Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spaghetti Dogs


This was  in no way my idea. I want to make that clear from the onset. I am not this creative. I mean, I do some really cool things with food, but never this cool - not on my own.

A friend of mine posted a picture (see above*) to my Facebook wall and said something to the effect that he was surprised he hadn't already seen something this awesome from me and the Yummy-Goodness platform.

Ha! It would have never occurred to me...that's why.

And yet, I knew that my kid, who is 7 and loves to play with his food, may just fall in love with this way to eat hot dogs and spaghetti. He's taught me on more than one occasion to check before I know for sure that he's going to be on board with a new experience. And so we spent some time together checking out the picture and talking about how interesting it would be for dinner.

"Little man, we have all the things we need to make these Spaghetti Dogs. Would you like me to make them for you?"

"Oh, yes," he replied enthusiastically.

And just like that, we committed to a food adventure as a part of our dinner menu.

I was going to play it safe and just make one dog. He assured me that two would be preferable. I didn't really agree; I just decided it wouldn't be the end of the word if he didn't like them as much as he thought he was going to.

It's really as simple as the picture portrays.
Take a hot dog, chop it into pieces and stick spaghetti noddles through the wienie-bites lengthwise. Just for a reference, I got 5 pieces from one dog.

I heated a pot of water to boiling and added all 10 pieces at once. As soon as the pasta was al dente, I strained the Spaghetti Dogs and placed them in a bowl.

He inhaled them - with delight. Because he sure enough did play, but not so much as to not focus on the goal, which was to stuff his face.


I served the Spaghetti Bites with a side of ketchup, which was well received.

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*This photo was shared from the "Dude. Wait, what?!" Reborn." Facebook Page. There wasn't a photo credit, so I am not really sure who to thank for this great idea. Whoever it is, THANK YOU - from both me and my kid.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

2012 Apple Adventures: Applesauce 2 (Or Not)

Those Snarky Sweets are aptly named.

I decided to move forward with another batch of applesauce, using only the Snarky Sweets so that I could ascertain their cook-down characteristics. I feel like if you know how an apple is going to break down when the heat is applied, you'll know best how to cook with it.

And extra applesauce isn't going to go to waste around here...

I peeled and chopped roughly half my stash, which ended up yielding about 8 cups of apple flesh. Because these apples are already naturally sweet, I decided to forgo the sugar. I figured if the sauce needed some sweetening, I could handle that on an as-needed basis when the time came. Apples and water (2 cups) went into a covered stock pot on medium heat.

And, as I've done with previous batches of applesauce, I periodically stirred the pot. But on about my third visit to the pot (giggle), I noticed that these apples were acting quite differently than I was used to - even though the water was boiling and the apples were heated through, they weren't breaking down. The best I could say is that some of the pieces seemed to be breaking apart into bits, but not really turning into mush. Stirring the apples still required a hefty amount of force as they stubbornly held their constitution together.

I assumed they needed more time.
The pot went dry and the apples started sticking to the bottom.

Feeling that I could learn a thing or two about how "to stick to my guns" from these apples, I added just a little water to the pot so that I could easily stir the mixture again - mostly big pieces and some smaller pieces of Snarky Sweets covered in a light watery glaze. Oh boy.

So, no applesauce from these guys.



A Facebook connection asked if I had considered using the KitchenAid; and the answer to that is no. I didn't want to make it more of a production than it already was - and these apples...I'm telling you: they're not budging.

I updated my status:

Those Snarky Sweet apples are stubborn.
They refuse to be made into sauce.
Hurumph.

And my dear friend responded:

Lol, they sound a little like you.

Hmmm....

The Story of the Snarky Sweets


The tree bearing these apples, the ones I've dubbed "The Snarky Sweets," can be found on the side of a road on the top of the mountain, flourishing in the space between the pavement edge and the cattle fence.

Apples littered the ground around the tree, on both sides of the fence. I approached it with care, walking tentatively among the overgrown blades of monkey grass. Most of the apples still on the tree were too high for me to reach, but there were so many apples available for pick up on the ground, so I focused my attention on the treasures available in the dirt.

It was like searching for Easter eggs, little golden-green treasures hidden among the thick, dark green tufts of vegetation. The monkey grass hid piles and piles of apples - most of which were only slightly bruised from the fall, and so were perfect picks for adding to my take-home bag.

While searching, fruit was fresh-falling from the tree...on the other side of the fence.

"I would really appreciate it if you let your fruit fall on this side of the fence, please," I told the tree. "I'm already over here trying to harvest your lovely treasures and put them to good use in my kitchen. The least you could do is make sure that the fresh-fallen fruits land in my area."
 
