Too stressed to eat

I know, right?  So at one point I was stressed and eating ice cream for dinner.  Then I was stressed and bored because there’s no NHL hockey season yet so I was eating chips and dip, or salsa, or whatever OTHER junk I had on hand.  NOW I’ve started a new job and the first month has been, well, a challenge.  An unpleasant challenge. 

And now I’m so stressed I can’t eat.

Apparently the stress also causes me to clench my jaw because I can FEEL the muscles being tight and the accompanying headache sucks big time.  

HOWEVER, I am now home for the weekend, unwinding and I WILL be enjoying some foodie time.  My BFFF (Best Foodie Friend Forever) and I are making the trek to Wegmans, or Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s…or somewhere marvelous to get what we need for Thanksgiving.  Dinner will be for 26 this year I believe.  I am going to need more chairs.

I am responsible for turkey (I have two) and ham, stuffing (gluten free!), and gravy.  Oh and cranberry sauce because I cannot abide the jelly junk in the cans, mine is so much better and it’s SO SO easy.  Don’t believe me?  Let me tell you, my friend Karen from my former (wonderful) job asked me about fresh cranberry sauce and when I gave her my recipe, she couldn’t believe how easy it was… then she made it and definitely couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  This is a woman whose family didn’t like cranberry sauce and now they eat it for more than just Thanksgiving.  

It’s easy to remember too…just think one, one, and one.

One package of fresh cranberries, one cup of white sugar, one cup of orange juice.  

Wash the cranberries and pick through, getting rid of any stems, as well as berries that are soft, blemished, or under-ripe.  Combine the sugar and orange juice in a sauce pan and heat on medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add cranberries and cook until they start to pop (about 10-15 minutes).  Once the berries have popped, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  As the sauce cools it will thicken like jam/preserves.  

This is the basic recipe, but if you want to jazz it up you can add any one of the following:  the zest of one orange, one tablespoon fresh or candied ginger (grated), 2 ounces of gold or spiced rum, or even 2 teaspoons tequila and a finely chopped jalapeno pepper!  

I love cranberry sauce.  It’s that deep delicious mix of sweet and tart that is perfection with turkey, chicken, pork, or even a delicious beef roast.  It also SCREAMS “holiday!” and that is definitely something to be thankful for.

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The perfect Halloween food

Look at this thing!

It’s a horned melon…also known as a jelly melon. This is what I fed my family tonight. Ok, not JUST this…we actually had a delicious and VERY fast dinner (out of the fridge/pantry and onto the table in 45 minutes) of pork shoulder steaks – salt, pepper, and into the grill pan, fingerling sweet potatoes – peel, pop into a glass dish, cover with plastic wrap and nuke, dress with butter, salt, and some brown sugar, and a tossed salad with some feta cheese.

But hey, it’s close to Halloween and I had picked up this little thing at the local farmer’s market. So I cut it into wedges and THIS is what was inside…

Green slime and seeds! WOO HOOO! Now you can eat the rind, although my family didn’t. Also, some folks just eat the green flesh and spit out the seeds, but in this family, the whole thing went down…seeds and all.

So the taste? Something between a cucumber and a kiwi. Add salt, and it goes sweeter and more kiwi… leave it alone and the flavor stays more mellow and refreshing like a cuke. Really neat fruit and a fun thing to eat. Everyone gave it a thumbs up, so I think I’ll pick up another one or two to eat over the weekend. You should too….after all, it isn’t every food that can look THIS scary but taste this good!

A night off…

Means I actually MADE DINNER tonight. Man it felt GOOD to cook something again. I know that sounds weird, but I had really missed getting creative in the kitchen.

I had a ham steak in the freezer from one of our local pork producers. I also had those cute baby sweet potatoes and fresh green beans that I bought on Friday. The spouse had gotten some pearl onions for beef stew, and I had two Roma tomatoes that I needed to use. There’s that cheapskate gene again! I scrubbed up a bunch of those little taters and popped them in a 400 degree oven. I peeled and halved the onions, dropping them in a skillet with some olive oil. While they browned, I diced up the two tomatoes, and then added them to the skillet. Finally, my green beans went in along with a splash of chicken stock and sea salt. I let them steam a bit, then uncovered to cook off some of the juice from the tomatoes. I ended up with a nice medley there, and the tomato pulp added to the caramelized onion made a nice coating on those crisp-tender green beans. The ham steak went into a grill pan just to get warmed up and get a few grill marks. With good protein, all I want to apply is simple seasonings and HEAT.

