Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Cooking Class at Central Market

First of all, merry belated Christmas and early happy New Year! I hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday season.

Now, before I get into babbling on about today’s subject, I feel the need to make a brief comment on the therapeutic powers of cooking. I am having a particularly shitty week (sorry about the rough language, but its true). It’s a long story and I won’t bore you all with it, but needless to say, I am feeling rather depressed. However, each night this week I have come home after a long day at work and spent some time in the kitchen. Last night I made a mushroom lo mein; tonight it was a carrot frittata with fried potatoes. I don’t think I mentioned that I joined a winter CSA – Pete’s Greens, based out of Craftsbury, VT. Every Wednesday I get a great share of veggies and other local products, so I have been coming up with a lot of different ways to use them. I have kind of a routine when it comes to cooking. First, I always have music playing. I usually let iTunes create a playlist based on my mood – tonight was Norah Jones and James Morrison, a nice jazzy, mellow feel. Next, I don my apron (I got a really cute one for Christmas that makes me feel like Audrey Hepburn). I review my recipe, if I am using one, and finally start prepping. I listen to the music and do not have too much time to think about whatever is bothering me, because I need to concentrate on what I am doing so I do not burn/slice myself. After all is said and done, I then get to enjoy the “fruits” of my labor (sorry, bad pun). There is something soothing and comforting about the whole ordeal, and I feel a lot better afterwards.

On with the subject at hand…You may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned a cooking class that my father and I were going to be taking while I visited my family in Texas for Christmas. Well, we took it and it was awesome! The food we learned to prepare was fabulous, the class was structured really well, and I came away from the experience with a lot of new tips and techniques. The theme of the three hour course was “A Night in Paris,” which was based on a meal the head of the cooking school had enjoyed while in, you guessed it, Paris (and no, NOT Paris, TX). There were a total of about 20 participants, which were then divided into two groups of five or six pairs. Each group was led by one of the staff. Our teacher, Rebecca, was great. She was friendly and really knowledgeable about all sorts of foodie things. I enjoyed her company and her instruction. The class was structured so that each pair in the group focused on one main component of the meal, while still being able to watch and learn from everyone else. My dad and I worked on the warm shallot dressing for the duck salad, and got some great pointers regarding knife skills.

At the end of the class, once everything was all set, we got to sit down and enjoy a full three course meal – and it was excellent. Oh, did I mention that wine was included, too? The food was served to us on china and it was like being at a restaurant, except we’d had a hand in preparing everything! The first course consisted of the previously mentioned duck salad with warm shallot dressing, as well as a chicken and pistachio mousse with traditional accoutrement. The duck breast was prepared in a stovetop smoker and was some of the best I have ever had – seriously. Plus, now I have to get one of those smokers, because it was super neat. And the mousse. Oh my god, was it delicious. I have to admit, I had only had chicken liver mousse/pate one time before, and I did not care for it…it was a little too chickeny, you know? That was not the case the other night. This pate was more a mix of chicken breast and livers, then studded with whole pistachios and wrapped in bacon. They served it was these really yummy garlic toasts, sweet pickles, and Dijon mustard. I was full after the first course, and there was still so much more to come!

The second course was a seared rib eye topped with a chive compound butter, sautéed veggies, and duck fat roasted potatoes. Yes, you read that correctly. Did you know that you can buy rendered duck fat, the same as you can get a stick of butter? What a revelation! That one ingredient added so much flavor to the simple dish – and then the potatoes were drizzled with truffle oil. Does it get more decadent than that? This course was also served with baguette slices and French butter to smear on them. Let me tell you, that butter was THE BEST butter I have ever tasted. It was President brand, made in France with big crystals of sea salt. I kind of wanted to just eat a big spoonful of the butter alone, it was that good. It reminds me of one of the early scenes in the movie version of Julie and Julia, when Julia Child is served her first French meal – fish in a beurre blanc sauce, and she leans over and simply exclaims, “Butter!” It was that good.

Finally came dessert, a vanilla soufflé with crème anglaise sauce. Need I even say more? I did learn about vanilla bean paste, which is just the inside of the vanilla beans that you usually have to scrape out, mixed with a little water and sugar and bottled. So good, and so convenient. The neat thing about the class is that it took place over the Central Market grocery store, so after I was able to go buy the garlic toasts, the butter, and the vanilla bean paste. A quick comment of the soufflé – now, it was delicious, there is no denying that. However, to me it tasted an awful lot like a Dutch baby, which I have mentioned in previous blogs. Plus, Dutch babies are much less labor intensive – I do not see why I couldn’t just make a Dutch baby, top it was crème anglaise, and call it a night. In fact, I plan to do exactly that this weekend. Yum.