I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request.

Seconds after my petition, more fruit fell...on the other side of the fence, more than once.

Clearly, this tree has a dry sense of humor.

Its fruit, though, is tender and subtly sweet.
Imagine if a Golden Delicious could whisper in your ear; or if it could blow you a kiss - that's how I can best explain it. The skin is fairly thin and easy to peel.

At this point, I haven't yet cooked or baked with these apples, but I have sliced a few of them - just as I would a "regular" apple - and served them to my fruit-hungry 7 year old.

Stay tuned for more adventures with The Snarky Sweets...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

2012 Apple Adventures: The Line Up

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the distinct pleasure to revisit one of my favorite areas in Virginia. My friend’s family owns some property near the Blue Ridge Parkway and they have an apple tree that was planted by one of the great-grandfathers thriving in the front yard of their mountain cabin. Last August, I experienced the joy of harvesting apples for the first time, which included adventures in cooking and baking with apples. 

This year, I had the delight to revisit the same apple tree for its annual offering of crisp, tart apples – that, in my opinion, are perfect for creating applesauce and apple pies. In addition, I had the opportunity to pick apples from two other areas in the same neighborhood. So I have 3 distinct apple types to adventure with this coming month – and I couldn’t be more excited!



And here’s this year’s line up: all apples, and each one very different.

Apple 1 (Left): Snarky Sweets

Apple 2 (Middle): Wilson Apples

Apple 3 (Right): Teary-Tart Leathers


Note: None of these apples have been officially identified, so I’m giving each of them a nickname. Samples have been submitted to an area Cider Maker, who has in turn submitted the apples to be reviewed by an Apple Expert. This is a pretty big deal. Diane of Foggy Ridge Cider is an Apple Guru and even specializes in a plethora of “uncommon” apple species, which means that she knows all kinds of apples that the normal person wouldn’t recognize. I’d like to say the fact that she sent them higher up the Apple Chain means that these particular apples could be really special and maybe a rare type – but the truth is that all apples, whether they’re common or rare are pretty special gifts from nature. With that in mind, I anticipate what the Apple Expert will say – and I am more thankful than I can say for both of these Apple Lovers to take the time to be a part of my adventure.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

2012 Apple Adventures - Day 1

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the distinct pleasure to revisit one of my favorite areas in Virginia. My friend's family owns some property near the Blue Ridge Parkway and they have an apple tree that was planted by one of the great-grandfathers thriving in the front yard of their mountain cabin. Last August, I experienced the joy of harvesting apples for the first time, which included adventures in cooking and baking with apples. 

This year, I had the delight to revisit the same apple tree for its annual offering of crisp, tart apples - that, in my opinion, are perfect for creating applesauce and apple pies. In addition, I had the opportunity to pick apples from two other areas in the same neighborhood. So I have 3 distinct apple types to adventure with this coming month - and I couldn't be more excited!
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My first day in the kitchen with this year's harvest, I decided to pursue the tried-and-true option from the get-go. I have an antsy 7 year old encouraging me to make as many apple delicacies as quickly as possible - and I needed to placate him with an offering before I started exploring outright.

And so, I decided to focus on making applesauce with the apples I was already familiar with - fairly easy with predictable results.

The apples from my friend's great-grandfather's tree were separated from the rest. I peeled and chopped apples until I had about 10 cups of apple flesh. I added the apples, 2 cups of water and 1 cup of white sugar to a stock pot, covered it and let it cook down over medium heat.

I was aiming to get a thick sauce and succeeded - although, I would remind you that thick sauce can bubble and splatter before you even realize it. My admonishment comes with a sincere spirit as my right wrist showcases a new burn mark in the shape of plop-splattered applesauce. Be careful. There's no rush to cook down the apples, so err on the side of caution and use a lower heat, if you're concerned. Make sure to use the pot cover as a shield and stir the mixture well.

These particular apples* break down really well, so there's little mashing required.
They produce a sauce that's rich and flavorful - like a fine red wine.

Once the majority of the apples were mush, I turned off the heat and periodically stirred the sauce. After about an hour, I decided I couldn't wait any longer for it to cool down. I ladled a generous portion into a bowl and added a handful of Blueberry Granola.

I declare Day 1 of 2012 Apple Adventures a complete success.