I ended up with ham that had crispy skin and charred grill marks, potatoes that were perfectly creamy and sweet without any kind of seasoning, and savory green beans seasoned with tomato and those pearl onions. Completely satisfying. It was so satisfying in fact, that I concentrated more on eating than in remembering to take a photo for the blog tonight.

I wanted dessert, and I had four pears in the fridge. I also had two half bottles of Moscato wine. I’d never poached pears before, but I was in the mood to be adventurous. So, I poured the wine into a saucepan, added some organic raw honey, candied ginger, lemon peel, a vanilla bean, and a teeny bit of simple syrup. I let that mixture come to a boil, and then a simmer while I peeled the pears. I left the stems on and cored them from the bottom and then dropped them into the simmering poaching liquid. It took 30 minutes or so before the pears were soft (but not mushy) and I pulled them from the liquid, standing them in a bowl. I then turned the heat up slightly and let the poaching liquid reduce to a syrup. Into the fridge it went until cool and thick. I drizzled that syrup all over one of those pears and OH MY HEAVEN was it good. The pear was sweet, the reduced wine syrup still had a nice light acidic bite to it and the ginger came singing through clearly while not overpowering.

Some nights it’s so so GOOD to just have a night off to play with my food.

On another note, one of my Facebook friends suggested a mini feature within the blog called “Hey Stacy, look what I made!” He sent me a photo of his dinner tonight, and MAN did it look good. So I think I’d LOVE that. Since sometimes I end up eating instead of taking pictures, you all can send me photos of what YOU make for dinner.

Here’s what Ernie made:

Doesn’t that look good? Now he needs to give me the recipe!

So what have YOU made lately? Post here, or hit me up on Facebook. I’d love to know what’s cooking in YOUR kitchen!

Saying “goodbye” to summertime

Well the weather here in Southern Maryland has definitely taken a cool turn, and while I adore autumn more than any other season, I can tell you that it’s tough for me to say goodbye to all the amazing tastes of summertime.

After all, it’s summertime that makes those gardens grow and all that fresh produce show up at my local farmers markets. The peaches are done, tomatoes too, and all too soon the stalls will be bare of squash, zucchini, eggplant, and cucumbers. Melons are already on their way out and I find myself missing those little pint containers of blue and blackberries.

Now is when I take inventory of what I’ve got stored away for the winter and do my best to stockpile whatever I can to try and hold on to the bright juicy taste of summer. Tonight that involved some quality time with my melon baller. I had a seedless watermelon and two cantaloupe that I got at the market on Saturday. With my first night free from rehearsal, I used the time to open those fruits and scoop out trays of melon balls. I put the trays in the freezer and once they are frozen solid, I will scoop the icy melon balls into plastic bags for storage. Now, over the winter, when the boy is bemoaning that he hates potatoes and winter greens, I can pull out the makings of a bowl full of summertime! With frozen melon, it’s imperative to eat them while they are still partially frozen. The cold reminds you of warmer weather, yes…but the ice crystals in the melon keep it a bit crunchy, more like fresh melon. Once completely thawed, I’m afraid the melon goes quite soggy and flat. No fun for anyone.

Also, I grabbed the final two large zucchini from the fridge and made zucchini pancakes with dinner. Two large zucchini are grated into a colander and salted (drawing the water out). While the draining is going on, I grated half a large onion into a bowl, pressed the water out of the zucchini and added it along with two eggs and a very small amount of glutinous rice flour (MAYBE 1/4 of a cup). I also added a bunch of cracked black pepper and mixed it all together with a fork. Heating up a bit of oil in a skillet I scooped out small amounts of the mixture, forming them into pancakes about 2.5 inches or so across. Once the first side was well browned and crispy, I flipped them and cooked on the second side. This took maybe 2 or 3 minutes per side, depending on how big I made each one. I’m SO not a perfectionist! Once cooked to crispy on both sides, I drained them on paper towels and served them with roasted chicken drumsticks and a very summery Caprese salad. That was dinner! The boy wasn’t super pleased with the zucchini, although he’ll eat his weight in sweet potato latkes! Anyway, it turned out to be a good dinner, and I’m already looking forward to tomorrow night when I will continue my stashing away for summer by making batches of arugula-basil pesto, my chimichurri, putting pears and peaches into the freezer, and finishing up the last of the fresh okra in my fridge.