The whole class was a great experience, and I hope I get to do something like it again. My dad and I both really enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot in the process. Overall, a success!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Birthday in Boston

Running behind, as usual. Work is uber insane these days, and the semester is wrapping up, both of which make me feel overwhelmed and super-stressed. My escape from the craziness? A trip to Boston to celebrate my birthday, of course!
My 24th birthday was a couple weekends ago, so Danielle and I headed down to Beantown to celebrate. I had never been before, despite the fact that my grandparents have lived in Massachusetts for forever and I’ve been in Vermont for over a year now. I was really excited about the trip, and it totally paid off. We got into the city on Saturday evening and headed to the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. All the building and shops were done up for the holiday, glittering with twinkle lights and fresh garlands. Street performers were playing Christmas carols, and overall the effect was enchanting. We had been planning this trip for a couple of weeks, and I’d put a lot of thought into the dining selections (I mean, come on, this is me we’re talking about). I decided on the Union Oyster House for my birthday dinner and had made reservations in advance (which turned out to be very smart on my part). I have to tell you, this dinner made my top ten list of best meals ever. The restaurant is housed in an old, historic building, which was also decorated for the holidays. They claim to be the oldest restaurant in the country, but this presents a bit of a conundrum. A couple summers ago, my dad and I were in Philadelphia, and we ate at the City Tavern (another top ten dining experience). The thing is, they also claim to be the nation’s oldest restaurant. Who knows which is true? Regardless, both meals were excellent.
As the name implies, the Union Oyster House specializes in seafood. Being the oldest restaurant in Boston, at the very least, they also have a traditional New England spin on most of their dishes – items like cornbread and Indian pudding were on the menu. As I scanned the extensive menu, I was really having trouble deciding what to order. I am a huge seafood lover, and everything sounded good – I’ll take on of those, and one of those, a couple of those…Suddenly, the “shore dinner” caught my eye. Clam chowder, steamers, a lobster, new potatoes, corn on the cob, and dessert – literally a sampling of everything I wanted! Of course, it also happened to be the most expensive thing on the menu, but you know what? It was my birthday! I ordered it, and it was worth every penny. I got to wear one of those lobster bibs, and my dinner came to me on a huge plate, complete with a bowl of melted butter for dipping – heavenly. I do not know if I have ever been so satisfied with a single meal in my life. Danielle ordered mussels, which were fabulous, and a lobster stuffed with lobster topped with lobster – paradise. To make the whole experience even better, the waitress comp’ed Danielle’s dessert and my Irish coffee!
The next day, we took some time and explored the city. I wanted to see some of the historical sites, so we walked some of the Freedom Trail and went to see the Old North Church – which just so happened to take us right through Little Italy! Again, I want to emphasize how beautiful everything was with all the Christmas decorations and garlands and red bows. I think it really made the trip extra special. On our way back through Little Italy, we stopped in at Mike’s Pastry. Oh. My. God. I am not sure if a more dangerous place exists – rows and rows of gorgeous baked goods. I walked away with some coconut macaroons and the biggest cream puff I have ever seen. They packaged it all in a pretty box and tied it with a bow. I felt kind of like Audrey Hepburn – the whole experience had that kind of vibe to it.
The rest of the day was spent shopping and eating and driving, and it was fabulous. We stopped at the Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, which is a specialty food shop. I walked away with the most random assortment of goods –cream of tarter (which I have had a heck of a time finding in my local shop), a bottle of peach nectar, and chocolate bar studded with sea salt, a panettone bread (which makes the best French toast ever), and a pint of really good raspberries – overall, a great haul. It was a great weekend and the most fun I’ve had on my birthday in a long time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Offical Recipe -- yay!

Dutch Baby a.k.a. “Puffed Pancake”

Ingredients: 4 eggs
1 cup flour
I cup milk
Freshly grated nutmeg

Pre-heat the oven to 425. As it preheats, take a glass baking dish or pie plate, add a dusting of nutmeg, and a good helping of butter (2-4 tablespoons). Put the dish in the warming oven to melt the butter and warm the dish.
Meanwhile, blend the eggs for a minute or so, until they get pale and frothy. While the blender is still going, slowly add the milk, then the flour. Blend well.
Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and quickly pour in the eggs mixture (the melted butter will move throughout the mixture, and some will pool on top - this is okay). Bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffy and golden (try to avoid opening the oven while baking). Slice, and serve with a variety of topping - maple syrup, berries, or simply lemom juice with some powdered sugar are all good choices. I recently tried a version that sprinkled slivered almonds into the batter right before it went into the oven, and topped the finished product with jam. The almonds added an unexpected crunch to the dish that was very yummy. I used an apricot/peach jam, which kind of melted when I spread it on the hot pancake -- really yummy!

Note: this recipe is easy to portion depending on how much you need. 1 egg = ¼ cup each of milk and flour.
Other info: This dish is vegetarian, but not vegan. It can easily be made with all local products (milk, butter, and eggs from a local farm, King Arthur flour, and, of course, VT Maple Syrup).

This dish is adapted from a recipe in Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life and the Oranegtte blog. My mom and I love to make Dutch Babies, and sometimes I make one for dinner two (or even three) times in one week. It's funny, because even though we now live 2,000 miles apart, we'll often talk in the evening to discover that we both made a Dutch Baby for dinner that night!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Post-Game Highlights

