Sunday, May 13, 2012

Confessions of a Serial Gardener

Hi, my name is Carrie and I am a basil killer.  My trouble with basil began back when I began cooking.  Basil is such a nice ingredient to have around and who doesn't like pesto?  So I decided I needed FRESH basil for my cooking.  I started small... A packet of basil from the grocery store every once in a while.  Those bad boys cost about $3 a pack and I felt guilty using an entire package for one night's worth of pesto.  But it got worse.  I would save a small portion of the small package thinking I could use it for garnishes and instead I would forget about it in the fridge and my sad fistful of basil would wilt and die.  Then I thought, let's go to the source and buy those happy little basil plants they sell at the grocery store!  Oh the carnage...  I would bring the plants home and put them in a vase of water and watch them die.  Half the time I wouldn't even have a chance to harvest one time before the sad little plant would kick the bucket.  So last year I moved on to buying a full on plant from Lowe's to plant in the garden.  The garden was a raging success and life was good.  I would go out at random and happily pluck the leaves as needed.  Sometimes as I gardened I would snap off a leaf and snack on it.  Oh the fruits of my labor.  So this year I eagerly went to Lowe's to buy my basil plant so that once again I could have a summer of delicious basil with a side of triumph.  I laid the plant out in a nice sunny spot in the front yard and went on my merry way.  This is Mother's Day weekend this weekend, so I was in no rush to transplant because this weekend is the traditional planting weekend in our neck of the woods.  In fact this year, I'm feeling even more ambitious so I want to have my herb garden separate from my vegetable garden.  I bought some terra cotta this weekend and spent the day transplanting all my herbs into the new pots.  When I got to the basil, what did I find?  It had been eaten down to the point that only a few stalks survived!  I know what you are thinking: rabbits, deer?  But no.  This was not the work of a wild animal.  Nope, our outdoor cat Milo has decided basil and dill are delicious.  So I replanted the sad remains of my basil and dill and only time will tell if I get anything for my efforts.  Sometimes I think basil and I just weren't meant to be.  He's an intimidating beast, no?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Carolyn comes to the Poconos and has some brunch

The lovely and talented Carolyn of the delightful Etsy shop "Sweet Carolyn's"  came down to visit us last month and so we did our best to show her a good time.  Easiest way to do that is to have brunch at Porter's Pub.  Feel free to check out the menu because it is out of this world.  I'm not even a breakfast person but I can't say no to a lazy Sunday at Porter's drinking fine beers and eating delicious food.
Beer of note from this particular trip: Dogfish Head Black and Red.  This beer is not for the faint of heart.  Of course I had to begin with it.  It's dark and fruity and "dry-minted" whatever that means.  Add all of that together and you get a very heady, exciting beer.  I had a few others over the course of our time there as did John and Carolyn.  I enjoyed the Black and Red so much Carolyn partook of one as well.  While we were there our conversation meandered as our conversations tend to do.
Carolyn shrieked the words "Punch fork!" at me several times, so of course, I am now hooked.  Just what I need another social network site to obsess over.  If you haven't already been there, devote a couple hours of your life to visiting this site.  We also determined we have quite a few trips to make together this summer.  We will be hitting Colonial Williamsburg and Bourbon St as well as going on as many brewery tours as humanly possible.  Lastly, we decided Carolyn and Mary Pat need to come to the Jazz Fest this year.  All in all, 2012 will definitely be a busy year!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jingle Jingle!

So what seems like a year ago, but was really this past December, we went to the Deer Head Inn for their Jingle Jingle event.  We had a blast for so many reasons, but here are some of the highlights.  Joy Mazur did a wonderful spoken word piece about if everyday were Christmas.   Johnny Rydell was outrageously fun and it makes me wish he spent more time on the stage at Sarah St instead of adjusting the sound!  Sara Bauer did some Santaland Diaries fun.  If you haven't read it, do!  My favorite, Bovine Social Club got up and rocked the house.  The Shockenaw Mountain Boys were also incredible even if they were missing a few band members.  If you like Railroad Earth, then you know and like Tim Carbone already and this is another great project that he is involved in.  Tim also got up at one point and did an incredible spoken word which I wish I could remember because it was great!  I also learned a new turn of phrase that night, "new grass".  This definitely describes the awesome music we heard that night.
Now on to the food!  If you ever have the opportunity to go to the Deer Head, you won't be disappointed.  We started with a really nice house salad and a cup of butternut squash soup with almonds.  I love butternut squash soup especially with a little dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt.  Perfect toasty feeling for a cold night.  I think it could have done with a small bit of heat or acid to balance it a little better because this particular incarnation tasted a little too much like dessert to me.  Delicious, but sweet.  I absolutely love their stuffed flounder and get it almost every time we go there.  It's got a wonderful lemon beurre blanc sauce that I must learn to make.  John always gravitates to their chicken pot pie, and I can't say I blame him.  It's topped with a crispy, chewy, buttery puff pastry that is divine.  We ended the night with their creme brulee because it is an absolute must any time we go there.  The sugar top is crisp and caramel-ly and the custard is cold and creamy.  Mmmmm... I could go for some right now!  Oh and lest I forget, I won the 50/50!  It basically covered our dinner and also got me a lovely poster of the event autographed by some of the players!  All in all, it was a really fun night and I'm glad that we went and I'm really glad I finally got the opportunity to blog about it!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Make Ahead Meal: Baby Spinach with Bacon and Eggs

