacon-mustard vinaigrette, sweet potato gnocchi, spinach and micro mustard greens.  The fish was done perfectly--moist flesh, crispy skin.  The sweetness of the gnocchi and the smokiness from the bacon was a great match.  MB got humongous sea scallops (impeccably done--crisp sear and moist on the inside) with sweet potato-sage ravioli and roasted butternut squash dressed with browned butter and toasted pine nuts. 

We shared a slice of chocolate layer cake (our server suggested we share-- and she was correct in saying that the slice was huge) in honor of the fact that we had a chocolate wedding cake with chocolate icing.  The cake was very good--about a half inch of ganache covered chocolate cake and mousse inside. 

So if you are looking for a place to go for a nice night out, try Earl's.  It's not the cheapest place around, but it wasn't outrageously priced either.  And for a meal done that well, it's worth paying a little bit more.  Even if it means that we have to walk a few more miles to work it off!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Musings

Your days are numbered, Tom.
Well, we're in Thanksgiving week--usually a pretty crazy week for most of us.  Whether you're cooking or cleaning or traveling or whatever--there's lots to do. 

We're not hosting Thanksgiving--we'll be doing the usual 2-Dinner Marathon--but I'll be making some Cranberry Relish, Rocky Road Fudge and Roasted Asparagus (or Green Beans--haven't decided yet) for the 2 meals.  It's nice to have both families close by so we can spend the holiday with both, but it sure is a lot of eating.  It's all in the pacing, as we like to say.

I ate at Five Guys Burgers & Fries for the first time yesterday.  So greasy.  So messy.  Sooooo gooooood!  They really are good burgers (and the fries are tasty, too).  I got mine with grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, cheese, ketchup and jalapenos.  Sat in my gut for much of the day, but it was worth it.

To make up for the nutritional deficiency of lunch, I made a tasty, smoky Barbecued Salmon for dinner.  Very easy and yummy.  And healthy!

Jake and I are disgusted with the over-abundance of Christmas songs, etc.  Once Thanksgiving comes, then, OK.  But it's just too much too early.  I feel the same every year, but it seems like it gets earlier and earlier every season.  Oh well. 

Well, in case I don't get to post anything else before Thursday, I want to wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving.  Enjoy the food and family! 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Something Fishy

We've all got turkey on the brain this time of year and for good reason.  But I thought I'd put out a quick note about seafood for something different.

Have you been to Bucks County Seafood in Dublin?  There are a lot of good seafood places in our area, but for those of us who live near Dublin, we have a great place to go for all sorts of fresh, frozen and prepared seafood. 

Click here to read my post about Bucks County Seafood on Bucks County Taste.  And for a change of pace from turkey, stop in and see the great products they offer.

Bucks County Seafood is located at 164 N. Main St. (Rt. 313), Dublin, PA, 18917.  You can check out their list of products on their website or call them at 215.249.1295.  They’re open 10 am to 7 pm, Monday through Saturday and 10 am to 5 pm on Sunday.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Veggie Pizza

I'm somewhat interested in politics.  Once in a while, I'm even passionate about certain things political.  I usually don't write about these things because I don't want to offend anyone and because I just don't see the need to do it--there are enough people commenting on stuff like that.

But something happened in Congress the other day that amazes me, frustrates me and just plain ticks me off.

Eat your veggies!
The Obama administration put forth potential regulations with the goal to make school lunches healthier.  Now, no matter what you think of government regulations, you have to admit that helping kids eat healthier is a good thing, right? 

The administration's proposals for school lunches worked to reduce the amount of potatoes (french fries) served, lower the amount of sodium used in prepared foods, increase the amounts of whole grains that are used and eliminates silly things like counting tomato paste as a vegetable when used on pizza. 

Well, Congress has said that they don't think that these ideas are all that good.  They released a spending bill that effectively kills the Obama proposals.  It prevents the reduction in fries, delays the limits on sodium and the increase in whole grains.  And it continues to view tomato paste as a vegetable. 

Now, why would Congress do this?  Well, for some, anything the the president does calls for some sort of opposition--no matter what it is.  But the ones really pulling the strings in this case are those who called for fighting these regulations: the potato industry, the frozen pizza industry, the salt industry.  Don't want those profits to drop!  Because you know how outside of schools, french fries, salt and frozen pizzas are rarely eaten.  (Yes, that's sarcasm.)

Some, including some schools, say that the regulations proposed by the administration are too stringent.  Some say that the government should not tell us or our kids what to eat.  But isn't it the responsibility of a government to protect the welfare of the citizens?  You can't ignore the fact that kids are less healthy and more obese than ever.  Yes, parents have a responsibility to feed their kids healthy food.  But a kid is going to eat what's offered in the lunch line--so why not offer healthier options?  Unhealthy kids turn into unhealthy adults, which affects all of us in many ways--not the least of which is increased healthcare costs. 