I should probably be doing something much more productive right now, but I decided that a Thanksgiving post-game highlights post was a higher priority. I also have a couple restaurant reviews to throw in here, and some general updates – looks like we’re in for a long one!
Let’s begin with the restaurant reviews. Despite the busy season (and school finals rapidly approaching), Danielle and I have managed to maintain our weekly tradition. A couple weeks ago, we hit Bistro 156 for dinner. The atmosphere was very hip and trendy, the cocktail was fabulous (they infuse some of the liquors themselves), the service was HORRIBLE and the food was mediocre. Shall I elaborate? Danielle ordered a spinach and artichoke dip appetizer, which I helped myself to. It was very good, thick, and had a lot of nice flavor. Also, I don’t know what kind of tortilla chips came with it (homemade? store bought? what brand?) but they were surprisingly good. Really, this was the highlight of the whole experience. I ordered mac and cheese, desperately in need of some comfort food, and I couldn’t help but be let down. By the time dinner made its way out to our table, mine was no longer very hot. It had a lot of oil in it, and not very much cheesy goodness – a let down, to be sure. And then there was the service – some of the worst I have experienced in Burlington. Sure, our waitress was pleasant enough, once she finally figured out that she was supposed to be waiting on us (not the brightest bulb, so to speak). We went through about three different servers until one finally settled on our table. Then, although we only ordered an appetizer and dinner, we sat there for over two hours because it was sooooo sloooooow. Overall, I don’t think I will be visiting this establishment again anytime soon.
Our poor experience at Bistro 156 was more than made up for, however, at A Single Pebble last week. As I have mentioned several times, I am obsessed with the Food Network. I watch waaaaaay to much cooking television, but I just cannot seem to help myself. Anyway, one show I like is Best Thing I Ever Ate. Each episode has a theme (dessert, crunchy, pizza, and so on), and features several different Food Network talents discussing their favorite meal within that category. Most of the time, the restaurants they discuss are in New York City, but every once in a while, something different comes my way. Last week’s episode was titled “with Chopsticks” and featured a lot of different Chinese/Asian style restaurants. For those of you that don’t know, Alton Brown, host of Good Eats, went to the New England Culinary School in Montpelier, Vermont – less than an hour from Burlington. So, on this episode, he discussed a dish from A Single Pebble, and I immediately wanted to go there. I was not disappointed! The décor was kind of kitschy Chinese restaurant, and the service was good although not outstanding, but the food was amazing (and really, isn’t that what it is all about?). Danielle and I ordered four different dishes to share – Peking duck, crab cakes, potstickers, and tangerine chicken. Although everything was great, the Peking duck was above and beyond. It arrived to our table on a platter, consisting of shredded duck, crispy cracklings, chives, cucumber slices, and plum sauce. Four thin pancakes (almost like unsweetened crepes) came of the side. We built little Peking duck tacos and they were to die for! Honestly, this was one of the best dishes I have had in a long time. For dessert, I had coconut tapioca with chunks of fresh mango in it, which was also really good.
I also feel compelled to mention that Peppermint Mocha lattes are once again featured on the Starbucks menu! This is probably my favorite coffee drink in the entire world, and although you can order it year round, it just does not seem right to drink in the warm summer months. I will be frequenting my local Starbucks a lot more than usual for the next month or so.
So, now that all that formality is behind us, on to the main event – Thanksgiving! This is the biggest cooking and eating holiday of the year, and therefore plays an important part of my life for the month of November. Every show of the Food Network has to do with the holiday all month long, all of my magazines feature recipes, and the grocery store is bursting with turkey, stuffing, and all the fixins’. My family down in Texas really knows how to put together a proper Thanksgiving meal (the best, in my opinion), but unfortunately I could not be with them this holiday. I spend the holiday with my extended family in Massachusetts. We all had a nice time together, which is really the whole point of the holiday. I made stuffed dates (dried dates stuffed with a sweet cream cheese filling) and brought some famous Vermont-made sage cheese. I really love to cook and wish I could have been more involved in the preparations, but that just geared me up more for Christmas. I will be home for Christmas and my dad and I will put together a meal to remember. Hope y’all had a lovely holiday, got some great Black Friday deals, and are resting this weekend before the season is truly in full swing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Random thoughts during a busy day

