Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cream Puffs

I made these cream puffs (or, the fancier name...pâte à choux) for my grandma on grandparents' day. She does love cream puffs! They are surprisingly easy to make, although, I accidentally made them twice the size they were supposed to be, according to Alton Brown's recipe. Perhaps that wasn't a problem at all!

Puffs in the making:

A freshly baked and filled puff:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Roasted Carrots with Honey

I have roasted carrots before, typically tossing "baby carrots" into a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt and pepper. They have never been as good as these:

These deliciously sweet little carrots, from the farmers market in North Adams, were cut into smaller pieces, and cooked at a high temperature until I could see that the carrots' natural sugars were beginning to caramelize. I moved the carrots from the cookie sheet to a bowl, where I tossed them with only a tiny bit of honey. They were amazing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Braised Chicken with Dried Plums

OK. No one says dried grapes when referring to raisins, so I'm not sure why Everyday Food decided to title this recipe "Braised Chicken with Dried Plums."

I thought to myself, my puny local store is never going to carry something as exotic and new-age-hippy-souding as dried plums. And then I realized that dried plums are prunes, and there were containers a'plenty at the store.

This was a wonderful dinner — another successful meal made with chicken thighs! The flavors blended wonderfully together, and the dried plums were sweet and soft after briefly cooking in the braise.

I did make a horrible mistake, however, making this wine-based braise in my cast iron dutch oven. The acid from the wine removed the seasoning from my pan. This isn't disastrous, as it can be re-seasoned, but it does have me exploring the unchartered world of enamel-coated cast iron. Yummy...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lunchtime Walk

Although my new workplace building appears to be somewhat isolated (apart from a nearby Dunkin Donuts), it turns out that the center of Williamstown is only a short walk away. I recently changed my work hours, making for a 1/2 hour lunch, but a few weeks ago I was having to kill an hour at lunchtime. The walks were great — but getting out early is much better! 

Here are some photos of "downtown" Williamstown, Williams College, and the Williams College Museum of Art:

Monday, September 22, 2008

Matchstick Potatoes

There is a lot to be said for cooking spray. I try to avoid it, when possible, as it seems to consist of compressed chemicals in a can. This recipe specifically called for spraying the foil-lined pan with such spray, and it seemed like a very good idea...only I had none.

Boy, did these little mandoline-matchsticked potatoes stick to the foil. I watched them roast in their olive oil goodness in the oven, then went to toss them intermittently and — nope — they weren't going to budge. I was essentially making a giant oven-roasted hash brown. This was not what I had in mind to go with our burgers.

John was the voice of hope, saying that maybe they would be OK. He was right. I peeled my hash brown from the foil like a Smurf from a giant sheet of Colorforms.

They were good. I'm wondering — can we do the same thing with beets? Carrots?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies

Although it would have been obvious to make a pie to bring to Taylor Pie's house concert, I decided instead to try out this cookie recipe that has been circulation around the web like crazy. I'm not much of a cookie person, but these were pretty darn good.

They're no more complicated to make than when using the recipe from the yellow Tollhouse bag, but there are a few more ingredients, and the batter needs to rest in the fridge for 24 hours. The extra fun and tasty part, though, is the freshly ground sea salt that tops the cookies just before baking.


I was honored to have been invited to the home of my dear friends, Senta and Karen, last night to see folk-singer Taylor Pie perform live...in house concert!

I was only slightly familiar with her music, having previewed some tunes online last Christmas, for which I bought Senta one of Taylor Pie's CDs. Senta has long-remembered Taylor Pie, or "Pie," from the time she spent singing and songwriting in the Berkshires in the 80s. After last night, I am joining Senta and her family as fans of Pie, for sure. It was a cozy, beautiful evening.

Taylor Pie will be performing in (non-house) concert next Thursday, September 25th, at the American Legion in Pittsfield.

*Die-hard fans of The Sopranos might recall that Tony's horse was named Pie-Oh-My. John and I are in the middle of watching Season 4 right now...slightly obsessed!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What Mom Made Yesterday #5

Mom's been working on this lovely little autumn-themed wool felt mat for a friend of the family. Now that it's finished and the friend has received it, I can post it on the ol' blog without ruining any surprises!

Love the colors!

What perfect little stitches!

Weekend Outing: Windsor Jambs

John and I have really been enjoying our proximity to places of outdoor adventure. We wanted to go for a bit of a drive for a day trip, and it seemed that all of the exciting places to visit were right around the corner!

With our handy Garmin, we arrived quickly at Windsor Jambs...kind of. I found all sorts of conflicting information as to which Berkshire town this forest resides. Finally, I plugged in a nearby address and we followed signs. Weird!

