Friday, January 29, 2010

Start of a long day

Start of a long day
Originally uploaded by daftly smitten
The sun just came up over the supermarket my office shares a parking lot with... And I've been at work over 2 hours already.

Long day indeed.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wasn't it just Thursday?

I really don't know how it got to be Thursday again... this week has really flown by.  I'll get the design post up by tomorrow, but since it's on my brain (and in my belly), I thought I'd tell you about our dinner this evening. 

It's restaurant week here in Baltimore (one of many throughout the year), and this year Dave was determined to go somewhere we would really "get a deal".  He did a lot of research and found that many restaurant week menus add up to no savings at all, whereas others are a significant discount from the every day menu.  He gave me three different suggestions and I picked B & O American Brasserie.  Part of me picked this place since they claim to use "only sustainable seafood and local farmers' products" and that's something I find attractive in a restaurant.  Another part of me had just heard that it was a fantastic place to eat - so there you go.

Here's what we had:
me: Hamachi Tartar with red Quinoa salad and sweet potato chips
(drink was citron vodka, kumquats, ginger and cardamom)

dlb: Crispy Pork Belly atop bread crumbs and vegetables

me: 24 hr. Vande Rose Pot Roast with Creamy polenta and braised vegetables
(plus mache and pickled red onions on top)

dlb: Crispy Duck Confit and Pappardelle with root vegetables (hmmm... just looked up the P word, and it's a type of fettuccine, which I don't remember there being on Dave's plate.  maybe they subbed with mashed potatoes?  I think so.  There was also red cabbage braised in apple cider on the left there.)
me: "Wicked Pissa" Cupcakes
dlb: apple cobbler with creme fresh

I just realized how late it is (10:30) and I am still FULL.  Such a yummy meal, and neither of us could clear our main course plates. 

(my plate after eating dinner... no worries - I packed that up to go!)
I did take care of the dessert, however:
reminds me of a zen garden.

Oh, and the bread was good... definitely a mix of white and wheat flours, and it was served with butter topped with basil salt.  That basil salt was extra tasty!

This dinner was def. a special treat.  Beforehand, Dave was totally planning on trying another restaurant next week, but after the richness of tonight's meal, we thought we'd wait a couple weeks (or months) to go all out again.  B&O gets my vote as a place to visit again!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Taco night!

Taco night!
Originally uploaded by daftly smitten

Last night Dave and I went to dinner with a couple friends at Clementine.  Tuesday nights they have limited hours and a limited menu... Of tacos! Four different taco platters were offered with drink specials on mexican beers, sangria and margaritas.  I got the mahi-mahi and Dave tried the beef.  Both were excellent, although I especially loved the cabbage slaw that came with the fish tacos.  A definite departure from their regular menu, but tasty all the same!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The change is upon us...

The days are getting longer, I can FEEL it. When I left work this evening the sky had a hint of light - unlike the normal almost-black!  Hooray for sunlight!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dark Days - week 10

Wow - week ten already?  Times flies!  As promised, I will tell you about the cabbage soup.  I unfortunately could not make it our true local meal (although I'm sure you could if you can find local beans!), so I'll also tell you about the french onion soup which was successfully local.

Last weekend I set out to make beef broth.  I had a "soup bone" in the freezer from my Amish farmer in PA; they sell it either by one bone or something like 20 pounds of bones.  I am not yet set up to process 20 pounds of bones into stock, so it was one bone that I had purchased.  After reading through all of the advice to Sarah on our dark days list serve, I set forth making my own broth!

The bone was frozen and raw; I put it in a small oven-safe dish with one onion (skin and all) chopped up and roasted until it was nice and brown.  I then emptied the entire dish of goodness into my stock pot and covered with a big glug of apple cider vinegar and enough water to cover the meat.  Let that sit for about an hour.  I then added carrots, more onion and a giant bag of kale stems that have been hanging out in my freezer.  Oh - and also some mushrooms that had shriveled up in the back of our fridge. 

Added water up to almost the top and let it simmer... for the next 24 hours or so.  Every once in awhile I stirred it around and added more water to be sure it didn't cook down to nothing.  Once cooled, I strained it through cheese cloth and filled two quart jars and then some.  I let it cool to skim off the fat, but not much appeared in the end.
So on to the cabbage soup.  I found the recipe on 101cookbooks a couple weeks ago, and really couldn't stop thinking about making it.  I'm not sure how she feels about her recipe on my website, so for the full run-down, click thru to her recipe.  Below are the changes I made in making my soup:

  • For the 5 cups of stock, clearly I used my beef broth rather than Bouillon that she used (also turning a vegetarian soup into a not-so one)
  • I still haven't been able to find any local beans, so I used canned cannelli for my soup.
  • From her picture I can tell her cabbage was green; I had both red and green cabbage, and used both.  Not as attractive in the end, but it used up my red cabbage that was really beyond it's prime.
Now she says to saute the potatoes in 1 TBS of olive oil until soft; maybe my pan wasn't as thick-bottomed as hers, but I had some major sticking issues with the potatoes, eventually adding broth early to keep them from burning.  In the end it made no difference - the soup turned out fantastic!  I was unable to locally source the parm as well - so that and the beans make this not local, but everything else was!