How are you saying goodbye to summertime, and what are YOU most looking forward to this fall?

Party Animals

I mentioned celebrating my grandson’s (I am not old enough to have a grandson. Seriously) 5th birthday this week. He’s starting school next week, so his circle of friends is pretty limited at the moment. Nonetheless, I wanted to throw him a party/dinner that was fun and kid friendly without it being at one of those fast food or chain restaurants. The food is better for him, and for us, and surprisingly enough, by sticking to keeping it simple, turned out to be popular with the kids and adults alike. We ended up having 15 guests for his birthday dinner, ranging in age from 71 to 2. Luckily, a good time was had by all.

Jake’s Menu:
Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers
Raw baby carrots, cucumber rounds, and celery sticks
Assorted dips: tzatziki, roasted garlic and eggplant, roasted red pepper and eggplant
Refrigerator pickles
Heirloom cherry tomatoes and mozzerella cubes
Potato and tortilla chips with salsa, guac, and onion dip
Sliced canteloupe and watermelon

Of course we had ice cream and cake too. Unfortunately for me, not gluten-free cake, but the ice cream was delicious.

The common denominator in this menu is the plethora (how’s that for an SAT word, kids?) of raw or no-cook ingredients. Veggies and melons that only needed cutting and arranging on a platter are easy, beautiful, and delicious. Pairing them with different dips makes them interactive and fun for the kids. All I needed was a sharp knife and enough platters to arrange them on. Chips aren’t exactly HEALTHY, but it’s a birthday, and I did use organic Greek yogurt and locally grown ingredients for the tzatziki, guac, salsa, and eggplant dips. I grilled hot dogs from Applegate Farms and beefed up (ha! I kill me…) my grass fed burger with vegetables to make delicious and savory patties.

Mushrooms and onions always find a way into my kitchen. I add them to all sorts of things. Since raw mushrooms aren’t a huge favorite amongst the family, I usually cook them very soon after purchase. The notable exception to this rule is those delicious portabello caps, which belong on a hot grill. I had previously purchased some criminis, and had sliced and sauteed them in olive oil and garlic. Those garlic mushrooms and a red onion made the perfect addition to those burgers, adding moisture, flavor, and best of all, enabling me to stretch out the beef to make more patties.

Birthday Burgers:
3 pounds ground beef, straight out of the refrigerator (grass-fed! Trust me it makes a difference)
3 eggs, cold (again, get the good eggs)
1 large red onion
16 ounces (raw) packaged “Baby Bella” mushrooms, sliced, sauteed in olive oil and garlic. After cooking, the mushrooms will shrink down quite a bit, so don’t let the thought of a pound of mushrooms stress you out. Also, you want these cold or room temperature. Warm mushrooms will cook the meat and make it difficult on your hands when it comes to mixing!
Salt and pepper

Break up the beef into chunks, emptying into a LARGE mixing bowl. Finely chop (I used my Food Chopper from Pampered Chef) the onion and then the mushrooms and add to the beef. Season simply but liberally with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Add the eggs. If you are using very large eggs, you may only need 2. The egg is there for moisture and to help bind everything together.

Mix with wet hands ONLY until things are combined. Seriously, this is the key to a good burger – the LESS you play with it, the better your burgers will be. You want to mix as little as possible, and use your hands so that the ingredients are combined but not packed together. This is the difference between tough and tender when it comes to hamburgers. Keep that thought in mind when forming your patties as well. Don’t grab and MASH the burgers into a patty, form them in your hands by rotating the ball of meat, using your thumbs to dimple the center, and using your fingers to form the rest of the patty. That dimple in the middle will keep your burger from puffing up in the center and give you a nice flat surface for all your burger dressings.

Usually a pound of beef gives me 4 patties, but the addition of the onion and mushrooms allowed me to stretch that a bit. I ended up with 16 truly adult sized burgers from this batch. Once my burgers were formed and loaded in layers onto a parchment lined sheet tray, I put them back in the fridge while I turned on the grill. Unlike other meats, ground beef cooks best when it is cold. I use a hot, clean grill, and I flip my burgers only once. Here is a handy list of tricks to making the perfect burger. I topped these burgers with local cheddar cheese, however they are so danged good you can top them with anything – or leave ’em naked – and they’ll be just as good.

So that was the party menu. Everyone had a great time, the food was a hit and my little buddy turned another year older. Happy Birthday Jake – your Gigi loves you very much.

What a weekend!

It's a foodie's paradise.