We arrived at the picnic area and walked around a bit, then decided to follow the hiking trail uphill to the jambs. I had been to the picnic area once before (when I was about 3 years old), but had never returned and had never seen the tumbling water of the jambs. I was on a mission...only we couldn't find the trail! So, we drove to the jambs and hiked around the trails there. Ah, well...

Windsor Dam (not to be confused with Windsor Jambs):

The Jambs:

I experienced a total flashback when we first arrived at the forest. I was standing by the edge of the pond and saw all of the tadpoles swimming in the sunny, warm part of the water. Suddenly, I remembered looking at the tadpoles 30 years ago in that very spot. (Actually, I had forgotten all about tadpoles!) I did some photo research when we got home, and here was the proof:

Um, you'll just have to trust me that this photo was taken at Windsor Jambs with the tadpoles. Anyway, click here for a few more photos from our adventure.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Little Bloggy Head Count

Hello friends! This blogger would really like to know who is reading my blog on a regular, or even semi-regular basis. OK, if you've ever even once looked to see if my blog has been updated, can you please leave me a comment after this post? I'd love to know who I am talking to.

Many, many thanks!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Workin' on My Tian

My obsession with local, seasonal produce and my discovery of the kitchen mandoline collided when I made a vegetable tian the other morning. According to the Boston Globe, a tian is a mixture of vegetables, all very thinly sliced, tucked into tight overlapping concentric circles in a shallow dish and baked together. That's exactly what I did.

Using the mandoline made for a speedy cutting job, but layering the veggies was a bit time consuming. (This leads me to think that one could make a 'Lazy Man's Tian' where everything is sort of tossed in together.) Maybe I need to take less of a design approach to my tians?

As you can see, it just looks like a blob anyway after it's cut, so I'm all for the Lazy Man method!

This dish was good when it came out of the oven...but it was spectacular the following day for lunch.

I couldn't pass up the opportunity to make an entire dish from the current veggies at the farmer's market, so I made another tian. Let's call it Busy Man's Tian — especially appropriate because I was cooking/prepping three other things at the same time. This time I just mixed everything together in the same bowl and plopped it into the pie dish. The verdict will have to be delivered by those who ate it — feel free to leave a comment, mom!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Online Blog Auctions for a Family in Need

I came across this family's story in several of the design/craft blogs I regularly read. Their story is below, along with two blogs that are offering hand-crafted items for auction, for which the family receives 100% of the proceeds. As a very tiny, tiny member of the blogging community, I felt strongly compelled to help spread the word:
From the family's blog:

Carol Decker, my wife, had an emergency cesarean section on June 10, 2008. After the surgery she developed life-threatening hypotension from a septic pneumonia infection. After fighting for several weeks, the medicine she was on to save her life had the unfortunate side effect of blocking blood flow to her legs, left arm and eyes.

Since then, Carol has had both legs below the knee amputated, her left arm amputated and she is blind. Carol was transferred to Harborview after an extended stay in ICU at Swedish Hospital, which insurance has covered to an extent and the rest we have had to pay for out of pocket. Carol will now begin inpatient rehab, which her insurance will not cover, and is estimated to cost somewhere around $80,000.

Carol, Chloe, Safiya and I just want to say "thank you" to everyone who is helping. Your thoughts, prayers and contributions are not only hard to believe but really have shown us the humanity and compassion that people really have. I hope we have the opportunity to personally thank each and every one of you. Until then, please accept our deepest gratitude and thanks.

Warm Regards,
Scott & Carol Decker

Click here to see the lovely items on one ongoing auction, and here for the other.

Little Fish in a Little Pond

Who knew that starting a new job in late summer meant that I would score a second company summer outing?! My first outing this year was to catch a Lowell Spinners Game (in Lowell, of course), and my second brought me to Laurel Lake in Lee for a bass fishing tournament, competing against six of my very new co-workers. (Sadly, my camera battery was dead when I arrived at the lake, so I've included a couple of cell phone pictures.)

I shared a boat with my remaining co-workers, and I quickly learned how to cast a line (and how to avoid getting snagged by someone else's cast line in tight quarters). I had gone fishing many times, many years ago with my dad, but we used a different technique. (I won't dispel that technique here, just in case it's his secret weapon — similar to the secret ingredient in his famous beef stew.) Proudly, and somewhat amazingly, I caught the first three tiny fish for our team.

It was a hot day, and apparently fish don't like the sun. Well, and we ran out of worms. My successful morning with the ol' hook and worm soon turned to hours of uneventful casting with some kind of fancy lure that made a rattle-y sound (do fish even have ears?). Early afternoon events included casting my line into a tree and getting a pretty bad sunburn on my chest.

Alas, here is the trophy our boat's team did not win. So close...if only one of my fish were a little bigger!