Sorry.  Stuff like this frustrates me.  You can read an AP article about these proposals here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Slow Cooker Turkey?


Photo courtesty of Cook's Country.
The latest issue of Cook's Country magazine has a recipe for a turkey breast--with gravy--made in a slow cooker.  Now really, can that be any good?

Well, we just so happened to have a turkey breast in the freezer and I thought trying out the recipe was a good way to get our taste buds ready for Thanksgiving.

As I would expect from Cook's Country, the recipe was very good.  OK, if you're looking for a real roasted turkey flavor, you're not going to get it here.  But if you're cooking for just a small number of people and you want a more hands-off way of cooking turkey, this is the way to go.  It's flavorful, extremely moist and the gravy is really tasty.  It's definitely worth a try--if not for Thanksgiving, at least another time.

SLOW-COOKER TURKEY BREAST AND GRAVY
Serves 8-10

If you don't have quite 3 Tbsp of drippings in Step 1, supplement with additional butter.

INGREDIENTS
1 (6-7 lb) bone-in turkey breast, trimmed
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 onion, chopped coarse
1 carrot, chopped coarse
1 celery rib, chopped coarse
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
7 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme plus 1 tsp minced
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
  1. Pat turkey dry with paper towels.  Remove skin and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Cook skin in 12" skillet over medium heat until browned, 8-10 min.  (I found that I needed a little longer.)  Transfer skin to slow cooker.  Pour off all but 3 Tbsp fat from skillet.  Add butter, onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook until veggies are browned, 8-10 min.  Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until golden, about 2 min.  Slowly whisk in broth and wine and bring to to a boil.  Transfer gravy, thyme sprigs and bay leaves to slow cooker.
  2. Season turkey with salt and pepper and place meat side up in slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low until breast registers 160 degrees, 5-6 hours.
  3. Transfer turkey to carving board, tent loosely with foil and let rest for 15-20 min.  Strain gravy into a serving bowl; discard solids.  Stir minced thyme into gravy and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Carve turkey and serve.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Turkey revisited

As I write this, I am trying out a Cook's Country recipe for "roast" turkey breast with gravy--made in a slow cooker!  I know, doesn't seem like it would work, but I trust their recipes.  I'll be sure to let you know how it turns out.

Below is a post I made last year at this time (slightly edited)--all about turkeys and the yummy Thanksgiving meals they give us. As a side, check out this post with a strange, but tasty sounding stuffing recipe.
Thanksgiving is coming up on us pretty quickly.  In just over 2 weeks, we'll be searching out our stretchy pants and getting ready to stuff ourselves with our favorite holiday fare.   (Choose your favorite in the poll to the right.)  And I'd be remiss in telling you that Mary Beth and my wedding anniversary falls on the day after Turkey Day this year--just as it did 17 years ago.  17 years!?  How does she do it?

If you are like 97% of Americans, you will be eating turkey this Thanksgiving.  Although more people are eating turkey at non-holiday times (consumption has increased 116% and production is up 300% since 1970), most Americans see turkey as a holiday dish.  Too bad, though.   Turkeys are very low fat and very high in protein (more than chicken or beef).  The average gobbler eaten at Thanksgiving is 15 pounds (much less than the largest turkey on record—86 pounds!). 

Oh, and studies show that there’s way too little tryptophan in turkey to cause drowsiness.   All the wine and food you stuff in your stomach pulls blood away from the brain to aid in digestion and prevents you from seeing the 2nd half of that football game or helping with the dishes.  You’ll have to find another excuse.

Ben Franklin famously nominated the wild turkey as our nation’s symbol (rather than the bald eagle).  He saw that these relatives to the pheasant were hearty, tough and plentiful—just like the early Americans.  Wild turkeys can fly up to 55 miles per hour for short distances and can run up to 20 mph.  They were nearly wiped out in the U.S. in the early 1900’s, but now thrive in every state except Alaska.   (Most of them seem to live at Peace Valley Park!)

Many of us use frozen turkeys and most of them are fine.   However, there are plenty of places locally to get delicious fresh birds.   Check out this Bucks County Taste post for more information where to get them.   Just remember that they're in demand, so don't wait to long to reserve yours.

There are literally thousands of ways to roast a turkey.  There are recipes with different kinds of rubs and brines.  Some use low heat, some high.   Some roast breast up, some breast down.  Here’s my favorite way to roast a turkey—on the grill.  It turns out juicy and delicious—and cooks very quickly.  It’s from America’s Test Kitchen.  The recipe is for a charcoal grill (with directions for gas grilling at the end of each step.)

