bites out part two: near and far

Food photos speak to me. When I peruse a recipe, I can usually imagine what it will taste like and whether or not I’ll like it. However, when I look at a photo in food magazines or see a dish … Continue reading

finnish finds part 1

This summer I took a trip that was about 15 years overdue. I went to Finland to visit my best friend. When she married her Finnish sweetheart more than 15 years ago, I promised to visit. And after years of child bearing and procrastinating, I finally splurged and traveled to the Scandinavia for a week. By myself. Ahhhhhhhh.

I probably would have not visited Finland were it not my friend’s home, but I learned several things on the trip and tasted some beautiful food.

First, my friend Cyndi and I spent a few nights in Helsinki, staying at a fabulous and reasonable hotel. Helsinki is a small city, by New York standards, and is extremely pedestrian friendly. Within the first day, I noticed that all the women were tall and blonde, and to smile or speak to strangers on the street is considered weird. Some of the city highlights were the open air market, the shopping (pricey but beautiful clothing and home goods) and the museum. Here are some pics:

We also ate at several bistro-like places for lunch where you go through a cafeteria-style line and order already prepared salads and sandwiches. Prices for these meals are much more reasonable than the sit-down restaurants, which we discovered when we dined at Grotesk (I know, weird name) one night.

The starters at Grotesk were stunning – I think one was a fish terrine salad and mine was a soup with a towering crouton covered with chorizo foam. Sadly, the entrees failed to impress us. But our wine, the beautiful outdoor patio and our incredibly witty conversation buoyed the evening.

After a 4.5-hour train ride north, we stumbled off the train (very clean and comfortable) to find Cyndi’s husband waiting for us with a much-needed drink. Love him.

My first meal in the countryside was smoked fish. Anyone who knows me understands that I’m not crazy about fish, particularly the smoked or raw kind. However, this fish was caught and smoked the day we ate it. Cyndi’s husband Sixten told us as he prepped for dinner that the fish was still warm when he purchased it from the local smokehouse. And it was delicious. I even had seconds. The delicate fish had a salty and obviously smokey flavor with a tender texture.

These experiences were just the beginning of my Finnish adventures. Our culinary wanderings extended to pastries the next day, which opened up a whole new world of tasty possibilities. Too many for this post.

my kids are smarter than I am

Because the little foodies were cooking dinner once a week this summer, W got in the habit of making “ours derves” or “apperderves”, depending on his mood. These tasty tidbits were presented on various plates and usually involved marshmallows and chocolate.

Here is the latest installment (we were out of marshmallows).

This is the Melting Volcano, also known as a stoned wheat thin topped with a chocolate chip, Hershey’s syrup and fall-theme sprinkles for the hot lava.

That was impressive enough. Then my 9-year-old daughter decided to get into the action with this:

“Oh!” I said. “Those must be two volcanoes with lava flowing down them.”

She sighed as she corrected me. “No, Mom. That is igneous rock.”

Of course it is.

foodie cousins

Of my four brothers, I would say probably only one of them is a true foodie.  So on my side, I have a sore lack of foodie family.  Which I didn’t necessarily miss because my foodie friends provide many opportunities to share and glory in the obsession.  However, there is a certain envy I have of those who spend hours on the phone and weekends away with their sisters.  I used to beg my mom to give me an older sister (yes, older) as my birthday or Christmas gift.  She had the same reaction as I do now when my kids occasionally ask me for another sibling: hysterical laughter tinged with fear.

All this background to say that I had a wonderful girlie weekend with two of my cousins.  Our three mothers were sisters, and sadly there’s only one sister left.  Thus our time retelling family stories, rediscovering forgotten facts and bantering Wood family history has become precious to us all.  And at the center of our chatter, there’s always amazing food.  It’s not always fancy or elaborate, but certainly tasty.  A couple of weeks ago, the nearer cousin, Claire, and I jetted off (actually, we drove) to Rhode Island under the cloak of surprise and appeared on Mair’s doorstep.  We had secured an evening with her through her stealth husband.  On the menu:  gourmet cheese platter with grapes, pomegranate mojitos (click for a great video recipe), Chicken Marsala, salad with a delicious vinaigrette and Chocolate Hazelnut Brownie Cake from Jacques Pepin’s Fast Food My Way.

I love this slate cheese tray!  I found one online here, along with another how-to video.  These slate trays even come with a pencil so you are able to label the cheeses.