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*Apple type is unknown. A sample has been sent to an Apple Expert for identification.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Halloween Candy in September


I saw it in the bulk isle at The Bread Basket and picked it up without thinking twice, a bag of "Autumn Mix." In this case, "Autumn Mix" refers to regular and caramel candy corn kernels and pumpkin-shaped candy. My kid loves regular candy corn - and I really wanted to try to darker kernels, the caramel flavored ones. I figured this bag o' delights was plenty of candy to suit both of our "sweet tooth" needs.

I was gone on a weekend away with my boyfriend and was adding to the "goodies" I could bring home. I left my 7 year old at home with his dad and I knew I had some making up to do. When he found out that I was headed to the mountains to pick apples without him, he was upset.

I don't blame him.

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I made sure to return home in time for our bedtime ritual. But I was just in time - and so didn't get the chance to unload all the goodies. Instead, I talked about all the fun items we would be able to indulge in during the next day - it was the mac-daddy of bedtime stories, if I do say so myself.

"Guess what else I got," my voice was giddy with the thought of unveiling yet another surprise.

"What," he asked dutifully.

"I bought some candy corn for us to share. What do you think of that?"

"Um, candy corn is Halloween candy," he responded as if trying to educate me on one of the most obvious facts of life.

I chuckled, "Okay. Well, I guess I will just have to eat it all myself."

"Oh, no. I can eat it in September as well," he assured me.

I gave him a big hug and said, "I am sure that you can. I am sure that it will taste even better because we get it eat it a whole month before Halloween."

He grinned at me - and I knew I was forgiven for leaving him for my weekend get-a-way.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Goat Burger

He told me about it ages ago...

"Hey, did you know that you can order a goat burger at the Saxapahaw General Store? It's so good!"

I looked at him askance, my expression meant to convey the fact that I was struggling with the idea that a goat burger could be good. I can probably count on both hands the times I've eaten goat, and most of those times, I found it unappealing.

Goat is a difficult meat to prepare well. At least, it seems that way. Looking back on my experiences, either the meat was tough, dry or poorly seasoned. And let's not even begin to review the one time I tried to prepare it at home - a dismal failure! I don't have many failures in the kitchen, and I certainly don't often wave the white flag after only one try; but I can respect when an ingredient is beyond my skill.

All of that being said, I also know that goat can be amazing. I had it once in a meal served under a Bedouin tent. Chunks of the meat were served with spiced rice...or was it couscous? Whatever. What matters is that I remember the meat! It was tasty and tender and...well, nothing short of amazing. I assume that's because a master chef was at work with a meat he knew like the back of his hand. When you know an ingredient well, you know how to manipulate it in order to bring out its best qualities.

And that's what I think gives the Sax Gen Store an upper hand in their seasonal offering of the goat burger. As locavores, they strive to support the local food economy by focusing on the edible goods that are grown and raised nearby. The goats used for the goat burger are raised on a farm that's not too far from where the shop is located. Talk about an amazing opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with your ingredient! The people at the Sax Gen Store know the farmers, know the goats and know the land. It's exactly this kind of knowing that offers a spice to local food that helps to make it so darn irresistible. Add to that the fact that the Sax Gen Store understands how to prep this meat successfully within its business model (think burger with toppings vs. roasted meat with sides) and how to creatively mix flavors.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. This guy who told me it was oh-so-good and that I most-certainly-must try it, is not just my friend, he is also a colleague. We meetup periodically to talk business and build strategy for ongoing professional networking. It was in the scheduling of such a meeting that he called dibs on our lunch spot: "Let's head to Saxapahaw and we'll get goat burgers. My treat."

Well, I've never been the kind of girl to turn down the offer of a paid meal, so I marked the day with the mental note to prepare my taste buds for something unforgettable (which offers room on both sides of the coin; I braced myself knowing that it could be unforgettably terrible or awesome).

Side note: Did you know that goat meat is generally leaner that the main competition (beef, pork...even chicken)? It's a great source of iron and potassium

I like to adventure - and there's nothing like a good adventure when it comes to food: new ingredients, new flavors, a new twist on an old favorite. One of my old-favorites would definitely be a cheeseburger. I mean, have you seen the yummy-goodness logo?! And so, even knowing that it could be terrible instead of awesome, I looked forward to challenging my perspective, of turning an old-favorite on its head with this experience - of having an adventure at the general store within my local community!


The Goat Burger
A patty of ground local goat with melted Manchego 
placed on a homemade English muffin with 
olive salad, aioli, roasted tomato and fresh greens.

The goat burger: an adventure well met.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this meal. You'll notice that the burger isn't paired with a side. I promise you, it doesn't need one. This is one of those sandwiches that was made to stick to your insides. It is full, round and plump and makes you feel that way from the inside after you've eaten it. I am not taking about Thanksgiving-dinner-about-to-burst full; just that perfect, I-ate-like-royalty-and-am-content.

