Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cream of Wheat, How I Love Thee

It was John that introduced me to cream of wheat, after he excitedly ordered it at this cute outdoor Union Square restaurant with horrific service. Since then, it has become a cold weather breakfast treat for us, and I have almost figured out when to remove the pan from the heat in order to achieve the perfect not-too-thick consistency.

I insist upon making my cream of wheat using only milk (no water), and have started experimenting with some additional ingredients (not that it lacks anything on its own!). Most recently, we have been topping our cream of wheat with mixed berries (these guys were's not exactly berry season here), and just a tiny bit of some wonderful local maple syrup. LOVE IT.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pork Mango Picadillo

I came across this recipe for Pork Mango Picadillo a long time ago, and was drawn in by both the photo and the ingredients. I had never heard of picadillo before, and it seemed like this Latin American dish could be considered somewhat healthy, especially as it incorporated vegetables and fruit and could easily be modified. Basically, picadillo consists of ground meat spiced with cloves and cinnamon, mixed with various other ingredients (tomatoes, onions, almonds...). It can be served with rice (brown rice, in the case of our dinner) or as a filling for tacos. Mmmm...this would be very good in a taco.

I really liked this recipe, but for the sake of comparison I have since printed out a number of picadillo recipes. I am amazed at the regional variability (such as the addition of olives and raisins) from one recipe to another. I am looking forward to making this simple dish again soon, and may try it with ground turkey to lighten it up a bit.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

11-11: Anniversary No.2

We were surprised and delighted to receive a beautiful, unique bouquet of flowers from our family friends, the Moons, in celebration of our second wedding anniversary on November 11th. There's a cabbage in there!

Thank you!!

Natural Bridge State Park

On a beautiful mid-October day, my friend Laura and I set out to find the Natural Bridge State Park somewhere off Route 8 in North Adams. We had a hard time. Our GPS could find neither the street nor the park, so we just winged it and drove to where we thought the park might be. Luckily, there were signs, and we found it with little difficulty. Unfortunately, we arrived 15 minutes before the park closed, so we had only those 15 minutes to figure out where this "natural bridge" was.

I'm not sure we ever found out? At one point, we asked someone where it was, and she implied that we were standing on it, so...hmmm. I'm just going to say (until we make the trip again in the spring) that the park consists of big hunks of rock (very scientific) that continue to be carved by the flow of water. There are all sorts of deep valleys in the rock that you pass over on narrow fenced stairways, and you can see the water flowing below. I'm assuming that this water sculpted what is now the "bridge"?

Ugh, I'm sure Laura would agree that we would have learned more if we weren't so afraid of getting locked in the park overnight! Anyway, here are a few pictures of the park:

The path upon which we ran through the park:

The water carved a valley beneath us:

We think this white rock is the "bridge" — it extended around to the part upon which we were standing. Very bridge-like!

There were areas for picnicking and leaf-peeping, too:

This was pretty much the last perfectly autumnal Berkshire day of 2008:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Burgundy Beans, Revisited

I have been meaning for a while to post my experience with these bizarre purple beans that I had bought at the North Adams farmer's market over the summer. When the farmer saw my excitement at their burgundy-ness, she let me down easy, telling me that they turn green — like any other bean — when they are cooked. I had to put it to the test.

Here are the lovely raw beans — look how they are green inside!

Here are those same beans, microwaved in a casserole dish with a little water, a pat of butter, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and some salt — so easy and good!

She was right! (I suppose they tasted the same as regular ol' green beans, too!)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Penne ala...

I first started watching the Food Network sometime in 2001. Although I hate to admit this (because she is just not the same person she was then), it was largely due to Rachel Ray. One of the first things she ever made on 30 Minute Meals was Penne ala Vodka (which she unfortunately felt the need to call You Won't Be Single For Long Vodka Cream Pasta.

A friend of mine had made her family's version of this dish for me about 5 years before I watched this episode. It was one of the most delicious things I had ever eaten, and when I tried to create her recipe, it didn't even compare. (Not sure what went wrong there, MJ!)

So, when I saw that RR had a few slightly different ingredients, I gave it a try and it came out just great. It was the first successful dish I had ever cooked, and though it is so easy for me now, it was a major challenge then. Completely unsure of myself in the kitchen, I even counted out the 20 leaves of basil!

This was also the first meal I made for my husband (before he was my husband) — I guess I wasn't single for long? Since he doesn't drink, I learned that making this sauce without the vodka is no big deal at all (and it makes the meal a bit more affordable, too).

When I made this the other night, it was a breeze — makes me realize how far I have come!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hairpin Turn

On a lovely fall day, we parked at the hairpin turn on Route 2 in North Adams. We had taken Route 2 from Boston when we moved to the Berkshires, and it wasn't until we drove through Florida (the town) that I remembered John would have to navigate this crazy-sharp turn in a giant U-Haul. He told me afterward that his hands got all sweaty. Yikes! It is easy to see why:

In our Corolla, however, it was a very pleasant trip:

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Almond-Crusted Chicken Fingers

I have a great pecan chicken recipe that I found on the internet when the web was a very new thing. I'll be sure to make it soon and post it on the ol' blog.

Right now, though, we are on an almond kick. They sell surprisingly inexpensive bulk almonds at our food co-op, and we always have some on hand. Also, I really prefer to make chicken recipes that do not involve cutting the chicken in any way. The potential spread of salmonella seems, in my mind, to multiply like crazy when you involve a cutting board and a knife. So, I'm all about the package-to-pan method of cooking chicken. Of course, this recipe involved an additional step, so it's really a package-to-coating-to-pan recipe — and it was very good and nutritious!

Anyone else hate the new Food Network website?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We Voted!

I hope my friend doesn't mind my posting a picture of her super cute daughter on my blog... I thought her casual little post-voting pose was better than any election-related picture I was going to come up with!

I am very jealous of her sticker. I had even looked for them at the polling place. Oh, well...2012...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Filet Mignon

Below is a horrible, hastily-taken photo of one of the best steaks I have ever eaten. I have wanted for some time to apply the techniques I learned in the Tender at the Bone (aka Meat) Class that I took last year to make us a meal featuring filet mignon.

I have tried to make filet mignon twice before, using a recipe that claimed a hot sear for 3 minutes on each side would produce a medium-rare steak. It does not. Filet mignon is a thick little steak, and both times I attempted that recipe I had to return the steak to the pan several times. But not this time.

A technique suggested in an issue of Cook's Illustrated involves cooking the meat in the oven to a specific internal temperature (using a probe thermometer), then removing it from the oven and searing it on all sides. While the meat rests on a plate, a pan sauce can be made (which I then mixed with some mushrooms that I had sauteed throughout the process.) Despite the ugly photo (we were in a hurry to eat it!), this was definitely one of the best things I have ever cooked. And, cooking filet mignon yourself not only saves tons of money, but ensures that your steak is actually cooked to your liking.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Until making it myself, I had never had borscht. I had, however, once had a beet soup made with a duck stock and it sure was memorable. (I have yet to dislike duck in any culinary form.) So, when Helen Rennie posted her family's borscht recipe on her blog, along with a mouth-watering photo of her creation, I had to give it a try. (She is Russian, after all...)

I confess that I did not make my own beef stock, so I missed out on beefy bits it my soup. Also, I had three different kinds of beef stock in the cabinet that I was interested in using up, and I was surprised to see that they each had a unique color and clarity. I hope to make my own next time. And there shall be a next time...