My weekends are usually full of work, save a little cooking and baking for my sanity. The weekend of October 12th was no exception, and I whipped up a batch of one of my new favorite recipes, potato rosemary bread (http://www.browneyedbaker.com/2009/10/19/potato-rosemary-bread/).
I first located this recipe because Rob has always preferred potato bread to regular bread. Since I like to bake our bread, I thought it would be nice to learn how to make the potato variety, even if I did have a lot of questions as I dumped two scoops of mashed potatoes into my dough.
This recipe also appealed to me because it was pictured in such an artisanal round shape. So these bad boys got to rise and bake in my Le Creuset and in our wonderful cast iron pan, a fabulous wedding gift from my childhood neighbor Lucinda Baker and her husband, Brandon.
I have to confess, I didn’t have any rosemary at the time. I know, I know, this seems essential for potato rosemary bread. But I used thyme instead because of I had tons of it on hand, and I hoped for the best.
Rob was so nice to come extract these big, hot, and heavy pans from the oven when the timer went off. When I took them out of the pans, they were so light and made a very entertaining “thump” sound when you patted them. And yes, I patted them. Doesn’t this one look so nice basking in the glow of our Halloween lighting?
So I have these big round loaves of bread - now what? Well, I could start by slicing it. I was relieved to see that it was baked nicely all the way through.
The bread had its debut with a humble little dinner of baked whitefish in a marinade that was nothing more than Italian salad dressing. I had tried some more subtle marinades with whitefish, like lemon and herbs, but I found that it needed something a little more in-yo-face. So while it tasted better with the Italian dressing marinade, I later learned that bottled Italian dressing you buy in the store is processed to death and killing you softly. So.
I challenge any salad dressing to inflict ANYTHING on this grizzly man. We really enjoyed the maiden voyage of this bread. While I won’t be buying more of it, I can honestly say I’ve made this bread recipe (even with the thyme!) multiple times since this inaugural meal. We’ve made countless sandwiches, appetizers, and dipping toasts with it, and it always feels a little special, not just because it’s homemade, but because of the fun shape and texture. I’d highly recommend this recipe!
Zoops, I think I must have skipped this little outing - I think it happened before the popsicles on Thursday, October 11th? During the fall semester, the only day I ever had available for lunch with Rob was Thursdays, so I think that must have been it. Anyhow, for our little weekday lunchdates that are so few and far between, Rob and I decided to try Peking Restaurant, a Chinese place in the Slip perfectly in-between his work and our apartment (http://www.pekingdining.com/).
We started with an egg drop soup, and it was a very fine egg drop soup. The little fried crunchy things that go on top were quite thick and unusual, which actually endears me a bit, because they seemed more homemade than out of a package.
Rob had an order of our favorite Chinese (ahem, American) dish, sesame chicken. It was quite good, as it always is everywhere. I always feel a little bit guilty ordering it when I’m actually going to eat it in a Chinese restaurant - they can judge me for takeout, but I wanted to try something a little different.
And clearly it left a great impression on me, because I have no idea what it was. It was chicken in some type of brown sauce with peanuts, bell peppers, carrots, and celery, and I was a little sad to have leftovers. This cute picture of Rob communicates all the “meh” we were feeling.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to have a Chinese place around the corner, especially one where we can choose to sit and eat in a dining room rather than just a takeout spot with a table or two. However, I think I’m going to have to get over my shame for ordering more Americanized fare if we’re going to go back - this is just the kind of place where it’s probably best to go with what you know.
Nothing warms a chilly October night than dinner with our dear friend Mallory Benedict. You’ve seen her on the blog here a few times before - she and Rob were photojournalism classmates back at Mizzou, and she just happens to be from Virginia, so our friendship has continued so wonderfully since I moved to Richmond. By this time, Mallory had actually moved down the road to Charlottesville, and she was in town for a visit. She is always so sweet to grace us with her presence when she comes around, and we thought we’d give The Hill Cafe (http://www.thehillcafe.com/) over in Church Hill a try together.
Rob opted for the above Southern classic, shrimp and grits, which is becoming harder and harder for him to turn down the longer he lives here. This version came complete with cheddar stone-ground grits, applewood smoked bacon, spinach, and of course some big ol’ shrimp, topped ever so delicately with some little microgreens and smothered in a good bit o’gravy.