  1. Dissolve 2 cups kosher or 1 cup table salt in 2 gallons of water in a large stockpot or clean bucket.  Add a 12-14 pound turkey, giblets & tail removed, rinsed thoroughly and wings tucked under.  Refrigerate or put in a very cool spot (32-40 degrees), 12 hours or overnight.  (I have used a cooler and added ice packs to keep cold.)
  2. Toward the end of the brining time, cover six 3-inch wood chunks with water in a bowl; soak for 1 hour, then drain and set aside.  (For gas: soak 3 cups of wood chips for about 30 minutes, drain and place in smoker box of gas grill or make a foil pan to hold the chips.)
  3. Keep bottom vents on grill completely open.  Start charcoal.  (For gas: place tray of chips on burner and preheat to high for about 20 minutes or until chips are smoking heavily.)
  4. Spray a V-rack with nonstick cooking spray.  (Before I had a rack, I made a big foil ring to hold the bird.)  Remove turkey from brine and rinse inside and out with cool running water to remove any salt.  Pat dry with paper towels; brush both sides with 2 tablespoons melted butter.  Set turkey, breast-side down, in V-rack.
  5. Arrange coals into one side of grill, piling them up 2-3 briquettes high.   Place 3 wood chunks on top of charcoal.  Put grate in place and put V-rack on with turkey over cool side of the grill.  Open lid vents halfway and cover, turning lid so vents are opposite wood chunks to draw smoke through grill.   Grill-roast for 1 hour.  (For gas: Turn off one burner—not the one with the wood chips—and put turkey over that burner.)
  6. Remove lid from grill.  Using thick potholders, move V-rack (with turkey) to rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan.  Remove grate and put 12 new briquettes and the last 3 wood chunks on top (For gas: add more chips, if necessary); replace grate.  Using wads of paper towels, flip turkey breast-side up in rack.  Return to cool side of grill so that leg & wing that were facing the heat are now facing away.  Cover and grill-roast for 45 minutes.
  7. Using thick potholders, turn V-rack with turkey so the leg & wing facing heat is now facing away.   Using an instant-read thermometer, check temperature in each thigh.   The target temp is 175-180.  If it’s close, cover and check the temp again in about 15 minutes.   If it’s below 145, cover and check in a half-hour.
  8. Remove turkey from grill, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 20-30 minutes.  Carve and serve.
Really, this sounds more difficult than it really is.  You will LOVE the smoky, moist meat that results from this process.  Save the giblets and find a good giblet gravy recipe to go with your bird.  You’ll be thankful you tried it!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Super Broccoli!

One of Jake's favorite veggies is broccoli, which is great.  Broccoli is really good for you.  (I must admit that it's not one of my favorites, but I eat it.)

But now there apparently is even more reason to eat a new variety of broccoli--a "super broccoli" that British scientists have bred to contain 2-3 times regular broccoli's amount of glucoraphanin, a nutrient that is believed to help prevent heart disease.

Photo by Mark Dunham/AP
According to scientists in an AP article on the subject, the new broccoli could actually lower your cholesterol.  It supposedly tastes sweeter than regular-strength broccoli because there is less sulphur in it.

It has been for sale in California and Texas for the last year, has recently been sold in Britain and should be sold throughout the US sometime this fall. 

Of course, there are those who question the need for such a thing--you can read some of the pros and cons of it in the article--but I suppose there could be worse things than healthier broccoli. 

What they need to come up with now is something like cheese that lowers your blood pressure.  That, I'd pay for!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Delicata

Winter squashes abound this time of year.  Butternut, acorn, pumpkins and many more can be found all over.  All of them are tasty, nutritious and relatively easy to prepare.

Last weekend I picked up a couple delicata squash.  As winter squash go, these are a breeze to make.  Simply cut them in half, scoop out the seeds and season.  I just rubbed them with some extra-virgin olive and seasoned with salt and pepper.  You could put whatever seasoning you like--cinnamon, cayenne, garlic. 

I stuck them in a 425 oven (along with the baked pork chops I was making) for about 20-25 minutes or until the flesh is very tender and starting to brown a little on top.  The skin is thin and tender, so you don't have to peel them. 

The flavor is sweet, but not overly so.  Not as sweet as a sweet potato or butternut.  It's more like an acorn squash if you ask me.  But as an easy and healthy side dish, you can't beat it.  Give them a try.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hello, Betty!

I love all the different kinds of apples that are available in our area this time of year--sweet, tart, crisp, soft, red, yellow.  And being just picked, makes them taste even better.

Photo courtesy of America's Test Kitchen.
I made a really tasty Apple Brown Betty over the weekend from America's Test Kitchen (where else?).  At least I was told it was tasty.  I made it for the fellowship hour after church and it was like a swarm of locusts descended on the table of food, so I never got to taste it.  But I thought I'd pass it on to you.