I have to admit, I have been exhausted lately. Life – work and school, mostly – has been so busy that I barely have time to breathe these days, never mind do some extracurricular blogging. But, today I have managed to carve a few minutes out of my hectic day to write a quick note.
I have to admit that my cooking has largely consisted of bowls of oatmeal and microwave baked potatoes lately. However, I have managed to sneak in a few actual meals – the other night, I made a mustard “fried” chicken (read: breaded and baked), roasted fingerling potatoes, and a Brussels sprouts gratin. While everything was pretty good, the sprouts were awesome. I am not always a Brussels sprouts fan – unlike other veggies, such as broccoli, I don’t like the way they steam in the microwave (my usual go-to form of veggies). Take them and add butter and gruyere cheese, on the other hand, and they are freakin’ awesome! Here’s a link to the website I got the recipe from (, of course):
In other news, I signed up from a cooking class series at a local grocer that sounded really promising – five weekly classes all about classic Italian cooking – I was especially excited to learn how to make fresh pasta, something I have never attempted before. Unfortunately, after the first class, I was really disappointed – it was all demonstration, and no hands-on cooking! I could watch the Food Network at home in my pjs, and not have to pay anything extra for it. As I mentioned, I was pretty upset. I was really looking forward to a break from the stress of work and school (it had been a particularly crappy week), as well as learning a new skill. All is not lost, though. After hearing how upset I was, my dad went online and found a class for us to take together when I go home for Christmas. As I discussed in a previous post, cooking and food is one of the passions that my dad and I share, so taking a class together should be really fun. There is a small grocery chain in Texas called Central Market, and let me tell you, it is amazing. If you like cooking, or just simply like eating, then this store is like Disneyworld. In a lot of ways, it is similar to Whole Foods – lots of organic, natural options. The produce department practically takes up half the store, and it beautiful. The meats, the wines, the cheeses, the bakery – all are impressive. You can walk into Central Market hungry, sample your way through the store, and leave fully satisfied. I go in there to find one ingredient that isn’t available at the local Kroger, and walk out with $100 worth of completely random groceries – and love every minute of it. Central Market is not a grocery store, it’s a destination. The reason I mention all this is because Central Market is hosting the class that Dad and I are taking. It’s titled “A Night in Paris,” and features dishes such as duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes (yes, you read that correctly), and vanilla soufflé. Read the full description here: It sounds fantastic, and I am really excited about it – and very touched that my dad made the effort to find this for us to do together (and paid for it)! We are going to start the day with some light shopping (as if there was such a thing) at Northpark, an amazing mall in Dallas, and finish with an evening at Central market. This is basically my version of heaven.
Finally, a quick restaurant review. A couple weeks ago, Danielle and I had dinner at the Daily Planet, a Burlington institution. The décor and atmosphere were very cool – hip and cozy at the same time. That is kind of were my interest in the place ends. I should preface this by saying that that particular day was kind of a nightmare – super busy at work, and to top it off, I got in a minor fender bender on the way to the restaurant. So my mood was not at its brightest, and that may have had some influence on my experience. However, either way, I was not thrilled. I order the soup of the day, which was a potato leek. Although it had some good flavors, and the presentation was very pretty (dots of oil and cream on top of a velvety soup), it was cold by the time it made its way to my place. Then I had the duck prosciutto. I had never seen such a thing on a menu before, so I questioned the waitress. She explained it as basically the same of regular prosciutto, but coming from a duck instead (like I couldn’t deduce that on my own). Then she made a major faux pas – she told me that prosciutto usually comes from a cow! I was unimpressed. Now, don’t get me wrong – the waitress was very nice, so points for that…but uninformed. Danielle ordered a cheese board, which has become something of a tradition with us. That was very good, and the waitress did make a great suggestion on which cheeses to select. The Farmhouse Tap and Grill still reigns supreme for cheeseboards in my book, but mostly because of that amazing apple butter. Danielle also had a chicken Cesar salad that she was happy with, although they forgot the croutons and had to bring her a new plate. Maybe you can see why I wasn’t overly impressed?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Daddio in Vermont

My dad came to visit me in Vermont from Texas last weekend. We had a great time, exploring the area, watching Lord of the Rings, and most importantly, eating. My love of food most likely originated with my father, who I share the passion with. He has always been an eater – and an excellent cook. My dad helped expose me to a variety of cuisines at a young age, including his passion for Cajun and Creole cooking. I can remember watching Emeril on TV (BAM!) with dad, and us discussing the various merits of this dish or that. I was eating jambalaya while most kids were still in the PB and J stage. In fact, I have been able to visit New Orleans with my father on several occasions, and we eat our way across the city – Mr. B’s Bistro, Mulate’s, Irene’s…yum. Besides going out to eat, my dad also helped develop my own skills in the kitchen. He taught me to make the most flavorful mashed potatoes ever (the secret is adding sour cream), smooth gravy, low country boil, crème brulee…it took awhile, but he is finally out the point where he is able to accept my tips as well. The year we stuffed a turkey with lemon wedges, onions, and fresh herbs at my insistence was a huge success, and from that point forward, my comments held a little more weight.
Anyway, I digress. He came to visit for the weekend, and it was a blast. We visited some tried and true favorites of mine, as well as some new places as well. Let me break it down for you:
I met dad for lunch on Friday, and we went to the Apollo Diner in Milton. I go here a lot for breakfast with my co-workers, but they have a great lunch to. I had a hot open-faced turkey sandwhich and a milkshake; dad had an open-faced roast beef and a cup on clam chowder. We both left extremely satisfied. Friday evening we visited the Magic Hat factory and learned about brewing beer, complete with samples. I stuck with #9, but dad really enjoyed the IPAs. From there, we made our way to the Vermont Pub and Brewery. I had a smoked beer, which was delicious – I could really taste the smoke it in, which provided a totally different flavor. I also had a Woodchuck cider, which they have on tap and is always good. Finally, we ended the evening at the Bluebird Tavern (big surprise, right?). It was extra neat, because the executive chef Aaron had just been featured the day before in TastingTable, a daily foodie e-newsletter that I receive. We shared a cheese board, of course, and then I had a beet salad and ricotta gnudi – I just had to have some more of that delicious ricotta. Everything was exactly as good as I expected it to be (in other words, excellent). I finished with an olive oil cake, served with rosemary ice cream and cranberry jam. It was really good, and unique. I liked it because although it was definitely a dessert, it wasn’t too sweet, and the flavors all complimented each other really well. I also had a hot chocolate, which was good, but not as perfect as the traditional hot chocolate at Champlain Chocolates.
Saturday morning we went to the Burlington farmer’s market and found some goodies. Dad got some maple syrup to bring back to Texas. We did some shopping, and then had lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings – chosen so that we could watch the Michigan State football game. We also stopped at the Healthy Living Market for a Misty Knoll chicken (more on that in a sec). While there, I sampled some of the best apple pie I’ve ever had, served with cinnamon ice cream. It was so authentic, you know? Dinner that night was at L’Amante, an Italian restaurant that I had not been to yet. It was very good, and the service was great. We shared a salumi (a selection of Italian meats), which was really good. Their house bread is served with homemade hummus and chicken pate. The hummus was really yummy, but I didn’t really care for the pate – it was a little too rich to start a meal with. Then I had a shrimp and lobster carbonara, made with house-made pasta. That was really good, and nice and peppery.
Sunday morning, dad made me French toast (a specialty of his), and some Vermont Smoke and Cure Bacon. Best. Bacon. Ever. The star of that day was dinner, though. I think I mentioned my passion for Thanksgiving dinner. It should be said that it is pretty much my favorite meal, and throughout the year I like to have what I call “mini-Thanksgiving”: roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, and cranberry sauce. Complete perfection. This time, we used a local Misty Knoll chicken and a foccacia-based stuffing mix from Williams-Sonoma. Both were excellent. I made the cranberry sauce from scratch – no cans here – and used some ginger and orange juice, and that came out really well. Dad made crème brulee for dessert. Enough said.
Finally, Monday morning we went to Magnolia’s downtown for breakfast. This is my favorite breakfast place in Vermont. Their fresh OJ is really good, and the oatmeal pancakes are to die for. We finished the dad’s trip with a pizza from Junior’s. Trust me, you just can’t get good pizza like that in Texas.
The whole trip kind of focused on food, from the meals I described above to the Sunday drive that took us to Stowe for apple cider donuts. No complaints here, though – that’s my favorite kind of trip. Love you, dad!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A little less talk, a little more pictures