The toppings pair with the goat meat meaning to offer a deeper complexity in the richness of flavor (the Manchego, the aioli) and lighter, tarter notes of brightness (the olive salad, the tomatoes). And thank goodness for the English muffin! That can definitely throw you off: "I'm eating a burger on an English muffin?! What?!" But the meat was so juicy that a normal bready-bun would have no chance of survival; as it tried to soak up the juicy-deliciousness, it would have fallen prey to the sog-monster and lost all constitution and ability to offer an anchor to the eating process.

If you are anywhere near the Saxapahaw, NC area, go now and order one. In fact, take all your friends too! They will honor you with the Foodie Crown after having the opportunity to eat such yummy-goodness. You can even throw in the health facts as a hook!

When yummy-goodness comes at you armed with lower-in-fat-and-high-in-protein type of stats, why fight? Just admit you're toast!


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pork and Potatoes


I love to celebrate. It doesn't even matter what the occasion is...Thanksgiving, 4th of July, my son's birthday, Friday afternoon, lunch hour - well, you get the idea.

Father's Day is no exception. My son is 7 and experiencing a golden age for embracing manners and a deep concern for others. I wanted him to own today in a new way and take charge of honoring his father. Sure, I had to offer a few suggestions, like "Why don't you make a card for Daddy? Here's a piece of paper. Would you like to fold it long-ways or short-ways?"

After that, he was happily working on an Angry Birds Space themed Happy Father's Day card.

We also worked together to bake his father's favorite cake: yellow box cake with chocolate frosting from a tub. Really, we're both getting off easy with this one. But a man can't be blamed for what he decides is his favorite cake.

I also wanted to cook something special. I didn't want to spend the whole day slaving in the kitchen - I had much better things to do, like lounging on the couch with my kiddo - but I did want to express my appreciation to the guy by making a tasty home cooked meal.

So, pork and potatoes it was. Items that practically cook themselves.

SHREDDED PORK ROAST
This morning, I unwrapped the pork roast and cut off a little of the excessive fat. I sprinkled it with one of my all-time favorite all purpose spices (in this case, Adobo) and chucked the whole thing in a crock pot set on low. I may have turned it over once...about 4 hours into the cooking session. As soon as the roast flakes with the light pressure of a fork - that's when it's done. I turned off the heat and raked a fork across the entire roast while it was still in the crock pot (and yes, still in the juices). Then I got a BBQ like sauce and poured some in - just enough to make it wet and sticky...like great shredded pork should be! And then I let it sit and rest.

Tip: Keeping it in the crock pot helps it to stay warm for the upcoming meal.

CILANTRO ROASTED POTATOES
I grabbed a handful of potatoes out of the pantry. I washed them, chopped them into cubes and dumped them into a casserole dish. I poured in a bit of olive oil; sprinkled in a heap of dried Cilantro, some coarse salt and fresh-ground pepper; and then gave it all a thorough toss with a spatula. I covered the dish and placed it into a 400 degree oven for about an hour.

These potatoes are great hot from the oven, but they're also great when cooled.

That's how we ate them today. Cooled just a little along with pulled pork made into sandwiches on hoagie buns. It was delicious...and EASY...and homemade. He was appreciative. So much so, that we had to wait a little bit of time before there was room for box-cake.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY
I hope you're eating good.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

RAMPS Explained

I had no idea what they were talking about. I kept hearing the word "ramps," but I wasn't sure if my ears were playing tricks on me.

I finally had to fess up.
I looked at them and said, "I have no idea what you're talking about! What are ramps?"

They looked at me with a bit of mild shock around their eyes. It was one of those disconnects in cultural heritage: something they had grown up knowing about along with their mother's milk and something I had never known.

"Well now, ramps are like a wild onion that's got a bit of garlic mixed into the flavor. They grow all over the place in this area. You pick them and add them to whatever you're cooking. They're good in home fries."

Ramps as explained by Wikipedia

"You've got to be careful, though. Their flavor is so strong that if you eat a lot of them, you'll actually smell like them as you sweat. The "ramps" essence escapes through your pours."

Someone else chimed in: "Yea. It's actually best if you parboil them first. It helps release some of the pungency."

I kept nodding my head trying my best to keep up with the conversation. In my head, I was trying to figure out if parboiling was the same as blanching. I think I know so much about cooking; but the more I live, the more I learn. And that's probably why I love food and preparing it so much -- it's like a lifetime love affair that never gets dull, because there are always new things to learn. 

