30 January 2010

When the Moon Hits Your Eye...


Pizza night is always a good time to get creative with the toppings. It can also be the night when you clean out your fridge of all the little chunks of cheese, spare fresh veggies, and leftover meats. I will admit to loading some of our pizzas up with leftover chicken, scraps of onion left from a slice/dice fest, the lone sprig of broccoli, a red or green pepper that is close to 'gone by', that last tablespoon of pesto that's been shoved around the top shelf, and cheese that needs desperately to be used before a mold colony establishes itself. No one ever complains because a loaded pizza is a beauty to behold!

Tonight, though, I have spent some time looking at my latest cookbook on Italian cuisine, so I made a classic Italian crust. I let it rise for the recommended two hours, slammed it down and pushed it into shape on a 16-inch pizza pan and went simple... olive oil in which three cloves of chopped garlic swam contentedly, two small tomatoes, chopped into wedges, chopped spinach tossed with a couple tablespoons of pecan and Parmesan pesto, an onion cut into thin wedges, cubes of mozzarella, and a mega hit of black pepper. 

Cold beers and pizza on a Saturday night ... and it's full moon time outside. That's amore! Hope your dinner is just as lyrical!

PS. Notice the pizza survey to your left on the sidebar... looking for votes, please!  Also comments on your fave topping combinations...

29 January 2010

Fisherman's Stew For A Friday Night

Good grief, it's cold today! That thaw we had last week has been such a tease! We are back in the deep freeze with a howling wind and a bitter windchill. It's just the time of winter when a hot fisherman's stew would be welcome. Too boot, I don't feel like cooking, but know that Silent Bob needs something warm to stick to his ribs after hauling wood and puttering around outside in this cold.

Seriously, folks. This is a hot and filling stew with just the basics of ingredients and minimal preparation. The toughest part of this dish is waiting while the potatoes cook and the smell teases you ... it's an old Yankee stew that went in the dutch oven and sat on the stove or in the coals at the fireside.

Easy, easy, easy!

27 January 2010

Spareribs with Salted Black Beans

Again with the Asian! Actually, today's post is a continuation of last night's dinner ... and the colors and taste of that dish were something to behold. I had to share with the world! Of course, hindsight gives me a chance to improve a bit on the recipe ... and you will see in photos that I used babyback ribs with the bone-in. The recipe has been changed, though, to spareribs that have been boned. This makes cooking them in the wok easier and more complete as well as making the dish easier to eat.

26 January 2010

Everything In Its Place ... Cooking Chinese

Tonight I am making a couple Chinese dishes. That means everything must be prepped first, as there is no lingering over the cutting board once the wok is fired up and ready to go. While chopping, I think about how I came to explore Chinese cuisine. Silent Bob and I took a trip to the west coast around the time of our 10th anniversary. We flew into San Francisco and spent a few days exploring the city and soaking up the tourist attractions. Finding our way into the Chinatown neighborhood, we ate in a few small  family-run  places. One afternoon, though, we happened into an upscale place called The China Moon Cafe.

25 January 2010

Abuela's Hominy and Roasted Peppers

Ahh... the lowly stew. You take a bit of this, a bit of that, you throw it in a pot and add some herbs and spices. You cover it up and wait for a while. Wait a while longer... and when you take that cover off, an aroma rises up and out and into the air. It's like a magical balm envelopes you and anyone in the immediate vicinity! Think of the farmer's wife stirring that pot and giving her face a quick aromatic steam sauna, think of a hunter leaning over the fire's stewpot warming his hands, think of some poor work-a-day Joe returning to his apartment and tipping the top of the crockpot to inhale the essense of his mother's kitchen, think of an old abuela putting her love and tradition into her family's dinner ... I could go on, but I think you get it.

Housekeeping 101

This blogging thing has a real learning curve attached for me! As you visit from time to time, you may notice that things look a bit different. That's because I am slowly learning to organize the layout more efficiently (I hope!). The latest thing - I got courageous and started playing with labels. For a while there I didn't understand what labelling a post could do for me as the blog administrator and for you as the blog reader. From now on, each post will have a label - starters, meats, pasta, veggie side, veggie main, desserts, snacks, beverages, rants, etc. If you would like the printable copy of the recipe, you can find it immediately by clicking the link labeled 'recipe name - printer friendly' that is just before the recipe within the post itself. That link will take you to a new window within my ScribD account. There you find viewing and printing options. Just click away... and when you are done you can hit the back arrow to return to The Spice Garden. Simple, huh?