This week, I'm going to shut my mouth and let the pics speak for themselves. From above: Rosemary Chicken Skillet, Popovers (so light and airy and eggy and delicious), Autumn Roast, Apple Upside-Down Cake, and Apple Crisp. All huge successes! I am taking advantage of the abundant autumn harvest.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Quick Update

Oh, what to talk about today? In truth, not much has been going on in my own little foodie universe. I have been busy with work and school and life in general, leaving less and less time for cooking and watching Food Network and so on. Some highlights to hit on:
I went to visit my grandparents over the weekend – something I try to do every month or so. They live about three and a half hours away, and I always enjoy my visits. While there, I had my last lobster roll of the season. We go to this really cool place called the Clam Shack. It is just a seasonal stand with picnic tables outside. The menu is heavy in classic New England seafood dishes, including the infamous lob-stah roll. They do a really good job on it, too. A simple grilled and buttered roll, topped with 100% lobster – no mayo, no filler – served with a side of onion rings and a pickle. Perfect!
Yesterday I went to the grocery store and stocked up on ingredients to make three different autumn suppers, all of which I am looking forward to preparing (and eating). The first is a skillet rosemary chicken. I can use rosemary from my herb garden, which is always extra special. This lemony rosemary chicken is prepared completely in one skillet, and served with new potatoes. Yum. The second dish is a turkey cutlet with herb gravy (again from the garden) and an apple celery salad. The third and final meal is one I have prepared before, tried and true (whereas these other two are new). It is an autumnal roast of sorts – baby potatoes, chicken, italian sausage, shallots, and black grapes are all roasted together with EVOO and herbs, and then topped off with a balsamic drizzle. I got this recipe from Rachael Ray (of course), and it has become one of my favorite easy, simple cold weather meals. And it is supposed to be chilly this weekend – highs in the lower 50s! Brrr.
I am pretty sure I see another apple pie in my future. This time I will be sure to take a pic and post the recipe. I have been eating a lot of different varieties of apples this fall, when they are all so plentiful. As a native Northeasterner, I am of course biased toward the macintosh – and with good reason, in my opinion. They are sweet but not too sweet, juicy, and they stand up well to baking and other cooking methods (such as homemade applesauce). To answer a previous comment, macs are usually my apple of choice for making pies. I do try to incorporate some variety to add interest to the pie, so I might use mostly macs but include one or two apples of a different variety. Same goes for applesauce and apple crisp (another seasonal favorite that I have not even touched on yet). My favorite apple for just munching on, however, is the honeycrisp. Crunchy, as the name implies, and sweeter than most, they are the perfect snack. Too bad they also tend to be a bit pricier than other varieties.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Apples, pumpkins, and fall foliage, oh my!