I got to keep my new rod and reel, and I now have a giant tackle box of goodies. I'd go out fishing again, but I need someone to help me put the worm on and take the fish off!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Eggplant Rollatini

I had just enough sauce left over from Pizzafest '08 to make eggplant rollatini, which I convinced myself was healthy. It was not, but WOW, it was good.

I got to use my mandoline slicer for the first time, and it speedily produced perfect eggplant slices for this dish. In fact, this meal was very easy to make, even though it looks like a lot of work. I combined ideas from a few recipes to make these little tasty rolls, and the only thing I would change next time is a slightly longer cooking time to soften the eggplant even more.

The rollatinis in progress:


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Orpheum Theatre "Response"

On my birthday this year, I received a response to my letter of complaint regarding my horrific experience at the Orpheum Theatre in April. According to the general manager, my seats were not the slightest bit obstructed.

The letter reads as follows:
Dear Ms. Murphy,
I am writing regarding your letter of July 24th. Lee Zazofsky is no longer with the Orpheum Theater and is now working at another of our facilities. I am uncertain why you would consider Balcony Row T, Seats 210 & 211 obstructed. The Orpheum is closed in the summer so I apologize for the delay in my response. I went in to the theater and sat in the seats in question. There is nothing in front of the seats except the possibility of taller guests. Was it the people in front of you that obstructed the view? If so, this is an unavoidable situation that occurs in theaters from time to time.

The sound system was provided and operated by the visiting artist. I am glad it appears Eddie Izzard did respond and correct the sound.

I am sorry your experience was unpleasant, but I cannot honor your request for a refund.

Bruce Montgomery
General Manager

I suppose the theater manager realizes there is not much I can do to combat his assessment of my experience. I am certainly not going to waste more printer ink in an attempt to prove him wrong. What I can do is hope that others are exposed to my post on this blog, or that readers will come across my description of this experience on Yelp.

I signed up for a Yelp account specifically so I could voice my Orpheum experience. And, just to balance out my karma, I was sure to add four positive reviews for other businesses.

And, of course, I will never attend another concert at the Orpheum again.

Friday, September 12, 2008

King Corn & the Heirlooms

I have been struggling to read, Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for about a year. This is not because I don't love the book, it's because I have experienced a life-long struggle to sit down and read. So, I've read it in small, memorable chunks.

One of the most eye-opening parts of the book (so far) talks about the genetic modification and homogenization of foods to the point where we no longer have species variety. Delicate, interesting and nutritious crops have been replaced by durable, but flavorless crops that are able to withstand long truck- and plane-rides across state and country borders. She offers the example of heirloom tomatoes in this case, and mentions the efforts of determined people to preserve and promote the many delicious varieties that have slowly been replaced by grainy, nasty supermarket tomatoes.

I was thrilled to come across a vendor on Saturday selling about 10 varieties of heirloom tomatoes for $3/pound (the same price as the disgusting potato-flavored Fuji apples I bought at my local grocery store — potapples, I'm calling them). The colors are amazing, and some of them resemble other fruits altogether. One looks like a tiny watermelon. Sliced and sprinkled with some salt and pepper, they each have a distinct and wonderful flavor.

We recently watched the documentary King Corn, which follows two young men from Somerville (John recognized the street view at the start of the movie) to Iowa, where they plant an acre of corn, talk openly (and non-judgmentally) with local farmers, and follow their grains of corn as they are distributed throughout the country. The corn they (and the other farmers) are growing in the area is inedible. Like my potapple, the corn contains a huge amount of starch, and absolutely no sweetness or flavor. (It is also genetically resistant to certain herbicides used to kill crop weeds.) The filmmakers show that the colorful varieties of corn that once grew in the Midwest have been entirely replaced by this corn, completely subsidized by the government, which primarily makes its way to either livestock feed (which it slowly kills due to its unnatural acidity) or high fructose corn syrup factories. The chemical process used to create high fructose corn syrup (which is a main ingredient in almost everything on a grocery store shelf) from this high starch corn seems so elaborate and unnecessary, particularly when the end product has zero nutritional value. On the contrary, it is easy to conclude that it is the cause of many health problems. So, why is our government encouraging this process?

Again, the filmmakers did a great job of letting the viewer make his/her own decisions about the current agricultural laws and this crazy corn process. They allowed a corn syrup factory spokeswoman to share, uninterrupted, what was clearly heavily rehearsed propaganda. It was creepy.