APPLE BROWN BETTY
Serves 6-8 (I doubled it, but only used about 2 cups of cider instead of the doubled amount)

If your apples are especially tart, omit the lemon juice.  If, on the other hand, your apples are exceptionally sweet, use the full amount.  Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container; topped with vanilla yogurt, they make an excellent breakfast.  The apple varieties listed in the recipe are recommended, but you could use any tart and sweet varieties.

BREAD CRUMBS
4 slices high-quality white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 Tbsp packed light brown sugar

FILLING
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch table salt
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3 large), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2" cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 pounds Golden Delicious apples (about 3 large), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2" cubes (about 4 cups)
1 1/4 cups apple cider
1-3 tsp juice from 1 lemon (see note above)
  1. FOR THE BREAD CRUMBS:  Pulse the bread, butter, and sugar in food processor until coarsely ground, 5-7 pulses.  Transfer to a 12" skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they are deep golden brown, 8-10 min.  Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate; wipe out the skillet.
  2. FOR THE FILLING:  Combine the sugar, spices, and salt in a small bowl.  Melt 1 1/2 Tbsp butter in the now-empty skillet over high heat.  Stir in the Granny Smiths and half of the sugar mixture.  Distribute the apples in an even layer and cook, stirring 2-3 times, until medium brown, about 5 min; transfer to a medium bowl.  Repeat with the remaining butter, the Golden Delicious and the remaining sugar mixture, returning the first batch of apples to the skillet when the second batch is done.
  3. Add the cider to the skillet and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits; cook until the apples are tender but not mushy and the liquid has reduced is just beginning to thicken, 2-4 min.
  4. Remove the skillet from the heat; stir in the lemon juice (if using) and 1/3 cup of the toasted bread crumbs.  Using a wooden spoon, lightly flatten the apples into an even layer and evenly sprinkle with the remaining bread crumbs.  Spoon the warm betty into individual bowls and serves with vanilla ice cream, if desired

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Healthy Blues

You know that we travel to Maine each year and you may have read some stuff that I've written about wild Maine blueberries (like this post, for example).  These tiny berries pack loads of sweet blueberry flavor.  As it turns out, scientists are finding that they pack loads of health benefits as well.

This is Jake back in '08 doing a little research.

Back in August, there was a conference held in Bar Harbor with researchers from the US, Canada and Europe--the Wild Blueberry Health Research Summit. 

Studies are being conducted that show the amazing power of these little fruits. 

The memory and brain function of older adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment--often a precursor to Alzheimer's Disease--can be affected positively by wild blueberries.  Studies show that wild blues may help improve memory tasks, motor function and the growth of new brain cells among other possible brain-health benefits. 

Proposed studies about wild blueberry health benefits include investigation into their effects on insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, blood vessel wall strength and other cardio health indicators.

It's been known for a long time that eating fruit--especially berries--can give great health benefits (see this post).  But it is more and more evident that wild blueberries have more antioxidants and other healthy compounds than other berries--including cultivated blueberries. 

If good health tastes as good as wild blues do, then being healthy suddenly got a lot easier!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Post-Halloween Pumpkins

Halloween is over.  You've taken the kids trick-or-treating, carved your pumpkin, shoveled the sidewalk (huh?!!) and now what?

Well, food-wise, there's all that left-over candy.  We don't get many trick-or-treaters, so we always buy what we like because we know we'll have plenty left over. 

But what about pumpkins?  As you know, they're not just for carving.  They're a tasty, nutritious food that is very versatile. 

The versatility is evident in the recipes from these two articles I've run across.

The first is from the Washington Post and discusses the writer's experimenting with smoking pumpkins.  He even includes a Pumpkin S'more recipe.  Actually sounds pretty good.  Read this article here.

The second article is from the Patriot Ledger in Massachusetts.  In the article, a nutritionist talks about the health benefits of adding pumpkin to your diet by doing things like adding pumpkin puree to oatmeal or brownies.  This adds flavor, vitamins, fiber.  Read this article here.

So visit your local farm stand, dig a couple of pumpkins out of the snow and have fun doing something creative with them!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Food Safety

I've never had food poisoning, thankfully.  It's funny, though, that as soon as someone thinks they may have food poisoning, they immediately think about the last meal that they ate out in a restaurant. 

Truth is that most food poisoning occurs from foods prepared at home.  Most of them don't get reported because people think it must have been the flu or some sort of stomach bug.  But the fact remains that the lack of food safety in the home contributes to a lot of illness.