It is autumn! Okay, maybe not technically for a few more weeks (Sept. 23, to be exact), but can’t you smell it in the air? We can here in Vermont – mums are starting to grace the front porch steps, gourds and pumpkins are making their way into the supermarkets, and the apple orchards are in full swing. And of course, the leaves are already starting to get a tinge of vibrant color. Fall has always been my favorite season, as it marks the beginning of the phenomenal eating of months to come.
This past weekend, I had my first Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cheese muffin of the season – something I look forward to for the whole month of August. I don’t know what it is about these muffins, but they are so good – moist, with candied pumpkin on top and a cream cheese filling. I could die with happiness from eating one. Also over the weekend, I made my first apple pie of the season. No pictures, but no worries – there will be many more to come. I take a lot of pride in my apple pies. They are simple yet undeniably delicious, topped with fresh whipped cream…and no, I see no reason for modesty here. I am going apple picking this weekend, and am already wracking my brain for ways to use all the fresh local fruit. Another pie, to be sure – my co-workers requested that I bring one in, and I’m happy to oblige. Lumpy applesauce is also a must. What else? Maybe a tart? Or perhaps a savory application for chicken or pork? I’m sure I’ll find many yummy ways to use them up.
As you might guess, fall is also the gateway to my two favorite holidays – Thanksgiving and Christmas – both of which just happen to be jam packed with lots of delicious goodies. Is there anything better that Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and green bean casserole and cranberry sauce and orange Jell-O and pumpkin pie and….I guess I am getting a little carried away. Seriously, though. It is fantastic. I do tend to get carried away with the holidays (my home is already decorated with leaves and gourds and candles), but I think it is part of what makes me so endearingJ.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dinner with Friends

So, there has been quite a delay between postings. My brother came to Vermont from Texas to visit me last week, which took up a significant amount of time and energy. Although his presence did provide a number of culinary adventures – the most amazing buffalo chicken dip EVER and a trip to the Ben and Jerry’s factory in Waterbury – my foodie highlight of the week did not occur until after he left. On Saturday evening, I had dinner at the Bluebird Tavern with Danielle and a couple of her friends to celebrate her birthday.
Now, this was not my first visit to the Bluebird, and I have to tell you, I was a little wary. Although my previous experiences were not necessarily bad, they were…different. A little about the establishment: In some ways, it fits into the cookie cutter mold of so many other Burlington restaurants, in terms of atmosphere, service, and so on. However, in a lot of ways it is more unique. First of all, the menu changes daily based on what is at its peak in season – so the food it always really fresh and creative. This does lead to some…interesting…dishes, however. Rabbit and veal tongue come to mind.
On my first visit to the Bluebird, I was there for brunch, about a year ago. That particular meal was nothing special. I had brioche French toast, which was okay but a little soggy, and my companion had chicken and waffles. I did enjoy how they served coffee in a mini French press, and there was a live jazz duet playing that was very good, and added something special to the atmosphere. My second visit was quite a different experience. I was there for dinner with Danielle (shocking, right?). We ordered the butcher’s board for an appetizer, which consisted of various meats that they make it house (something neat about the Bluebird is that almost everything is homemade, from ricotta to ketchup and aioli to sausage). I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater – I think you have to be in my intended field. I’ve tried alligator and escargot and all sorts of strange food. On that evening, I added rabbit, pate, and lardo to the list. Some of the things we tried were really good, and others, no so much. I also had a burger after that, because it was the only thing on the menu I felt comfortable with. It was really good, and the frites that came with it were yummy. Their house ketchup is absolutely AMAZING, so that really helped the meal.
So, I was a little nervous about going back – would there be anything on the menu that appealed to me? I shouldn’t have worried. It was honestly one of the best meals I have ever had. The company was the first success. I hadn’t met Danielle’s friends before, but they were fellow foodies and lovely ladies, and we hit it off for a very enjoyable evening. The atmosphere was nice and the service was decent, but the food was the star. First, my drink – I had a cocktail they called the ‘grey gardens.’ It had a prosecco base (Italian sparkling wine, for anyone who does not know), and then flower essence added in. It was a beautiful gray color – hence the name – and arrived with a flower floating in it. I felt so classy and sophisticated drinking it! We ordered a cheese plate to share, which was much more satisfying than the butcher’s board. I then ordered two different salads – weird, I know, but they both sounded so good. First was a baby squash salad. It had goat cheese smeared underneath it, so it kind of mingled in with the greens as I ate it. A fried zucchini blossom stuffed with more goat cheese was served on top. I have to admit, this was the whole reason I ordered the salad. Fried blossoms are something I’ve seen on Food Network many times, but had never actually tried. It was delicious! My second salad was a heirloom tomato salad, served with fresh ricotta and grilled peaches. I have to tell you, that ricotta was the best I have ever tasted – and that is saying something. So good! Both salad were light and fresh and dressed perfectly. I was very happy with my dinner selections. Dessert was a cup of tea and a berry shortcake – yummy, but nothing spectacular. I didn’t mind, because I was so thrilled with my prior dishes. A sucessful evening, indeed -- the Bluebird Tavern is completely redeemed in my eyes (I'm sure they're thrilled).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A confession and a recipe -- finally!