The other cool thing about labels... you can drop into The Secret Garden and look at Labels on the sidebar. Click one of the labels and the posts that have recipes within them for that category will come up. Then you just choose the post that has the recipe you wanted and go for it.. re-read for discussion of the recipe, access the' printer friendly' link, or make a comment if you've done some cooking and have something to say on the issue! I'm thinking this is a better way of organizing and managing the recipes as the numbers start to mount up... I hope you find it helpful!

And speaking of comments... another housekeeping thing... many of you are telling me your reactions on my Facebook page... I'm hoping that you will overcome your shyness and begin posting your comments in the posting area at the end of each post ... it's easy and you can be 'anonymous' if you choose. Your email address is not posted along with your comment, so no fears there. Part of blogging is sharing each others comments, as that spurs thought, dialogue, and learning ... think about it.

So here's your practice below... if you are new to working your way around cyberspace! Have fun!

Practice Link - printer friendly

OH! Before I forget ... thanks for supporting me in this grand armchair adventure!


24 January 2010

The Butcher Rant...

Okay, so I've been looking for a good butcher. If there was someone in our area who made it their trademark to find locally grown beef, pork, rabbit, lamb, poultry, and game I would be SUCH a happy woman! The more I get into the concept of  'locally grown and harvested', the more I hope that folks will once again support the 'local butcher' who provides a place for farmers who want to supply meat to local tables.

22 January 2010

Cranberry Almond Cheesecake

It's almost Valentine's Day and I've been casting around for a yummy dessert that is a bit different, but has the obligatory red/pink theme going on in honor of Cupid. I think I might have hit on something. This is a nice twist on the cheesecake that I have always used - a cream cheese-based cake that is lemon-y and smooth. This cake, though, has almonds folded into the cheesecake batter to add a bit of a crunch, which I think is very cool. Since I'm making it for a friend who needs gluten-free foods, I'll be using GF gingersnap cookies for the lower crust. The beauty of this dessert is that I'll be able to make it way ahead of time, leaving time to concentrate on the dinner's main course. I still haven't decided on that... stay tuned. It's shaping up to be a nice little Valentine's Day dinner party, though!

Here's hoping that you have a fun day too! I'm casting around for a 'romantic' flick to add to the evening's entertainment... kind of  a 'dinner and a movie' theme. Any ideas?

21 January 2010

Susan's 'In a Mood' Soup Post...

Today's post comes from the frustrated cook that lies within all of us... what do you do when you have a certain craving and you just can't find the recipe that fits your taste? Read on...

Any blogger that tells you they're blogging just for the fun of it is full of it ... and you know what 'it' is! We all are trying to come up with something totally our own - be it photos, paintings, journalistic life experience, fictional creative writing, food, crafts, whatever. Fun of it? Yeah, that's nice and that's part of it, but...! We are all striving to make our mark on this big old cruel world.

Call it my mood, and I have been in a big old mood of late, call it whatever - I got up this morning and thought to myself, 'Susan! Today, you develop your own recipe. Get your sorry ass down there in that kitchen and get that potato soup recipe out of your brain!' I have been wanting a satisfying potato soup and there are no recipes out there that are doing it for me! They have cream, cream cheese, softened potatoes and onions, blandness or saltiness galore! So! I decided to take my understanding of a basic 'cream of...' soup and put my spin on it.

20 January 2010

Saving the Snowman ...

When we woke up this morning, we found another layer of fluffy snow coating everything outside and fat puffy flakes still flurrying down. Poor snowman had gone through the January thaw of last week and needed a little help, so this snow was his salvation! After putting the poor guy back together and dressing him up a bit, I came in ready for some hot chocolate. We had a bunch of chocolate left from Christmas stockings and birthday cake baking, so I decided to try to make the hot chocolate that Silent Bob and I had when we visited Barcelona - I must say it came out really well!

The Spanish version of  hot chocolate is just one notch below a chocolate pudding in a cup. It's dark and smooth, and so rich that it's served in small demitasse cups. Really! With a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar on top, it is one powerful sweet treat! I don't know how the cafe in Barcelona made their chocolate, but this recipe is as close as I can get. Please try it and enjoy the chocolate goodness!