There are those who say, "Oh, I've never sanitized my cutting board and I don't get sick" or something like that.  That may be true.  But new pathogens show up all the time and your old ways of doing things may not keep you from getting sick for much longer.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has come up with 4 simple terms to keep in mind when thinking about kitchen safety.  (Thanks to China Millman's article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for many of these ideas.  Find out more from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/foodsafety.)
  • CLEAN
    • Wash your hands completely (20 seconds in hot, soapy water) before cooking and often during the cooking process--especially after handling raw proteins.
    • Wash all fruits and vegetables in water.  Yes, even organic and items that you'll be peeling.
    • Don't rinse meats or poultry.  You're not going to wash off many of the bad microbes and you'll just be contaminating your sink.  Pat them dry with paper towels if you wish.
    • Clean cutting boards and countertops with a solution of diluted bleach (1 Tbsp bleach to 1 gallon of water). 
    • Sponges can be home to a bunch of microbes that can make you sick.  Sterilize them by microwaving for 1 minute on high or run them through the dishwasher.  Do this frequently.
    • Change your dish towels frequently as well.  If you accidentally get some chicken juice on one, that won't help things when you go to dry your hands later on.
  • SEPARATE
    • Cross-contamination is the biggest concern in your kitchen.  Any contact from raw meats or poultry with foods that aren't going to be cooked can be dangerous.
    • Always use separate cutting boards--one for meats/poultry, one for other items.  Be sure to wash your cutting boards, knives, etc after cutting raw proteins. 
    • Store these foods separately in your fridge as well.  Try to store raw meats/poultry at the bottom of the fridge so there's no danger of them dripping on other items below them.  Be sure to keep them well wrapped.
  • COOK
    • Be sure to cook proteins to the recommended temperature.  To be safest, don't use visual cues to tell you this.  Use a thermometer to be sure.
  • CHILL
    • Refrigerate foods promptly when you get them home. 
    • Be sure your fridge is no warmer than 40 degrees.  Use a refrigerator thermometer to make sure.
    • If you don't use raw proteins in a few days, freeze them until ready to use.
    • If something in your fridge doesn't look or smell good, toss it.  Better to err on the side of caution than get sick.
Here's another article for you to check out on a similar topic.  It helps to dispel some myths that many believe to be true when it comes to kitchen safety. 

Does it take a little extra work on your part to make sure you are preventing food-borne illness in your kitchen?  Sure.  But the alternative is a lot worse!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Networking Opportunity

I'm a member of the Central Bucks Business Networking Group (CBBNG) and on November 14, we're hosting a Fall Mixer with the Quakertown group (QBNG). 

It's a great way to meet other businesspeople from our area in a relaxed, no-pressure environment.  The event will be held at Revival's Restaurant, 4 S. Ridge Rd, Perkasie, PA, 18944 from 5:30-7:30 PM.  Light refreshments will be provided and a cash bar will be available.

The cost is $10 at the door, but if you RSVP in advance, it costs just $5.  All you have to do is go to www.qbng.org/cbbng-joint-mixer.html and pay using your credit card. 

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Couple Local Places

Mary Beth had the day off yesterday and we went to Vera's Country Cafe (4203 Durham Rd, Ottsville, PA, 18942; 610-847-8372).  I had heard good things from a number of people about Vera's, so we thought we'd check it out.

Let's just say that we didn't need to eat lunch.  The breakfast menu is pretty typical a place like that, but there are lots of choices from egg dishes, to pancakes, to creamed dried beef and more.  I had one of the specials--a Wild Mushroom, Bacon, Cheddar & Potato Omelet.  Huge and filled with goodies.  Very tasty.  It came with home fries and toast.  MB got the SOS (Creamed Dried Beef) as is typical for her.  Very good.  The sauce was nice and thick.  We shared another special--a Strawberry-Chocolate Chip Pancake.  We ordered just one (nice that you can order as many as you want).  That was all we needed as a "side dish".  It was as big as the plate it came on.  (Sorry, I forgot my camera.  I'll have to go back to get pictures.)

If you're looking for a good place to get a good, home-style, affordable breakfast in a nice casual setting with very friendly staff, check out Vera's.  They serve lunch, too.  If you've been there for lunch, let me know how you liked it!

Have you been to the Cafe Blue Moose in Doylestown?  I've not been there, but have heard great things about it.  The neat thing about this place is that it was started 4 years ago by a couple of teenage friends.  Housed in one of their homes, the "restaurant" was a hit--so much so, that a permanent spot in New Hope will be opening next month.  Read all about this great venture in this article from Bucks County Taste.  It's pretty cool.

There are so many interesting and impressive food spots right in our backyard.  Let me know about some of your favorites!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fruits & Veggies

Jake and I took our weekly trip to Penn Vermont Fruit Farm (Rt. 113 & Rolling Hills Rd, Bedminster).  There are lots of places around to buy fruits and veggies--Penn Vermont is right up there with the best of them.