A look of amusing nostalgia swept over his face and he chuckled: "I remember being a kid waiting for the school bus. When the doors would open, this wave of stale, ramp-smelling air would rush out and bowl me over. You couldn't deny it was Spring and that all the families had been out picking and cooking with ramps. Ugh."

We all laughed at the obvious misery of the situation.


The next day, he took me to the other side of the fish pond, where the ramps grow on their land. He showed me how to pick them and we talked about how to cook them.

The adventures in "cooking with ramps" begins...


Friday, March 16, 2012

Tom Kha Smiles



Restaurant: Anna’s Thai Cafe in Burlington, NC

Oh, I hate mushrooms, but I love this soup! If you haven’t tried Tom Kha, I would high recommend it.

Tom Kha is a traditional Thai soup that uses coconut milk and lemongrass as predominate ingredients. There are others that come-and-go based on the specific flavor you’re going after. It’s spicy, but not uncomfortably so. In fact, it’s just about perfect if you’re congested from a cold or a killer case of allergies.

I had forgotten that Tom Kha at Anna’s was served with big fat mushroom chunks. The rich earthy flavor of mushrooms is a treasure and I accept that readily; but their texture still gets the better of me.
I looked at my friends, looked down at my soup and started fishing around.

“What are you doing?” one asked quizzically.

“You’ll see,” I answered with a playful gleam in my eye.

A few quick adjustments and I was done.

“Viola!” I said with flourish.

The two successful, thirty-something women across the table from me looked at me incredulously and then giggled. I had just successfully tackled their serious sense of decorum and propriety, and reminded them how much fun it was to play with their food.

Then I offered-up my now-famous mushrooms to my hungry friends (just because I don’t like to eat mushrooms doesn’t mean they should go to waste) and got down to business.

Tom Kha is smooth and creamy soup – a little bit of a paradox because it’s creamy and tart all at the same time (thanks to the lemongrass). As I mentioned before, expect the spices to hit your sinuses more than anything else.

By default, Anna’s serves the soup with cubed tofu, which I personally think is the perfect addition. You can order chicken and it would go along splendidly with the flavors, but the tofu supports the “lightness” of the soup.

If you’re hungry, get the chicken. It’s not going to hurt a thing.
And enjoy! Tell Anna I sent you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chicken Roll Ups





At least that’s what my friend calls it.


He mixes cooked chicken, a couple “cream of” soups, some shredded cheese and a some veggies in a bowl. Then he makes dumplings by wrapping the mixture in some crescent roll dough. He pops them in a casserole dish, pours the rest of the mixture over the dumplings and sticks the whole thing in the oven.

Low heat for a while. You don’t want the dough to stay tacky. You need it to dry out and cook through.

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He made this for me the first time around this same time last year.
We were learning how to be friends. We were eager to spend time together. We enjoyed cooking together.

I have a picture of what it looked like. I have another picture with our faces smushed up together, both of us with silly, happy grins on our faces…like life had all of the sudden opened up a surprise box and we got to pick whatever we wanted from the choices inside – and we chose each other.
Those were good days back then..before a lot of the growing pains crept into the relationship; the easy days. And I wouldn’t lie to you and say that I don’t miss them, but we’re in a good place now too…it’s just different, more complex.

Our most recent experience with Chicken Roll Ups was on the day before Valentine’s Day. He made dinner and I brought a gift. I finally put my money where my mouth is and handed him a love letter, instead of just posting it to a public blog. He received it warmly; he received me warmly. It was a small step in progress of moving beyond the growing pains…

I feel like we’ve been friends for life, instead of just the year.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dutch Gouda Cheese Biscuits


Dutch Gouda Cheese Biscuits

In a bowl, mix Bisquick and a generous amount of shredded cheese (any is fine). Add milk until batter is a thick paste. Spoon onto nonstick surface. Bake at 400 for approximately 15mins.

You want to talk about EASY yummy-goodness. Do it, people. Super easy! 

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No, I don't particularly think this recipe is dependent on Gouda cheese. Any kind of cheese biscuit is a good thing...that is, of course, if you like cheese. If you don't, well then, this recipe isn't really for you then, huh? Sorry about that.

Me? I wouldn't normally have Gouda on hand.
I am normally a Cheddar kind of girl. But my dad, as a parting gift, packed me an $11 wedge of Gouda and some crackers...with a plastic knife. Not really the easiest thing to manage on a road trip from NJ to NC being the only driver, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Anyway, I used a decent chunk of the wedge on these biscuits - DELISH!!