On to the French onion soup:

This was another recipe where I simply googled french onion soup on my palm pre to be sure I had all the ingredients at the market and then made it without much research.  I think next time I'll try Alton Brown's recipe, but this one turned out to be an easy week-night meal.  This is the one I ended up using since it called for things I had and could easily source locally. 
Instead of the cans of beef broth it calls for I used mine.  I omitted the sugar, but afterwards wished I hadn't, because even Dave felt the soup should have been sweeter.  I also would have caramelized the onions longer if I weren't trying to get it on the table in record time.  I used my local buckwheat flour instead of AP, and a local whole wheat baguette instead of french. 

The swiss cheese was from South Mountain Creamery, and I had to buy a pound but only used a couple slices.  We don't usually buy swiss, so any suggestions as to dispose of the rest of the pound (dispose in our bellies, that is) are welcome!  The red wine was from Basignani Winery, a Maryland vineyard we discovered at a wine festival this past year. 

So aside from the "not sweet enough" comment from the hubby, and my personal opinion that I was a little too light-handed with the swiss, this first time in making french onion soup was awesome.  It is WAY easier than I once thought!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pound puppy of the week

This one would just not stay still long enough to get a good shot.  Female hound dog who would rather spend all her time vertical than on four paws... But also loves to cuddle.  Good day to volunteer at the SPCA!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Drive from PA last Saturday

Photos from the drive home last week after our un-successful market trip:

That crack in the windshield sure is more annoying from the viewpoint of the passenger!

What I Wore Thursday

Sorry for the piecemeal shots; didn't have anyone to help me out this week.

Taken in the a.m. with my coat on... I like that you can see how dirty the mirror is in the picture on the top.  I stopped taking pictures right then and there to clean it. :)
I like to tuck my scarf into the giant neck of this collar since it never really fits on the outside!

closest I got to a head-to-toe shot

A very cozy outfit for a chilly winter day!

Wool Pea Coat: Jones New York purchased at Burlington Coat Factory ($99?  it was too long ago...)
Black skinny jeans: Mossimo from Target, $24.95
Green striped quarter length t-shirt, Merona from Target, $2.99
Purple jacket from Martin + Osa (my new favorite store!), $18.99
Scarf: purchased last Saturday at the flea market in PA, $5
Flats, xhilaration from Target, $9.99

Monday, January 18, 2010

Dark Days - week 9

This week was a rough one for finding local produce... mostly because I thought I had plans to bring in a mother load of local produce, but my plan was foiled.

When I was searching for local flours, I had heard from someone that the Saturday Market in York, PA might be a good place to find it.  When I looked it up online, it appeared to be the holy grail of local food... but this was clearly my imagination, since in reality it was anything but. 

First of all... it's not in York.  It's about a half an hour past York. Which is already an hour away from Baltimore. 

Second, the Saturday Market is more of a giant garage/yard sale than a farmer's market.  Yes, there was food.  Homemade potato chips (the peppered BBQ was delish), spicy kettle corn, several purveyors of baked goods and a couple of the butchers appeared to be local.  But the two produce stands were entirely non-locally sourced.  (They did say they had local produce in the summer though.) 

The most frustrating part was all the crap that surrounded the food.  For every food stand, there were approx. 10 stands of people selling old books, DVDs (that fell off the back of truck?), cheap perfume, Steelers jerseys, military garb, etc.  Add to that the fact that many vendors didn't even appear to be open, and it made for a frustrating trip.

So we were left with no more local produce than when we started, and I once again am fixing breakfast for our local meal:

2 eggs over-easy, a slice and a half of bacon and hash browns made with mushrooms as well.  The raisin bread is from a local bakery, although not the one that I am positive sources local ingredients.  The coffee is from a local roaster which sources organic fair-trade beans.

Although this is a pretty decent weekend brunch, I was hoping for something a little more augmented by vegetables.  Some kale, maybe?  I really wanted some kale.

The best I could find after making a trip to our local market, was cabbage.  I'm thinking I'll make a cabbage soup... and in preparation, I decided to make some beef stock from some local soup bones I had in the freezer from my "secret Amish source". 

So that's what's coming down the pike.  Cabbage soup.  With homemade beef stock.  Details next week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Speaking of design...

