Tuesday, May 19, 2009

2009 Relay for Life

Two months ago today, my mom lost her long battle with cancer.

One month from today is the Berkshire County Relay for Life. There are few things I can do to calm the tremendous loss I feel each day. Raising money for cancer research in honor of my mom seems like a good place to start.

I welcome you to visit our team page and make a donation -- of any amount -- to this wonderful cause. For the second year in a row, we are JoAnn's Knockouts.

Note: I will resume blogging sometime soon after this year's Relay.

(Dad, mom and friends -- 2008 Relay for Life)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mini Vacation: Burlington, VT

A few weeks ago, we escaped to Burlington, Vermont. I had been there only once, when I interviewed at the University of Vermont in 1992. In typical Erin-style, I had no memory of ever being there.

We were blessed with beautiful weather, and even got a little sunburn in April -- in Vermont! But mostly, we ate and enjoyed some much-needed relaxation.

Our Garmin GPS has a mind of her own, and she took us a bit off the beaten path as we traveled north, weaving through many miles of beautiful farmland. I had only a couple of must-do things on our trip, and one was to go to Mary's Restaurant at the Inn at Baldwin Creek in Bristol. Little did I realize that we had driven right past it en route to our hotel in Burlington. So, back we went though the miles of beautiful farmland to eat at this wonderful restaurant. The re-trip was well worth it, but that sort of "oops!" theme dominated our trip. I've never planned so little for a trip before, and will be much more diligent next time -- as is, you know, look at a map.

Mary's Restaurant:

Pedestrian Church Street on a warm afternoon:

How different my life would have been if I went to college in Burlington. I mean, there's no sailing in Bosto -- wait a minute...

The Flavor Graveyard at the Ben & Jerry's Factory (another "oops" moment that took us hours off-course):

Friday, May 15, 2009

Balsamic Chicken Thighs (and Wilted Spinach)

It is essential to have some good, quick dinner recipes committed to memory. This was my first time making this Balsamic Chicken recipe from For the Love of Cooking, but it is something I'll be making again and again. (Vinegar!)

I've been using chicken thighs in a number of dishes, but this is the first time I've used thighs in a quick-cooking meal. I found them to be a little too fatty, since the fat wasn't allowed the time to melt as it would in a braise or slow roast. My plan is to remake this recipe with chicken breasts.

Also from For the Love of Cooking, I made a side of wilted spinach with bacon, using Smart Bacon — also quick and very enjoyable!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pickled Grapes

I love grapes. I love vinegar — and not just because a tablespoon of vinegar is the only cure I have found from my sometimes unrelenting hiccups. Put the two together and you have...? A really interesting combination!

The idea of pickling grapes had never occurred to be prior to seeing Smitten Kitchen's recipe. It was simple enough, though, that I had no excuse for not trying it immediately.

They kept in the fridge longer than I expected — both because I thought they would have spoiled more quickly and because we've found it difficult to stop nibbling on them once we start. I haven't thought of an application for them apart from eating them right out of the jar, but am thinking they would be an unexpected addition to a salad (fruit or otherwise). I'll be sure to follow up!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday Dinner, Easter Dinner

I'm excited to say that Easter marked our first official "Sunday Night Dinners with Dad" series. Of course, not all of the dinners since then have been quite as fabulous, but I try. Subsequent Sundays have brought to the table brasciole, brisket, spaghetti carbonara, and chicken fajitas. It's a day to look forward to, and a way to guarantee we'll get together at least once a week.

For our Easter dinner, I finally found a piece of beef tenderloin. (Recall that I looked all over town for one several months ago, and ended up cooking this recipe with a pork tenderloin.) I know now why they are not readily available — the price tag. Oddly enough, after purchasing my hunk of meat at Stop & Shop, I found that it is actually considerably less expensive at Guido's. Who'd have thought?

I spent a good amount of time trimming my lovely little tenderloin of fat and silver skin and tying it into an evenly shaped mass (how appetizing that sounds!). It marinated in a mix of mustard, horseradish, rosemary an thyme. It was perfection (if not a teensy bit overcooked for such a tender cut). With it, I served these cracked potatoes, which cook in olive oil on the stovetop (for much longer than the recipe says!) until they are brown and crunchy on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside.

For dessert, I made Alton Brown's Baked Apple recipe, for which apples are hollowed out and stuffed with butter, brown sugar, oats and cinnamon. Here are the apples pre-baking, and well — served with a little vanilla ice cream, they were devoured too quickly for a post-baking picture. Next time...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sheep to Shawl

I can't take credit for the cute name of the little sheep festival that took place on Sheep Hill in Williamstown this past weekend. What a lovely spring day it was! It was a mini version of the last sheep festival I enjoyed in Waltham.

Mostly, it made me feel like we need to have a baby -- and not just because the little kids wouldn't give up the baby ducks for a minute so I could pet them. Really.

Hard workin' sheep dog:

Sheep-shearing the old way -- with hand-crank shears:

A shocked, sheared sheep:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Caramelized Tofu with Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

I created a largely vegetarian meal plan this week ... and then ended up craving a burger badly come Tuesday afternoon. I am weak.

I had stumbled upon this recipe a while ago on Serious Eats, who stumbled upon the original recipe at 101 Cookbooks. There's lots of stumbling going on in the food blogosphere.

I finally made this for dinner tonight. I think this was my first successful attempt at cooking with tofu -- it always seems to fall apart on me in stir frys and the like. Tonight, though, the tofu was just perfect and I am suddenly feeling very soy-inspired.

We loved this simple meal. The next time I make it -- and there will be a next time -- I will cut the sugar to 2 tablespoons. I also can't help thinking that bacon (or Smart Bacon) would be a lovely addition. Brussels love bacon, and bacon loves them back.

Incidentally, the burgers at the Water Street Grill are really very good.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Improv Pasta -- 300th Post!

Wow. 300 posts to my blog! Many thanks to the small handful of readers that help to stir up my motivation.

I thought it would be fitting if I posted about a dinner improvisation -- something to document how comfortable I've become in my kitchen over the past few years.

I had learned to make a sage and brown butter sauce in a pasta-making class a while back. It is both simple and wonderful. Incorporating roasted cherry tomatoes into this buttery sauce makes it even better.

The other night, I didn't feel like waiting for the oven to preheat, and I also wanted to spare my husband (who is our official dishwasher...um, apart from the actual dishwashing machine) from a pile of too many dishes. Instead, I halved a pint of cherry tomatoes and cooked them in some olive oil, sage (from my herb garden!), and garlic in a fry pan (with salt and pepper, of course). After the tomatoes started to lose their shape, I tossed in some chopped kale. Once the kale was bright green and wilty, I removed the pan from the heat and tossed the tomato-kale sauce with some penne.

I was so pleased with the result -- and am always excited to sneak kale into my meal.