This time of year, the main reason we go is for their many varieties of apples.  Fresh, juicy--so tasty.  They also have some pears (although not as many as apples). 

In the market for pumpkins, squash or gourds?  They have plenty of them--in all colors, shapes and sizes.  On Saturdays and Sundays, they run hay wagon rides to the pumpkin patch for a fun way to spend some time on a nice fall day. 

We picked up some incredibly brilliant purple cauliflower that tastes great.  Super fresh.  And now they have their own apple cider--a little on the sweet side, but so good. 

So if you're in the Bedminster area, stop in at Penn Vermont for some fall goodies.  You'll be glad you did!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Happy NCCI Day!

I don't know how these "national" days are established, but apparently, October 14 is National Chocolate-Covered Insects Day! 

Chocolate-Covered Crickets (courtesy of
declubz.com).
Have you ever tried these crunchy little snacks?  To be honest, I can't remember if I have or not.  I have a very clear recollection of someone bringing chocolate-covered grasshoppers in to my first grade class.  This could be true or totally be some dream I had.  If there are any of my first grade classmates out there, do you remember that? 

Anyway, from what I understand (or remember), insects are very crunchy and have a nutty flavor.  And they're actually pretty nutritious, too--lots of protein.  I guess covering them in chocolate sort of defeats the healthy-food aspect of them. 

As I've written before (see my post, Bug Off), people all over the world eat insects rather routinely.  Here in the refined US, however, it's gross to most people.  I wouldn't have a problem with ants or crickets (which seem to be the most common chocolate-covered bugs you find).  It's those big gooey ones--big spiders or grubs or things like that--that might make me pause.

But come on, why not give it a try on this special day! 

Here's just a few places you can buy them:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Naked Lobster

As you know, I love lobster.  When in Maine, there's nothing better than buying live lobsters, cooking and eating them right away.  Delicious.

But there are those who, even though they love to eat lobster, have a hard time with killing their dinner right in the kitchen.  Not to mention the work it takes to get to the meat.

To me, that's the Maine experience--cracking the claws, sucking the meat out of the little legs, taking a big bite of tail meat while butter drips down your chin. 

I guess not everyone agrees with me.  Many folks just want to eat the lobster meat without the killing and cracking.  That's where John Hathaway comes in.

Hathaway opened a lobster shack in Kennebunkport, ME in 2001.  You know the place--plastic bibs, disposable tablecloths on picnic tables.  But what he found was that most people don't want that experience.  They just want to eat the lobster meat.

He found out about an accidental discovery in Louisiana by an oyster distributor who, while playing around with high pressure water to kill bacteria on oysters and extend their shelf life, discovered that the high pressure spray also shucked the oysters.  Hathaway wondered how this technique might work with lobsters.  He headed South to find out.

What he found may actually revolutionize how and where lobster can be shipped and how it can be sold and served.  What happened is that the live lobsters came out of the high pressure spray with 2 differences: they were dead and the meat was totally separated from the shells, but still on the inside.  So once the shells were cracked, the raw lobster meat just slid out.

Needless to say, Hathaway has changed his business plan.  He bought a huge machine that puts the lobsters under high pressure, killing them in 6 seconds and separating the meat in 6 minutes.  He sells to people who don't want to cook and dismantle live lobsters in their homes and to restaurants that save money (and pass some of the savings on to their customers) because they don't have to have space to store live lobsters.  Lobster meat can now be shipped at much less expense (you don't have to keep the critters alive) and can spread the Maine lobster to places that haven't known it before.

For my money, I want the fun of eating a whole lobster.  But I can totally understand the appeal of cooking with raw lobster meat without the hassle.  Read more about this interesting story in this article from Boston.com.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Putting On the Pressure (or Not)

Jake's favorite Phillie is Ryan Howard.  Now, I'm not even going to get into the fact the Phillies are out of the playoffs.  In fact, my writing those words doesn't really convince me that it's actually true.  Give me a couple of months.

Anyway, he loves Ryan Howard.  Like Howard, Jake is a left-handed hitter (usually has a little better eye than the slugger).  And they're both streaky at the plate--Howard at home plate, Jake at the dinner plate.

Jake ate a whole lobster for the first time this year,
overcoming some previous trepidation about it.

There will be days that Jake will eat like he's never eaten before.  He'll shovel down everything in front of him.  Then, he'll change to a streak where he won't eat much at all.  Early on, MB & I were a little worried that he wasn't eating as much as he should be.  We didn't want to pressure him, but we wanted to make sure that he was getting the nutrients that he should have been getting.  His doctor assured us that children self-regulate how much food they need to get by.  There's no use in pressuring a child when they're not eating because chances are, they're simply not hungry.