We've eaten at Holy Frioles in Hampden many, many times, but never arrived early enough to get one of the coveted front booths.  Last night we finally snagged one and I realized what they were constructed out of: church pews and a confessional booth wall.  In this picture you can see the little screen meant for speaking through.  So cute! I love how we were partioned off from the rest of the room - it was nice and cozy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thursday design photo

Well... I said this week would be home-design related, but I saw this shot this morning and decided I'd rather post this “out in the field” sort of design shot.
I've always enjoyed the aesthetic of industrial and agricultural buildings.  Add to that the fantastic light this morning... and don't even get me started about my obsession with power lines!
This building is practically on my way to work, but somehow this morning was the first time I saw it.  I love making little discoveries like this!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dark Days - Week 8

I feel like this past week of meals has involved above-average leftovers consumption.  There was no reason for me to make a 9x13 baking dish full of lasagna for my husband and myself.  It was just too much!  I like making big meals and then having leftovers, but it works better when it's something like a soup, stew or chili that you can freeze.  Don't get me wrong - I did freeze a couple servings of the lasagna, but it probably won't keep as long as a soup would.  And we aren't in a position to be owning a second freezer yet, so freezer space is limited.  Add to that the fact that we're still trying to finish the ham from week 6, it becomes clear that we are STILL eating local meals. 

There was one new meal of note.  After I made pasta last week, the hubby got super jealous and wanted to make pasta too.  Except he went out and bought a pasta maker, since he will use any excuse to go shopping for kitchen gadgets.  (p.s. - having a husband that loves to cook and does it well is super awesome.  although... I was spoiled by a father of the same ilk).

Dave made us some simple ravioli using local flour & eggs for the pasta and a stuffing of local italian sweet sausage and cheese.  They were so tasty that we ate most of them with a little salt and pepper and no sauce!  (that's how they kinda count as the local meal....)

In the end they were served as part of a larger less-local meal of roasted cornish game hen (organic but not local) and asparagus (WAY not local or seasonal, but this was Dave's meal, and he wanted asparagus).

p.s. There was way too much food on this plate.  I could not eat it all. 
Funny note as well: Dave told me proudly that this was a "vegetable-heavy" meal.  Am I crazy or is he?

Friday, January 8, 2010

First Thursday Photo Shoot - 1.7.10

So I've been thinking of adding a design element to this blog since I find myself more and more interested in reading design blogs.  Whether it be home design, product design, graphic design or fashion (mostly following what other people are wearing on a daily basis like Jen and Whitney and Amanda), it's something I've become more aware of and thought I'd start to explore here.
In order to ease myself into this new concept, I was thinking the first Thursday of the month would be what I'm wearing; the 2nd Thursday would be something design-related around the house, the 3rd would be me again, and the 4th would be something design-related I photographed at some point during the month.
So this being the 1st Thursday post - here's what I wore yesterday:

The scenery is a bit of a joke; I thought of this at work yesterday and had one of my collegue's snap photos of me in our awful bathroom - I liked that the old broken Kotex dispenser matched my dress.

On a side note; I almost didn't use this picture since it makes me appear a little too plump in the face, but then I got honest with myself and realized it wasn't the camera's fault.  Ever since I finished my last race (10-miler which I ran right after my last half-marathon) and increasingly after I injured my neck in August, I've really dropped the ball on going to the gym.  Add to that the fact that I stil eat like I'm training for a marathon and you've got problems!

In mid-December (yes, BEFORE the holidays) some office mates and I started a weight-loss competition in order to kick ourselves into shape.  We're all achieving this in different ways; one is a big weight watchers fan, another does south beach.  I'm just going back to my standard "eat less & better food, get your butt to the gym" method.  So hopefully seeing me every two weeks in a new outfit will also show you the shrinking effects of proper eating & exercise.

My buddy Max looking over my shoulder...

About the clothes, for those who care: I love this dress.  I have it in three different colors/patterns (mostly because my pants don't fit lately and I refuse to buy larger ones).  I found each color on a seperate trip to Target, and felt it was such a simple classic dress that I allowed myself to buy it each time at full price, which really wasn't that bad!  Tights and boots are also Target.  I feel like I thought the tights were more opaque than they appear here... might want to find some that really aren't fully see-through.  The boots are fun and comfy, too!
The jacket is from Banana Republic and was one of my best finds there - I paid something like $29 for a $150 blazer.  The necklace is from my great-aunt; one of the few "everyday" items I inherited when she passed, so it gets a lot of wear.