It's a foodie's paradise.Sometimes I get so caught up playing with my food that I don’t get a chance to post. Such was the case yesterday and most of the day today!

On Friday, I made a trip to a magical place right within my own local community. Here in Southern Maryland we have a large community of Amish and Mennonites. They are AMAZING farmers. They all have produce stands throughout the county, and sell quality vegetables, fruit, and flowers. They manage to produce way more than they can sell at their stands, so three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) there is a produce auction in Loveville Maryland. The Amish and Mennonite growers bring produce to the auction by the wagon load to be purchased by buyers from store owners, to produce stand owners, to people like me – foodies looking for a new adventure, and maybe some extra produce to preserve and save for the cold winter months when fresh summer food is a distant memory.

HOLY MOLY what an experience! I had never visited the auction before and I was absolutely blown away by the amount of food there. The auction starts promptly at 9 am, so I got a buyer’s number and settled in to watch. Wagon load after wagon load pulled through two drive in lanes where buyers bid on lots of watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, tomatoes, corn, peppers… if you can grow it, pick it, and cook it, it was there. It was fun to watch the auctioneer solicit bids for watermelons… most went for around $1-$2 a piece. The catch is, you are sometimes buying a lot of 100!

I had no need for 50 watermelons, or 100 cantaloupes, or six boxes of cucumbers (God forbid!), so I moseyed to the other end of the auction where the “small lots” were being sold. Small lots are much more manageable, and on this Friday…also more popular. Here I found flats of blackberries, heirloom tomatoes, bags of corn, half bushels of peaches and apples, and SINGLE watermelons! I got to bidding early and picked up 6 pints of beautiful multicolored cherry tomatoes for $ .60 each! Doing the calculations, I spent $3.60 and got six pints, where it usually costs me $4 for one! I also bought a flat of Roma tomatoes, a flat of blackberries, four bags of lima beans, and two huge baskets of mixed produce (cukes, squash, potatoes, an assortment of peppers, green beans, onions, eggplant, etc.)

My two mixed baskets. LOOK at how much stuff is in there. I paid under 7 bucks a piece!

I spent $50. Yeah, I had to make THREE trips from the car to the house to carry it all, and I spent $50!!

So I have used the last two days to prep and cook and package as much of that produce as I could. I made two huge squash and potato strata and then portioned them out into individual serving sizes using my FoodSaver. Into the freezer they went! I also made two massive pans of lasagna. Since Stretch and I can’t have wheat pasta, I sliced zucchini and eggplant, salted them well and allowed the salt to draw some of the water out, and then after wiping the salt free, used the vegetable planks as our “noodles”. After baking and letting the lasagnas cool, I portioned them out, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and then sealed them in Ziploc bags for the freezer. Those Roma tomatoes ended up being a huge pot of marinara sauce – thank you Alton Brown!

Cherry tomatoes! Don’t they look cheerful?

The cherry tomatoes met their ultimate scrumptious end in a number of ways…. I gave away two pints. I combined some tomatoes to cubed mozzarella and peeled garlic cloves with fresh oregano and basil, and covered them in a basil canola oil. Fast and yummy snackage for the week. I made a quick Greek style salad with tomatoes, and cucumber, and thinly sliced red onion, dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice. I made a corn salsa with those tomatoes and some of the peppers, and I oven dried the rest like this recipe. The green beans and the lima beans were blanched and put in the freezer. I also put up some okra for later gumbos.

Ten pints of blackberries, and another ten pints of blueberries are frozen and put away. The blackberries were massive, glossy, and that combination of sweet and tart that is just perfect. The blueberries are huge, juicy, and taste like summertime.My big beautiful blueberries

I did get to make my chimichurri! So that will be seeing some quality time with beef later. I’ll probably make fajitas since I have many many peppers to deal with.

WHEW. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

By the way, if you ever get the opportunity to go to the Loveville Produce Auction, DO IT! Get some friends, go and buy some good stuff and then divide it up. You will save so much money, and even if you don’t purchase, it’s really really cool to see all the growers, and where all that food comes from. I’m including some photos of my visit, and if you want to read another writer’s account of their visit, just click here and enjoy.

Happy Bidding!

Like a stoplight of bell peppers

Boxes of beautifully colored bell peppers

Unbelievable flowers, in almost neon colors.

Aren't they just gorgeous?

These purple hull peas tempted me. OH did they tempt me. The pears too, I just wanted to poach them in something.It's a foodie's paradise.