Casserole Night - Canalones A La Catalana

I was recently browsing the cookbook aisle at the local bookstore and came across a book called Culinaria - Spain on the clearance table. I love Spain and miss seeing our 'third daughter', Maria. She lives with her husband outside of Barcelona and is a proud little Catalan. When we have visited Maria and Ruben, she has been so proud to show us her homeland and share the cuisine of Cataluna! We have sampled her uncle's sausages and wine, had seafood dishes made by her mother Rosa, slurped thick hot chocolate at a cafe on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and knoshed her wonderfully simple tomato bread (pa amb tomaquet). When I saw this cookbook, I thought it would be wonderful to learn some more about Spain and its different regional cuisines.

19 January 2010

Good Book Alert!

Okay, so I've just started reading Erica Bauermeister's new book The School of Essential Ingredients. I can already say that I won't want to rush this book. The characters are an interesting group of individuals who all come together for a cooking class with a most interesting chef teacher ... and that's all I'm going to say. Bauermeister has a way with words... nice prose. You could easily gobble this book up fast or savor it in a slow chapter by chapter nibble. A worthy read... no earth-shaking non-fiction. Just a wonderful story to curl up with and enjoy.

Mom's Oatmeal Cookies

Healthy eating is always a lofty goal, but there are times when all you want is a gooey, tasty, sweet something. How do you balance that urge with the fruit and fiber, 6+ fruits and veggies a day, portion control goals that you try to maintain? Bake these oatmeal cookies!

In this house, I have a guy with a major sweet tooth. Nine times out of ten, there is a batch of cookies baked each week. One of our favorite recipes is a wonderful oatmeal cookie that my mother passed to me years ago. It's the first cookie recipe that I made when I was about ten years old and was first allowed to fool around in the kitchen. It's the first recipe that I made a major mistake on... I put only the oats in the batter and forgot the flour. You can just imagine my surprise when I opened the oven door and saw a sheet of batter oozing off the edges of the rimless cookie sheets that my mother used. What a lesson for a fledgling baker to learn! Pay attention and follow the recipe, Susan! It sure was a bugger cleaning the oven out that afternoon, way back in the day! Ah, food memories!

18 January 2010

A Wintertime Salad - Beet and Pink Grapefruit Salad

This posting must be approached by entertaining two premises. One, eating seasonal is good. Two, using cold crop veggies in weird combinations can be interesting. That being said, we can move on. I found this salad recipe in a book by Betty Fussell called Food In Good Season.  Silent Bob loves beets. My favorite veggie green is spinach. We both gobble up walnuts in all their manifestations. When you find a vegetable dish that includes both veggies AND those wonderful nuts, what could be better?

16 January 2010

Food For Thought

Kate spent a few days with us this week and when she comes for a visit, we usually talk local food movement, food supply issues, CSA's, plans for gardens, antique dishes and glass, entrepreneurship in the baking/catering industry, baking recipes ... you know, foodie stuff. I love it, because Silent Bob is a wonderful husband and all, but he doesn't have a real gift for jabber and I DO love to chat! Kate indulges me, as a good daughter should!

This last visit she brought me a news link  and a DVD documentary that she uncovered when doing some research for an upcoming job interview ...

14 January 2010

A Treat For Silent Bob's Birthday!

Do you get sick of making the 'same old, same old' ? I do.  Consequently, I tend to browse periodically through the market looking for food that I've ignored for a long time, am eager to experiment with, or that is so ridiculously inexpensive that I simply can't ignore it. On one of my last browsing forays, I found Cornish game hens. I couldn't pass up a good deal ... two hens for $3 and change! I snagged a couple packets and stuck them in the freezer for a special meal down the line.

Fast forward a month or so...

12 January 2010

Seasonal Schmeasonal... Part II

Okay, so I got that Caesar Salad thing out of my system yesterday and as I used to say to the kids, "You can moan and you can groan, but..."  The big BUT is that the Romaine lettuce at the market looks like it was put through the wringer. Well, DUH! It's been on the truck and stuck in the ice and snow between here and there (where?). Anyway, it was a wintertime craving that I had... nothing more. I bought cauliflower, shallots, flat leaf parsley, and hazelnuts instead. So tonight it's a salad made with roasted cauliflower  ... a bit more seasonal and the cauliflower is gorgeous!