Dress: Target, $24.95
Jacket: Banana Republic, $29
tights: Target, $3
boots: Target, $15.99
necklace: from great-aunt

Monday, January 4, 2010

Dark Days - Week 7

This week there were a couple all-local dishes feasted on by our household.  The first was actually cooked last week, but eaten mostly this week, so I'll share:

A very simple stew, made with beef, carrots and potatoes.  The beef was stew meat local to Nebraska, where my in-laws purchase half a cow each year, and hand carried to us (in a cooler full of dry ice) when they visited Baltimore this summer.  We are still working at eating all the meat they brought us!

I popped all the ingredients in a crock pot and let it go for about 6 hours on high.  I can't provide the exact recipe, as it was one of those instances where I googled "beef stew" on my palm pre and follow whatever recipe looks acceptable for the ingredients I've chosen.  I can tell you that, especially with the potatoes being purple, the completed meal was not the prettiest looking stew, so I have no pictures of the finished product.

The next meal was quite a lot of work.... something I'm not sure I'll be making very often, although it came out well!  I spotted the recipe for lasagna in Martha Stewart Living and filed it away for a Dark Days meal, since the primary ingredients were squash and homemade pasta (and sage, a plant of which we have just barely kept alive in our kitchen).

This was my first time making pasta from scratch, and of course I start by experimenting widely with ingredients, crossing my fingers it would turn out.  Instead of the 2 cups AP flour, I used 1 cup buckwheat flour and 1 cup whole grain pastry flour, since those were the local flours I could find.

Here I am making a mess as the well in my mound of flour did not hold the 3 eggs,
which then went running all over the counter!

Unfortunately, there aren't any in-between shots, since my photographer went back to watching Iron Chef America re-runs after I stopped freaking out about my eggs running away.  But the good news is, I have now successfully made pasta from scratch, BY HAND!  (I had asked around at work last week to see if anyone had a pasta maker, but figured in the end that a rolling pin would do just as well!)

Here's the end result:

I also roasted brussel sprouts in olive oil and balsamic vinegar to accompany the lasagna
(inspired by the Good Eats episode on brussel sprouts, although Alton never roasts them on the show):

Things I changed from Martha's recipe:

  • I couldn't find local ricotta, but did find local cottage cheese, so I threw it in the magic bullet (worth buying if you like smoothies or pesto alone) to make it creamy like ricotta.

  • My husband doesn't think a meal is a meal without meat, so I added the same local brand sage sausage I used for the stuffing at Thanksgiving.  It's good stuff - and sage flavored, so it blended well with the rest of the dish.  I folded it in with the squash before layering.

  • Since I added the sausage, I skipped the step where you saute the sage in butter - and instead sauteed the sage with the sausage.  Even though I drained most the fat off, I figured the fat in the sausage would be enough.

  • I technically didn't use butternut squash.  I think what I used was a type of pink squash?  It looked the exact same color when you cut it open, and it was the right weight, so I used that instead.  Still left over from our CSA.

  • I forgot to find parmesan, so I just sprinkled more mozzarella on top.

That's it!  The dinner turned out to be very tasty, and after the hours of work it took to put it together, I'm really glad I liked it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Brunch New Years Day

Brunch New Years Day
Originally uploaded by daftly smitten

Dave and I went to Golden West up the street for brunch on Friday.  Browsed through seed catalogs while we waited for a table.  He wants to grow okra, but I'm not sure it gets hot enough here.  I was looking at the ground cherries and wondering what they taste like!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Years Day Supper

My mom always talked about how she used to eat black-eyed peas on New Years for good luck, although in my 28 years of life I do not recall her ever making them for us.  Although she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, her father was from Florida and I've always sensed there was something more southern about her upbringing than her location let on (example # 2, she LOVES okra). 

So this year I wanted to try out the old southern custom of black-eyed peas and collard greens for New Years Day.  The crazy thing was - when I checked wikipedia to give a source for this being a meal of good luck, it said the southern custom actually found its roots in Judaism!  How crazy is that?  Obviously, the non-Jews of the south were the folks to add the component of pork to the dish.  And since we had a ham hock in the fridge just waiting to turn something into deliciousness, that's where I started.

I soaked the black-eyed peas the whole day (8 hours), then added them to a pot with the ham hock, a shallot cut in half and some kombu seaweed.  The seaweed not only adds flavor, but is said to cut down on the gas you might experience as a result of eating the beans.  Brought to a boil, then simmered away for about 45 minutes.  In another pot, I boiled water and vegetable stock, and slowly added thinly cut strips of collard greens (probably 2 lbs before I cut out all the stems).  Once they were all in and beginning to wilt, I added 2 cups of diced ham, one diced onion, and some garlic puree.  That was on the heat for 35-40 minutes. 

To top it all off, I made cornbread in our cast iron skillet (although I must not have realized how large our skillet was, since the batter hardly reached the sides of the pan!)  I added hot sauce to my greens AND beans, and everything came out fantastic.  May this New Year bring much luck and yumminess!