This turned out to be a great spot for Mal Pal and her vegetarian tendencies. From their many vegetarian options, she selected the sautéed mushrooms and polenta, which also came with great big spears of grilled asparagus. Surprisingly hearty!
I guess we all went minimally carnivore on this evening, as I had the grilled shrimp and scallops. It’s not the kind of thing I typically order, but I was in the mood for something different, and I was not disappointed. Both the shrimp and scallops were perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the risotto speckled with asparagus was as delightful as any I’ve ever had. What really made this dish unique though was the citrus soy beurre blanc (read: BUTTER SAUCE). It got a little cloying as I got to the end, but this sweet sauce just added to the fabulous levels of flavor happening on this very happy plate.
Aside from Rob’s creepiest possible face, can’t you see what a great time we had? I would highly recommend The Hill Cafe for a slightly upscale restaurant without being too pricey (I mean, Mallory’s was like $12). They have a great selection of unique dishes that would suit any palate, and we left so happy and with full tummies. Plus, it’s adorable and in a cute part of town. GO TO THERE.
At the end of the week, a classmate of mine who does work in human-animal interaction invited me to an event to support the Center for Human Animal Interaction at VCU (http://www.chai.vcu.edu/). Little did I know it would involve a wonderful meal!
Rob tagged along with me, and several of my classmates joined us in an enormous booth at The Local, a pub on Main Street near campus (http://thelocalrichmond.com/The_Local/Home.html). I’d almost tried this place once or twice, but it didn’t seem like it would be anything too special, so I’d never given it a shot. When my Local Reuben (from their MENU of reubens) arrived, I began to think otherwise.
This delicious combination of corned beef, swiss cheese, sauerkraut (not just raw, but caramelized!) and spicy mustard was just enough of a diversion from a traditional reuben to be interesting yet classic at the same time. I particularly loved the texture and crunch of the rye bread - it really was toasted to perfection.
The waiter suggested I give fried turnips a try as my side, and I generally trust the wait staff on such things. It worked out mighty fine for me - they were SO GOOD. I’d never had a fried turnip before - they were thick, but not soggy or dense like you might encounter with a thick potato chip. Plus, they were a little sweeter with a really nuanced flavor that made them just delightful.
I will say that mine definitely beat Rob’s, a traditional serving of bangers and mash - but with no gravy! It wasn’t bad considering that unfortunate circumstance, plus he made off with a few of my fried turnips, and he was happy as a clam.
I was pleasantly surprised by the fare at the Local. They offered a classic array of bar food, plus a fine assortment of Irish pub dishes like fish and chips, Irish stew, and shepherd’s pie. It’s a cozy yet spacious locale, great for getting together with friends for affordable comfort food. Plus, on this particular night, portions of our payment went to the Center for Human Animal Interaction, who conducts marvelous research and implements incredibly helpful programs for those in need. Two thumbs up.
Later that same night, I was feeling creative and ambitious in the kitchen. A little of this, a little of that, what’s that in the pantry? Oh that will be great! So began my sojourn into what would become a pair of stuffed peppers.
I started with some boneless, skinless chicken thighs and seasoned ‘em up real nice with salt, pepper, and fennel. Like I said before, it reminds me of sausage, which is an automatic fast track to my heart.
I baked off my chicken until it was tender and juicy, let it rest for a few minutes, and then chopped it up. It was moist and flavorful and ready for the plunge.
…into peppers! I had some leftover quinoa that I mixed up with the chicken before sinking them into hollowed-out bell peppers. I put them in the oven for a bit and topped with cheese in the last few minutes of cooking.
Not bad, right? Especially considering there was no recipe, just wheels spinning in my head and nice ingredients coming together. I was full of confidence when Rob got home from work and I could serve him my masterpiece.
Nope, that picture is not a mistake, we actually ordered pizza because they were so awful. I can’t articulate a specific reason why, I just really hated the way everything tasted together. Rob is the sweetest possible human being and always eats what I put in front of him with a smile on his face, and he tried to convince me that they were great and that he didn’t mind eating them. Equally convincing, I got him to call Belmont Pizza (http://www.belmontpizzeria.com/), a local favorite of ours, for a nice sausage and mushroom pie. Or should I say…humble pie. Better luck next time.
On Thursday October 10th, I had the afternoon off and no motivation to start on any new work without my computer. I was thinking of my classmates, however, particularly in the capacity of this fabulous blender they got me as a wedding gift!