What if, instead, the government subsidized these corn crops for the purpose of creating something both useful and timely, such as "plastic" biodegradable products made from corn. Friends and I were thrilled to see that one of our favorite places to grab lunch started using biodegradable corn-based 'plastic' for their to-go beverages. Why is there a high cost for this uncommon eco-product, while overly sweetened sodas are overly affordable and excessively promoted?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival

Apart from the long and scenic drive to the Adams Recycling Station, John and I took our first day trip today to attend the 13th Annual Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival in Bennington. Mostly, I was on a mission to try garlic ice cream (as promised in our local newspaper), but my taste buds were useless by the time we found the ice cream after having tried countless varieties of garlic in all its forms (raw, pickled...). The garlic ice cream, then, just tasted like vanilla.

In our 2007 CSA farm share, we received a bag of locally grown garlic. It was small and dark and a bit difficult to free from the garlic head, but it was really wonderful. I roasted it, and made Chicken and 40 Cloves, and used it in everything I cooked. It had never occurred to me before today that there are different kinds of garlic. In retrospect, this seems stupid, but I got to taste the different varieties today, jabbing a toothpick into tiny (spicy!) raw pieces of cloves. I decided to take home a bunch of the larger Porcelain variety, which I purchased from Mud Road Farm (of St. Johnsville, NY).

Aren't they cute?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

My first ice cream arrived late this season! I'm going to have to squish in at least one more before summer's end. It's not helpful that we're both on diets! This one was for my mom, anyway — a nice ending to our pizzafest.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Bacon

Hmmm... Must remember that adding whole wheat pasta to a meal with bacon in the title does not make it healthy...

I fell in love with the photo of this recipe, I think, in an issue of Martha Stewart Living. The brussels sprouts-bacon combination seems to be tried and true, but it did not belong on my pasta. This meal was surprisingly bland. Can't win 'em all!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pizzafest '08

On Friday, my parents visited us for a night of pizza crust experimentation, and the findings were very exciting. Um, to me.

I set out to make two pizza's, but ended up with enough dough to make three - this was not a problem. For the first pizza, I used Helen Rennie's pizza dough recipe (which is modified from Rose Levy Beranbaum's original recipe). As promised on her website, it was insanely easy. No mixer, no food-processor, no kneading, no dirty anything (it was cooked on parchment paper). Even better, my 10-year struggle to make thin-crust pizza is now over. This crust was thin and crispy, and lacked the stretch-resistant gluten that I usually fight against in my usual dough. I topped it with her tomato sauce recipe, along with some cheese and sauteed portobello mushrooms. It was a hit.

Pizza's #2 and #3 were made with Giada DeLaurentis' dough recipe. I made this dough easily in my food processor, and it rose like a champ. It was easy to roll out, and was also very good. But not as good (or quick or clean) as Helen's, and it lacked a bit of character because the dough was rolled. I topped this pizza with pesto, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil — mom's favorite.

The last pizza, which also used Giada's crust, was topped with prosciutto and pineapple. (This would have been better if Price Chopper's prosciutto had any flavor!)

Safe to say, all of my pizzas from today on will be using Helen's recipe. So liberating!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tequila Lime Chicken

John is becoming a master of preparing (and cleaning) the charcoal grill, and for that, I am very grateful. I hope that the various things I decide to throw on it are a reward for his hard work!

I made Ina Garten's Tequila Lime Chicken per the exact specifications of the recipe, except I used skinless chicken breasts. It had a great flavor, although I mostly tasted the cooked lime on the chicken. This makes me wonder...why the tequila? I had bought two little nips of it for the recipe, and I would love to leave it out, if possible. If it was to impart sweetness, maybe I could add some honey (or better yet, agave nectar!) to the marinade? John wouldn't mind, I'm sure.

We decided that this chicken would be awesome sliced and served fajita-style, but we enjoyed ours straight up. I'll try to make this again (with some revisions) before summer's end.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Curried Chicken Salad

One of the first things I ever realized I could cook for myself was curried chicken salad. I must have tried it (and liked it) somewhere, because it's a very strange first meal to make and, to this day, I don't think I've ever eaten regular ol' chicken salad.

Since 2001, I have been playing with this recipe. Usually, I poach the chicken so it's easy to shred. My sauce is made of lemon yogurt with a little mayo, curry powder, and salt and pepper. I usually add some combination of golden raisins and diced apples. Super healthy, right? I was very happy with this recipe...until I got hooked on the Curried Chicken Salad at Guido's, made by Berger's Specialty Foods.

My god, what is IN that stuff? It is so unbelievably good (although, my mom swears she likes mine better). Theirs is sweeter and more yellow, and the chicken is so very perfect. It's also about $10 a pound, so I am on a mission to replicate it at home. My first attempt produced something like a bland version of my usual salad. Not sure how that happened, but it still worked out great for dinners and lunches for the week. I have a hunch that there is sweetened coconut milk involved in their recipe...John agrees. I will do some research and go for round #2 soon!