I absolutely love this recipe and I am barely an eggs for breakfast person let alone for dinner.  I have made it with the Swiss chard but this time I decided to do baby spinach.  If you haven't had Swiss chard, it is similar to spinach but I recommend that you remove the stalks.  This is very easy to do if you grab it by the end and pull upwards.  This works with kale as well and this recipe works well with kale.  If you use kale, Swiss chard or regular spinach, allow for some extra cooking time.  The baby spinach took very little time to cook down.  I love the idea of garlic bread and eggs and now I want garlic bread for breakfast!  We got our bacon from the butcher case of the meat department and I urge you to try it if it's available.  It was cheaper and really bacony! :)
I wish the colors were more true as this was a really beautiful dish that was just as nice to look at as to eat.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Make Ahead Meals: Pork and Ginger Noodle Soup and Pork Fried Rice

We love a good soup in this house and boy is this a good soup!  I had never worked with rice noodles before and the directions are very helpful.  All of the ingredients are work well together and create a very "Asian" style flavor.  If you don't like bok choy, you can always replace it with a different green or take it out completely.  If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it especially if you can track down the baby bok choy that the recipe calls for.  It cooks out to a really beautiful bright green color and is not quite as bitter as full bok choy.  If you like spinach, definitely try it.  I have made this and other soups like it before and subbed in spinach as well as salad greens which work wonderfully.  Unless of course all you have is iceberg lettuce.  Then just skipped the greens!  If you've never used hot chili oil before, use it sparingly at first and add more to taste as that is a flavor that sneaks up on you!  Enjoy this delicious soup with something else with an Asian flavor such as the Make Ahead Pork Fried Rice.  This recipe is fantastic.  Unbelievable fast and easy especially if you have the rice and pork already prepared.  This is the best fried rice I have ever had and I can't wait to make it again!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Make Ahead Meals: Creamy Chicken with Soft Polenta

I have been looking forward to this post for a while!  This chicken recipe is by far my favorite thing that I make from this collection.  The ingredients work together flawlessly and it comes together surprisingly quickly.  I had never worked with polenta before this and had only eaten it once or twice so I was very curious as to how this would go.  Polenta may actually be the easiest starch I have ever worked with.  It takes three minutes to make and as long as you don't have an attention span problem and can focus on it for three minutes, it is very easy to make.  If you do wander away from it, it can become lumpy, so dedicate those three minutes and you will be glad you did.
This recipe is not for the calorie faint of heart as it does involve heavy cream and is just all over luxurious.  As always you can alter this recipe to your heart's desire.  I love mushrooms but not everyone does, so you could substitute some other element in for the mushrooms or skip them all together.  I also really love the roasted butternut squash in this dish but keep in mind that it does sweeten it along with the heavy cream, so if you don't like to mix sweet and savory, you may want to omit or sub them as well.  It also calls for peas which I'm not a huge fan of but I have found that frozen peas lately are getting a lot better, so the choice is yours.  The end of the recipe calls for fontina to be added to the polenta but it doesn't give a measurement or even mention it in the ingredient list so I have used any number of cheeses in varying amounts in it's place.  Really whatever grate-able cheese you like will be very nice and you can put in as much as you want as long as you keep stirring until smooth.  I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as our family does!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pulled Pork and Slaw Sandwiches

Back to a text only blog for a while as I catch up on all of the cooking I have done this year!  What can I say about pulled pork sandwiches that hasn't already been said?  Pulled pork may be the sandwich of the gods and this coming from a girl that has a lukewarm relationship with pork.  My father referred to me as his Jewish princess for years because of my distaste for pork.  The odyssey that is my evolving feelings for pork could fill a blog on its own.
Anyway, for those of you who grew up under a rock or perhaps just further from the Southland than I did, here's what pulled pork is.  It's the result of a slow, low, delicious roasting process.  In this case, I prepared a huge pork shoulder as detailed in building blocks blog for pork.  You can season the pork many ways during this process and just about all of them are good.  The shoulder is fatty, which makes it deliciously juicy.  After hours of slow cooking the pork in the oven, it will become fork tender and then after even more time, it will fall apart.  You always want to make sure you catch it in that sweet spot before it becomes dry.  Dry pork can of course be saved with a luscious barbeque sauce, but let's not rely on the sauce to do all the work.
Now that you have your wonderfully slow roasted pork shredded to perfection, it is time to make some sandwiches!  We never wait til this recipe comes up in the rotation.  We make it the day of or the day after the roast comes out of the oven because it's just that good!  Honestly, in this case, we never refer to the Rachael Ray recipe but just wing it on our own.  The recipe looks excellent though, so feel free to dive in.  And if you're in a pinch for time, or just don't feel like making your own sauce, grab your favorite bottled barbeque and go nuts.  There are some great brands out there!
Oddly enough, I have never been a "slaw" fan either but I have learned to stop worrying and love the slaw. (bonus points if you caught that esoteric reference)  It adds a fun crunch and clean flavor that I enjoy.  I often cheat and make it a no mayo slaw because I much prefer vinegar to mayonnaise.  If you just can't bear to have the slaw on the sandwich, as a certain Bean I know can't, then feel free to slap it along side the sandwich and enjoy!  Or make your own tasty side.  Maybe some mac and cheese or a pasta salad...?  Oh and if you are going to skip that crunchy slaw as a topping I recommend toasting and buttering the bun!  Yum!
I guess I had more to say about the humble and delectable pulled pork sandwich than I thought!  What do you like with your pulled pork?  Are you a slaw on top or slaw on the side or none of the above?