11 January 2010

Seasonal Schmeasonal ... A Salad Rant

Can we talk salads? I've just been cruising the Net looking at Chicken Caesar Salads and have run the gamut of those bloggers who detest them (and America's obsession with bad offerings at mainstream restaurants) and those who think they're the mainstay of the single person's 'go-to' easy dinner and a wonderful way of getting lean protein and good dark greens (hold the anchovy!). Whatever...

I'll freely admit that I love a good basic Caesar salad, as long as the ingredients are fresher than fresh. Even better? I love a Caesar Salad that is jazzed up a bit even more, which leads me to a question. If I add other ingredients to my Caesar salad does it change my Caesar salad into another type of salad? Does it become a Neo-Classical Caesar Salad? Pseudo-Caesar Salad? What?

10 January 2010

Warm Company!

When the snow settles down on New England and the January cold creeps nearer the bones, Silent Bob and I tend to hunker down at home and sit tight. The 'after Christmas' time is traditionally the time for jigsaw puzzles by the fire, watching old movies in the evening, working on a sewing project or two, and puttering out in the wood shop with the shop stove burning fiercely to keep the chill off. Getting together with our friends is usually limited to a shopping and lunch rendezvous, lingering over coffee and a treat at Sunday church fellowship hour, or a chance meeting by the public library's 'return' desk.

When our friend Leah called and said she was having a dinner party, Silent Bob and I were excited at the prospect of seeing our circle of friends. Of course, everybody coming would contribute a little something to the fare.

08 January 2010

Winter Minestrone Soup ...

A posting and preparation in which these beautiful vegetables become a thing of beauty...
So many friends have been in touch today... all of them commenting on having had some snow overnight or bitter cold that just won't seem to break. I guess we should expect this. It is January, after all. But please! A person needs some warmth in their life in times like these... and once again, I find myself falling back on a hot bowl of soul-satisfying soup. Today, I'm all about a big pot of ...

07 January 2010

Salad Greens ... Dreams of Spring's Fare

When Silent Bob and I moved back from Germany, we left more than just friends and the local marktplatz behind. One of the staples of our diet had been a small and lucious salad green called mache... feldsalat, to the Germans. The leaves are dark green, like spinach, but the flavor is lighter and has a woody, nutty character. It is a winter green there, available for almost all year. It disappears only in the summer, when the other lettuce greens are so bountiful. I miss its lush show of verdancy and super fresh flavor... and I have been determined to find seed so that I can have some growing in our garden!

06 January 2010

Flu Season...

There's flu in the grey house on the side of the hill up New Hampshire way... and it has been that way for several days now. Sick people and their loved ones have to eat, though...

Silent Bob thinks-

It sure is a drag when the cook gets sick... suddenly, leftovers are looking really good. After those are exhausted, there's a run on every box of crackers, block of cheese, slab of pate, bag a pepperoni, and container of olives or pickles that happens to be stowed away. Thank God there's peanut butter, a ton of jelly in the cupboard, and bread in the freezer. At least lunches are a done deal.

But wait... she lives! Maybe she can rally long enough to get a real meal on the table tonight! God bless her little pot-stirring soul!

05 January 2010

Welcome to January!

It's cold, it's snowy, and we're rosy-cheeked from shoveling all the drifts away from the doors. This latest storm was a beauty, but it went on forever! Silent Bob has made it his full-time job to run the snow-blower, haul wood, stock the birdfeeders, and clear a sledding run down the hill behind our grey cottage.

While he has been busy outside, I have diligently
 cleared out all traces of the holiday dietary debauchery that mounted up in the refrigerator (as per New Years Resolution #2). It's amazing the amount of detritus that accumulates over the course of the holidays! As I puttered away at the sorting, composting, trashing, washing, drying , refitting, and organizing of said fridge, I thought about dinner. What can I make with a red cabbage, carrots, a couple parsnips, celery, lemons, a green pepper, and condiments that are perfectly fine, but jumbled ? I have sworn to Silent Bob that we will not shop for more food until I have used up what's in this fridge... thank goodness there is meat in the freezer!