A recent study from the UK (and discussed in an My Health News Daily article) backs up what the doctor told us. 

Basically, pressuring a child to eat when they aren't hungry can have a detrimental effect on how the child sees eating as a whole.  Often the result is a child who is picky and views mealtime as a battleground.  The study suggests that parents shouldn't worry about when a child won't eat--they'll eat when they are hungry.  Forcing the issue or substituting less healthy options (ones that the child will eat hungry or not) are not good ideas.

Is there any time that some gentle pressure is acceptable?  Most experts say that when you're working on trying to get a kid to taste something new, a little pressure isn't a bad idea.  Even a little incentive works in getting a kid to take the risk of trying something new.  I know in Jake's case, he simply has to be in the right mood.  Most of the time, he's very open to at least trying something, but there are times when nothing will get him to put his lips to that food. 

Bottom line to me is that all kids are different.  You can try strategies that seem to work in general, but only you know what might work for your child the best.  Just be sure to be an example to them--don't make them eat things that you won't eat.  And expose kids to "real" food--take them to farmers' markets, explain where foods come from, walk them around the produce aisle in the supermarket. 

Check out a couple previous posts about this subject: "Kids These Days" & "Kids & Food".

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not


Everyone has it happen to them.  You go through the fridge once in a while (I try to do it every week) and you end up throwing away a bunch of stuff.  The red pepper you forgot was in the bottom of the crisper drawer.  The container of sauce that you were sure you were going to use for something.  Wasting food is an unfortunate fact of life in this country.

That's the drawback of living in a country where things are so plentiful.  Think of other things you throw away: the tops of carrots, citrus rind, potato peels, corn cobs and more--all of which could be used as ingredients in delicious food.

Leaves of carrots, celery and fennel can be used to flavor sauces or as herbs in a salad.  Many "scraps", like corn cobs or the woody parts of asparagus, can be used to flavor stocks.  Melon rinds can be pickled or even used raw in a salad.  There are limitless uses for the things we throw away. 

Using up these kinds of ingredients may take a little research and a little more time, but we should take a cue from cuisines of other countries, where using every possible part of a plant or animal is commonplace--and necessary. 

An interesting and informative article from the New York Times tells about the ways that chefs and others use these kinds of ingredients to save money and eliminate waste.  Maybe it'll help to inspire us to use food for all it's worth!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mainely Food (Part 3)

So as our trip wound down, we took a nice easy hike along Long Pond (which is much bigger than what I would classify as a "pond").  The day started out a little overcast, but cleared up a bit as we started the walk along the shoreline. 


Looking down Long Pond.

The water is incredibly clear and still.  We got to a point further down the shore and Jake's young eyes spied a loon in the middle of the water.  He started making loon sounds ("Listen!  I'm communicating with the loon!") 

Fog over Long Pond.
After sitting for a while, we started back toward the car and the fog came rolling over the mountains, hovering over the water.  It was an almost surreal feeling.  The sounds of the loons calling, the low fog, bald eagles flying through the low clouds.  It was really cool.  Jake continued to make his loon calls, which resulted in a 2-second delayed echo.  He though that was pretty neat.  We did too.

Our last morning came (or what we thought was going to be our last morning) and we went for breakfast at Breakfast at Grumpy's in Southwest Harbor.  We didn't know anything about it, but it looked good.  And it was.

A beautiful setting right on the harbor (complete with yet another loon having breakfast).  It's a family-run place where everything is made from scratch.  Big portions (see the picture of the blueberry pancakes!), too.  Grumpy, by the way, is a really nice guy who has been in the food biz for almost 30 years. 

Plate-sized blueberry pancakes and
a 3-egg omeletat Grumpy's.
It was a good thing that we had this hearty breakfast, because the rest of the day was going to leave no time for lunch.  Soon after, we noticed the smoke coming out from under the hood and our 2 day stranding in Bar Harbor began.

Oh, sure.  We didn't need the added expense of the repair and the motel and the rental car.  But we did get a couple other good breakfasts at Cafe This Way and Grumpy's again.  And we got to spend another day and a half in Acadia--Jake back swimming in the 57 degree water at Sand Beach.

And we found a new casual dinner place in Bar Harbor.  The Side Street Cafe is a relatively new place (opened in '09) that is family-friendly and is known for their yummy burgers and macaroni and cheese.  You can "build your own" burgers and mac-and-cheese by adding your choice from a list of ingredients.  MB got mac-and-cheese with spinach and mushrooms.  I had a burger with goat cheese, bean sprouts, olive tapenade on a ciabatta roll.  Really tasty.  Jake loved the kid-sized burger, too. 