So, I have a culinary confession to make – I am absolutely horrible at making quesadillas. I know, I know – they are so simple, and yet I constantly mess them up (usually in the form of burning them). It happened again last night. I have had this weird obsession with avocados lately. I didn’t always like them, but now I love them – so smooth and creamy, and, bonus, healthy! I have had a lone avocado sitting in my fridge for a week and a half now, and I was trying to figure out some use for it before it went bad. Suddenly, inspiration struck – in the form of Napoleon Dynamite, no less. “Make yourself a dang quesadilla!” So, I pulled out a couple tortillas, some shredded Cabot cheese (yes, that was a shameless plug for my favorite local cheese company), some salsa, and of course, the avocado. I filled the tortillas with the cheese and put it on the burner while a sliced the avocado. I then decided it was time to turn the quesadilla before it burned, and low and behold, it fell apart. Now I had half melted cheese in the tortilla and burning in the frying pan, plus a semi-burned tortilla. Awesome. I was able to salvage most of the cheese and trim away the burned part, and then top the whole mess with the sliced avocado, sour cream, and salsa. Did it look pretty? No. Did it still taste good? Yes. So, I guess lesson learned – I simply cannot make quesadillas!
Thankfully, there are plenty of foods that I can successfully prepare. I’ve been into French toast lately – I love making breakfast for dinner! French toast has become one of my go-tos, along with the unsurpassable Dutch Baby. The other night I accidentally invented the most delicious stuffed French toast I have ever tasted (the ugly photo above does NOT do it justice). I made just regular old French toast (the recipe out of the classic red and white plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook – eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon soaked bread – homemade wheat bread is ideal because it is denser, but I made do with store bought wheat instead). I was trying to think of a way to jazz it up, and I remembered some leftover goat cheese I had in the fridge. I’d had French toast stuff with cream cheese or ricotta before, so I figured, why not? I microwaved the cheese for just a few seconds to soften it up, and then added two teaspoons of sugar, a generous squirt of honey, some chopped almonds, and more vanilla and cinnamon. I spread this mixture over each of my four slices of bread, and topped the whole thing off with some Vermont maple syrup (only real maple for this girl, none of that fake “pancake syrup” here). OMG, it was delicious! I only made it through about a third of it that first sitting, but the leftovers were dutifully devoured over the next day or so. The French toast was very sweet – homage to my insatiable sweet tooth – from the syrup and the sugar and honey in the cheese, but also crunchy from the almonds and tangy from the goat cheese. What a perfect combination! As Rachael Ray would say, “yum-o!”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Belted Cow Bistro and Bigger Pants

Last night, Danielle and I had dinner at the Belted Cow Bistro in Essex Junction, Vermont. We had a blast! She just got back from a volunteer trip to Costa Rica, and I had a crazy stressful week last week, so we both really enjoyed the chance to decompress with a friend, a glass of wine, and yummy food.
For starters, the bistro is adorable – I loved the décor! The walls are painted a warm yellow, and the whole place has a sophisticated country feel. The only down side was the view. I was seated right by a window, and instead of the rolling Vermont countryside one might expect, I was looking right at a gas station. This detracted from the ambiance a bit, but as long as I focused on the inside, it was great.
Now for the food: This restaurant falls into that same category I described in my last post. The menu is predictable, but well executed. I had roasted chicken, served with smashed garlic potatoes and English peas in their pod. The potatoes hit the spot – warm, and not completely smooth so that they still had some body to them. The peas were what really got me, though. They were bright and crisp and crunchy – everything a fresh summer veggie should be. Also, the bread and butter that were served with dinner were exceptional. They keep fresh loaves on a rack in the dining room and look beautiful (they certainly add to the rustic charm). The butter has a slight sweet honey hint to it that made the bread something special. Danielle had a scallop appetizer that was really good – two big scallops served with a grainy mustard sauce. The combination was different and unexpected – and tasty!
And then on to dessert, finally. First I have to tell a little story. As you might have guessed, I watch a LOT of foodie shows (as in, my TV is almost always tuned to Food Network). I enjoy cooking shows, like 30 Minute Meals or Barefoot Contessa. I think they provide the viewer with a lot of great kitchen tips and new meal ideas. However, food competition shows really take the cake for me (sorry, bad pun – I just can’t seem to help myself). I love Iron Chef, Chopped, Next Food Network Star, and so on. Over the weekend, I saw an episode of Cupcake Wars for the first time, and I liked it more than I thought I would. On the show, one of the teams made a s’mores cupcake. It was a gooey chocolate cupcake with a graham cracker crust and a toasted marshmallow meringue frosting (i.e. they took a blowtorch to the meringue for a toasty look, texture, and taste). Okay, now that I’ve explained all that, I can go back to last night’s dinner. So, the Belted Cow Bistro’s dessert menu already looked amazing, and then our server announced a dessert special – two s’mores cupcakes just like to ones I’d just seen on TV! We ordered them in a heartbeat, as well as a Jack Daniels Bananas Foster Cheesecake Parfait, which was exactly what it sounds like – layers of banana cheesecake, Jack Daniels sauce, and graham crackers. Danielle and I shared these two desserts, and both were amazing (as pictured above)!
The service was really good as well. Danielle and I can be pretty goofy together, and our waitress was happy to joke along with us. We had an early dinner – we arrived just after they started serving dinner at 5:00. I don’t know if this added to the casual atmosphere or if the restaurant is always like that, but I definitely appreciated it.
So Danielle and I managed to stuff ourselves to the brim, in a very good way. At the close of our meal, I was discussing an internship that I desperately want next Spring. It is an editorial internship at EatingWell magazine, based right here out of Charlotte. I found out about the opportunity four days after the deadline to apply for Fall, so I am already gearing up to apply for the Spring semester. This would be a dream come true. I joked with Danielle about how the internship would draw to a close just as I graduate with my Master’s, and how wonderful it would be if I was able to get a full-time job at the magazine afterwards. I would have my dream job, and not have to move to New York City to get it! Danielle remarked that I’d have to be sure to include her on my culinary excursions. Her final comment? “I’m gonna have to get bigger pants!”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Restaurant Review...or five