On this lovely fall afternoon, I decided to take a break from the pumpkiny, cinnamony flavors of the season and go for something light and fruity. I had bookmarked this peach/raspberry popsicle recipe in the summer (can you blame me? these look gorgeous http://nutritionstripped.com/paleta-peach-melba/#.Uw4frIVnils) and decided to give it a go.
I have to admit, these took me forever to make because I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything such a beautiful color come out of my kitchen as those peaches, and they look even better in my pyrex measuring cup from Zach Fleeman and Courtney Wilfer!
But wait. It gets better. My beautiful bridesmaid Kate Massman (now Kate Bax, if you recall) got me these amazing Crate and Barrel popsicle molds, and just having them in my kitchen has been such an enabling feeling. I mean, I can make popsicles. ON THE REG.
So I blended my raspberries with the coconut water like the recipe says and put that little layer in my molds first. I had to put them in the freezer for a while if I wanted that layer to have some structural integrity, otherwise there would have been a little swirl action going on (wouldn’t have been the end of the world, I guess).
Then, I topped the frozen raspberry layer with the beautiful blended peaches. And back into the freezer they went - this was truly an exercise in patience.
Ta da! Just a few hours later, and these were ready to eat. But there was a slight problem - they were really, REALLY tart. When I looked back over the recipe, it was true that I hadn’t added any additional sugar to the fruits, but I thought the fruit itself would surely be sweet enough. Maybe the peaches weren’t ripe enough? Maybe the white peaches I bought are less sweet than the variety I should have bought? Who knows. So while these weren’t quite as indulgent as I would have liked, Rob and I still enjoyed them for several days as a nice healthy, refreshing snack with minimal ingredients and obviously no additives or processing. Will definitely be trying something like this again!
By October, my cabinets were chock full of pumpkin puree, and I was so full of hope and excitement. Among the plans I had for this puree was a pumpkin polenta recipe. While normally I can just bring up the bookmarks on my computer to find recipes I’ve cataloged to try, you may recall that I was without my computer at this time. Luckily, I was able to track down my Tumblr favorites on Rob’s iPad, and we were ready to go (http://honeycombfood.blogspot.com/2012/01/pumpkin-polenta.html).
I started by making some ground turkey meatballs. I’ve been doing ground turkey a lot lately - while it absolutely lacks some of the flavor and richness of ground beef, I kind of like what a blank slate it is, and I certainly feel healthier when I’m eating it.
So I jazzed this batch up with some parsley, garlic powder, fennel, and salt and pepper. I’m a big fan of putting fennel in any ground meat because it reminds me of sausage without turning my figure into sausage.
True, it might not have been the healthiest option to pan fry them in my little Le Creuset, but for the record, it was olive oil! Some fats are good fats, and they are my friends. This, however, was not my friend…
Polenta log. Woof. Something about the Kroger supermarkets in the Richmond area means that real polenta is frustratingly hit or miss. Though this took out the large time element of cooking polenta from scratch, I can’t help but think that the recipe was sacrificed a bit by its use.
Once my meatballs were cooked, I moved them to a cookie sheet and transferred them to the oven to keep them warm. I followed the instructions pretty closely for the pumpkin polenta itself, except for, you know, the log. Which in the final analysis, I ended up mashing with my potato masher.
Things didn’t feel so promising at this point, but Rob is a very gracious little eater, and I was sure it would at least be palatable. I heaped a few spoonfuls into our bowls and apparently waited to add the meatballs until after I took this picture.
Welp, unfortunately I wasn’t wrong - this wasn’t my favorite thing I’ve ever eaten. In addition to the polenta mishap, I honestly wonder if adding pumpkin puree to polenta at all is a good idea. The texture was pretty one-note, kind of a duller, less exciting polenta texture that the pumpkin flavor didn’t compensate for. Plus, ground turkey doesn’t add much to the texture game either, so the whole thing was reminiscent of really well-seasoned baby food. Though Rob didn’t mind it and ate this AND the leftovers, I really thought this was too bad - I am truly a pumpkin disciple, but maybe this just goes to show that there can be such thing as pumpkin over-zealous. Probably wouldn’t go this route again.
On Wednesday October 2nd, my computer decided to crap out temporarily, so it had been shipped away to Best Buy fix-it land. This is an amputation for a grad student (just in time for me to avoid my dissertation), and if you recall, it suspended my blog posting for a while. I had been relying on Rob and his computer for pretty much all of my electronic needs, until Monday October 7th, when his started crapping out too! What were we supposed to do?