From burgers to fried seafood, from fresh steamed lobsters to trail mix while hiking, from Cafe This Way to Grumpy's--it was another great food adventure in Maine.  (Not to mention all the other great non-food stuff!)  Jake's already asking about when we'll be heading back. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Mainely Food (Part 2)

Let's see, where were we?  Hiking up the South Bubble.

The Bubbles are 2 distinctive small mountains at the end of Jordan Pond in Acadia.  If you've seen a picture from Acadia, it's possible that it includes them:

The Bubbles (on left) as seen from the shores of Jordan Pond.
The Jordan Pond House houses a gift shop and restaurant where you can eat on the lawn looking at this incredible scene.  The food is very good--they're known for their lobster stew and popovers, but incredibly expensive.  We used to eat there for lunch after hiking in the morning, but it just got too pricey.  Now we pack our lunch or snacks, bring a blanket and sit on the grass to wind down from our hike.

The hike we were winding down from was the South Bubble (the one on the right above).  It was a beautiful day and the views were incredible.  South Bubble features "Balance Rock"--a boulder that, from the Loop Road below, looks like it's teetering on the edge of the mountain.  Obviously, it's not.  But as boys do, Jake wanted to see if he could move it. 
We brought our lunch up there and ate it looking down over Jordan Pond to the lawn of Jordan Pond House.  Doesn't get much more picturesque than that.
We took a lot of nice hikes through the woods, up and down mountains, by the ocean and lakeside.  All of them beautiful in their own way.  At low tide, we walked out over a sand bar in Bar Harbor to Bar Island (should have stopped at a bar afterward!).  We hiked the first trail MB & I ever did in Acadia back in '99.  And Jake spent much time frolicking in the 57 degree water on Sand Beach.  (Made my feet hurt just walking in it.)

But back to food...

When President Obama visited Bar Harbor with his family last summer, he got ice cream at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream.  And for good reason.  Gourmet magazine named MDI Ice Cream one of the top 25 ice cream places in the US earlier this year.  Being big fans of Owowcow Creamery, we had to check it out.

Like Owowcow, everything at MDI is made in small batches with fresh (sometimes local) ingredients.  As for flavors, creativity runs rampant.  Mary Beth got a cone of Mexican Chocolate and Jake, Nutella.  I couldn't decide and got a "flight" of 4 flavors.  I chose to go with the most interesting ones I could find (it was a tough choice): Chocolate Orange--deep dark chocolate with real orange flavor; Salt Caramel--really tasty and the saltiness was great when tasted with the Chocolate Orange; Blackstrap Banana--molasses and bananas together was very good; and, the one that grossed MB & Jake out, Blueberry/Blue Cheese/Fig/Walnut.  OK, it was very weird with a very prominent blue cheese flavor, but it was really good.  Not something I'd like all the time, but was worth the try.


Maine Crab Cakes

Actually, that ice cream was our lunch for the day because we were going to Cafe This Way for dinner!  As I've said before, this is one of our favorite restaurants anywhere.  The ultimate in casual fine dining, you can schlep in there with your hiking boots, t-shirt and shorts and sit down for a perfect meal.  Their food is always great--sauces perfectly balanced, seafood perfectly cooked.

Cashew-Crusted Halibut
Here's the run-down:  As an appetizer, I got Blackened Scallops with corn cream sauce, tomatillo salsa and tortilla strips.  Mmmm....  MB got Maine Crab Cakes.  Mmmm....  Linda got my favorite app there, The Littlebit, which is melted Asiago cheese, fresh bread, roasted garlic, roasted red peppers and olive tapenade.  I forget what Pete got. 

Lobster Rolls Three Ways
For dinner, I went with the Brazilian-Flavored Shrimp, Scallops and Mussels in a tomato-coconut sauce.  Incredible.  MB: Lobster Rolls Three Ways--traditional, Asian and Southwestern (the latter was her favorite).  Pete and Linda got the same: a huge piece of Cashew-Crusted Halibut with Cajun tartar sauce, garlicky spinach and mashed potatoes.  One of the great things about Cafe This Way is their kids' menu.  It's not Mac & Cheese, burger, hot dog, etc like most places.  They actually offer grilled chicken (which Jake got), pasta, shrimp, fish and more. 

We shouldn't have, but some of us got dessert.  I had Key Lime Cheesecake--very light and tasty.  Pete got their amazingly chocolaty Chocolate Mousse.  And Jake had a really great brownie as part of his dinner. 

If you are ever in Bar Harbor, go to Cafe This Way.  I mean it!

Next time, we'll finish up the trip with a beautiful hike, a newly found dinner spot in Bar Harbor and Breakfast at Grumpy's.