I am very lucky here in Burlington. For those of you that don’t know me, I absolutely love to go out to eat. I like to try new places, but I also have some favorites that I continue to revisit. I like the whole experience – being waited on, having new and different meals prepared for me, spending time with friends and family over the dinner table. When given the choice, going out for dinner (of breakfast, or brunch, or lunch, or…) is my favorite way to spend my extra income.
Thankfully, one of my closest friends here in Vermont, Danielle, feels exactly the same way. Over the past year, we’ve fallen into something of a routine. At least once a week, we get dinner together. If we have a class together, dinner usually falls after that, otherwise, we wing it (sometimes literally…get it…Buffalo wings…oh, never mind). Because of this, we have hit a lot of Burlington’s more prominent restaurants. Of course, sometimes we get lazy and do Chili’s or Olive Garden, but that’s pretty rare. We much prefer to check out the local foodie scene, which is extensive. Some of the notable places we’ve visited include:

Al’s French Fries: iconic and cheap – and a great cremee stand in the summer!
The Kitchen Table in Richmond, VT: One of the most hyped about places around, they focus on local ingredients. The service was outstanding and the atmosphere was great – the restaurant is housed in an old farmhouse with a lot of charm. The food was yummy, certainly not a disappointment, but nothing too special either. The chef’s liberal use of bacon is definitely a plus.
The Icehouse: Deemed one of the most romantic restaurants in Burlington – which I could see, if you watched the sun set over Lake Champlain with your sweetie. Otherwise, this establishment has nothing to brag about. I ordered a spicy seafood dish and asked them to not make it too spicy. Instead, it came out bland. Desserts were satisfying but predictable. The service was a 3 out of 5. Confession: I LOVE Red Lobster. I know, I know – a chain?!? But what can I say? I’d hoped The Icehouse would provide a good substitute, since we lack Red Lobster’s here in the Champlain Valley. Nope – although the décor was similar, Red Lobster’s food is way better. Yes, you read that right.
The Windjammer: This restaurant did provide me with the seafood I was so craving after The Icehouse let me down. The crab legs were great, if not a little pricey, and the salad “boat” is a lot of fun. Service and atmosphere were pleasant, too. The quality of my experience surprised me, considering the restaurant is associated with a hotel – not usually a good sign for culinary excellence.
The Bearded Frog in Shelburne, VT: One of my favorite restaurants so far. The atmosphere here is wonderful – warm and cozy, including a real working fireplace. The service was also really good. My appetizer and entrée were good, too, but dessert was what really shined.

At this point, I need to take a break from my listing to make an important statement. This list is only a small sampling of our experiences. We have also visited Sweetwater’s, Scuffers, The Lakeview House, and Leunigs. The reason I lump all these together is their similarity. Okay service, okay food…but nothing that makes them shine, you know? The menus are also all very predictable. Salads with Vermont cheese, steak, some kind of seafood, desserts that require assembly more that actually culinary expertise. Even the Kitchen Table and The Bearded Frog fall into this category a little, but their atmospheres and service are what set them apart. I know I sound pretty negative right now, and I don’t really mean to – despite my comments here, I still enjoyed my meals at each of these establishments. I am more just making an observation, and would welcome comments on the topic.

That’s a lot of information to take in, and it is only a fraction of what I have to offer – I didn’t even get into breakfast joints yet! That’ll have to be a later post, as I am out of time and energy for the moment (so much for the superfoods diet, huh?). Until next time!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Welcome, Welcome

So, welcome to my new blog! In case the title didn't give it away, this is a blog about eating, both in and out of the kitchen (read: my attempts at cooking as well as my adventures eating out around town will be chronicled).
I suppose if I am going to expect you all to be interested in what I have to say, I should first introduce myself. I'm Allie. I am a graduate student working towards a graduate degree in English at an undisclosed location in Burlington, VT. Fun fact: did you know that Burlington has more restaurants per capita than any other city in the United States? Obviously my culinary options here are ample.
As I mentioned, I am a grad student in English. More often than not, when I tell people about my subject, they say, "What are you going to do with that?" For a long time, I didn't really have an answer -- maybe a teacher, maybe a writer, maybe...My indecision is no more. I finally have a clear path in front of me -- I want to be a food writer! I want to spend my days eating delicious food (and inevitably sometimes not so delicious), and writing about it. My dream job? To be the food critic for the New York Times, or to be the Editor-in-Chief for Food Network Magazine. Lofty aspirations, I know, but what's the point of dreaming if you don't dream big?
So now you know where I'm coming from, but it occurs to me that I have yet to talk about actual food. Here it goes.
Right now I am following a meal plan I got from Self magazine. it includes a lot of "superfoods" to increase nutrition, make you look younger and fitter, etc. -- basically a miracle diet, right? So far I've only been following to plan for two days, but I'm enjoying it. Do I look younger and more full of energy yet? For lunch today I had a really yummy salad made from mixed green, chucks of watermelon, and feta cheese, with a little vinaigrette tossed it. It was a light and fresh meal, and eating it made me feel light and fresh. Too bad I had to eat it at my gloomy desk instead of outside on the gorgeous New England day.
I guess that's it for now. In an upcoming post, I plan to write about some of the restaurants in Burlington that I've visited, and whether or not they lived up to my expectations...