If you answered: go get dinner and deal with it later, you are correct. Rob and I went down Main a few blocks to a neat looking place we’d been eying called 23rd and Main Taproom (http://www.settepizza.com/). Since we were in no rush to return to the despair of getting Rob’s computer fixed, we started with some salads - Rob had the chopped salad you see above (romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers sugar-pepper
cured bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, and balsamic vinaigrette).
I had the iceberg wedge and substituted the bleu cheese for ranch because I’m a big weenie and can’t stomach stinky cheese. This was only the half portion, and it was a good thing too - if they’d given me a whole one, there’s no way I could have kept myself from eating the whole thing and spoiling my appetite. This combo of iceberg lettuce, bacon, colby jack cheese, red onions, and croutons made from pumpernickel bread was oh so fine.
I was slightly less enthusiastic about my pizza, which sounded great on paper - I mean, surely there couldn’t be anything wrong with alfredo sauce, basil, goat cheese, mozzarella & parmesan! But the whole thing was just very dry to me, which I think must have been a consequence of not enough sauce. I did like how soft and bubbly the crust was - it was very chewy, but it was pretty much all I could taste. Not enough flavor from the toppings.
"Not enough flavor" was not a problem Rob was encountering. He had the lamb French dip, which was as you might imagine, lamb between two fat slices of ciabatta bread, topped with Swiss cheese and slathered with mustard. My favorite thing about this sandwich was that instead of a traditional au jus that you might get with a roast beef French dip, this came with a red wine demi glace. Hellooooo nurse.
After enjoying our dishes on this lovely October evening outside on their patio, Rob and I left 23rd and Main with full tummies and computer woes to attend to. It’s too bad I didn’t like my pizza more, because the menu at this place looks absolutely stellar and full of unique combinations and ingredients I love. If we ever make it back, I think I might actually try another of their pizzas, maybe the Chesapeake (nom nom seafood pizza) or the Porky Fig. Since it’s not far from home, hopefully that will happen sooner rather than later!
I can’t help it, football really brings out my junk food side - I really love to make fatty, indulgent snacks for football games, so on this first Sunday in October, I started rooting around in my fridge for something to whip up. As the Chiefs kicked off against the Titans, I landed on trying baked onion straws. You know, to see if they would be any good before trying something more…fried.
They weren’t. Ew. I have never figured out how to make good baked onion rings - no matter what I do, the ends burn and they taste like chalk. Lamentable day.
So I did what any self-respecting baking failure would do, and fried a new batch instead. Nothing too crazy on the batter - I just made sure my onion slices were nice and dry, soaked them in buttermilk that I often have on hand after making ranch dressing, and then added a panko bread crumb mixture involving garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
They came out of that fryer my favorite color, golden brown. I paired them with a little sauce I’d actually discovered from a sweet potato fry recipe (http://www.amybites.com/?p=2784). I used Frank’s hot sauce instead of chipotles in adobo sauce, but the spicy yet creamy combo of this garlicky, yogurty sauce was just heaven with my onions.
Rob was so thrilled when I delivered these to our couch, and I have to say, I was very pleased myself. They were a perfect accompaniment to another Chiefs win, and I think a little homemade fried treat once in a while beats a) fried treats from the freezer section and b) no fried treats at all.
Disclaimer: this is less about the food and more about a new gadget I procured in the whole “getting married” process. In the last week of September, I finally got it out to play.
That’s right folks, this thing HOLDS TACOS. I know they now make taco shells now that are flat on the bottom to alleviate the need for this type of thing, but don’t tell Crate and Barrel that.
It’s technically only supposed to hold the four shells on the bottom (I think), but I’m the daughter of an engineer and like to be efficient. Plus, it makes sharing a lot easier between the two of us, and we both wanted three!
This particular taco recipe was nothing too special - a nice thing to know how to make in the event that I’m not trying any fun new recipes. I like to use ground turkey that I’ve browned with some taco seasoning (I’m beginning to make my own these days out of cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper). Just top with salsa, lettuce, sour cream, and green onions, and you’ve got yourself a fairly basic little taco.
I was so thrilled to finally bust this thing out, and I found it absolutely delightful. Big thank you to Rachel Juergensmeyer (oops, now Rachel Zak!) for making taco night a little less of a mess!