I hate to say that I didn’t write down the measurements for Chicken Marsala, however, this is a basic dish that begins the same way as many others.  First, slice the boneless chicken breasts in half horizontally.  Pound with the flat side of a meat mallet until uniformly thin, then dredge in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Fry lightly in olive oil and transfer to an oven-proof dish to keep warm.  After all the chicken has been cooked, add a few tablespoons of butter and saute diced shallots and mushrooms and cook until softened.  Deglaze the pan with a cup of Marsala wine and simmer, adjusting the seasoning to taste.  Pour the sauce over warm chicken.  Yum!  And cheers to the best older sisters I could ever have wished for.

A little nod to every family's complicated history!

marvelous manchego

On our recent trip to NH, hubby and I stopped at Fiddlehead Farms Marketplace in Dover, NH.  What a treat!  As I stepped into the market, I knew I would make many detours to revisit this spot.  I had come in search of some incredible olive tapenade (made by the Terra Cotta Pasta Company) and was surprised to find so much more.  My first stop was the cheese counter.  We had a four-hour drive ahead of us, so a baguette and some cheese sounded better than the golden arches for lunch.  I bought some soft cheese and dip for easy spreading in the car, but I also tasted (yes, you may taste any cheese before purchasing) the Spanish Manchego.  Incredible.  The cheese lady (is there a name for that?) recommended I buy a brick of quince paste to pair with the Manchego, and for 99¢ more, it hardly seemed a risk.  I wandered through the aisles and gawked at the fresh produce, gourmet oils and vinegars, organic and local frozen meats, an inviting deli and a bursting bakery.  If we only lived closer…

However, I was pleased with our purchase.  This, along with a glass of red wine, was our snack when we arrived home that night:

Manchego is a dry, firm sheep’s milk cheese.  It has a sharp initial taste with a nutty, earthy finish.  And the quince paste added a mellow sweetness that was perfect with the audacity of the cheese.  I loved them both.   If you can find a wheel of this cheese so the slice is fresh, it would make an easy, elegant and exceptionally delicious appetizer plate.

thanksgiving color

My favorite recipe from this Thanksgiving was the Cranberry Orange Sauce.  I adapted this from Martha Stewart by adding candied instead of fresh ginger (by the way, if you want to make your own candied ginger, here’s a recipe).  There weren’t too many takers—most of the kids liked the canned jellied cranberry sauce—so I had quite a bit left.  This sauce was delicious atop my Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Puree and dabbed on mushrooms stuffed and baked with Cambozola cheese.

Cranberry Orange Sauce with Candied Ginger

adapted from Martha Stewart

[print recipe]

  • 3 cups (12 ounces) fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon chopped candied ginger
  • 1 navel orange, peel and pith removed, flesh cut into segments with a sharp knife
  1. Stir together cranberries, sugar, and ginger in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved and cranberries begin to pop, about 7 minutes.
  2. Add 1 cup water; simmer until thickened slightly, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in orange. Let cool.

it’s a party, and I’ll eat if I want to

This was the theme of my friend Jennifer‘s birthday party: eat, eat, and eat some more.

And I’m using the term “party” very loosely.  It was more like two friends descending on the birthday girl’s home and cooking a feast that could have fed 12, but just fed us.  I’m still full, and this was a week ago.

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We ate so much that I cannot fit it all into one post.  I’ll do dip and dinner here, then dessert later.  Such is life, always waiting for dessert.

First on the menu was a devastatingly naughty and delicious Buffalo Chicken Dip that I found on Tasty Kitchen.  I have seen many variations of this dip plastered all over the internet, but this is the one I picked because it’s served warm.  And it’s chilly up North.  I followed the recipe (click on the dip title above) except that I baked the dip instead of making it in on the stove.  There’s nothing worse than trying to scrape melted cheese out of a saucepan.  The recipe made a TON of dip, so I would halve it next time.  But it worked out because I left half at home for the abandoned family’s dinner.

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Along with a lovely salad tossed with toasted walnuts and dried cranberries, foodie friend Nicole conquered the daring task of Italian Sausage and Wild Mushroom Risotto.  There is a bit of mystery surrounding risotto.  Many foodies are intimidated by it and think it takes too long to make.  I can personally attest to the fact that it does not take forever and is not difficult.  The only demanding part is where most of us fall short: risotto needs constant attention during the 20 minutes or so of its cooking.  You cannot leave it like other grains then return and stir.  Undivided attention.  Don’t we all need some of that?

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See? Doesn’t Nicole look so peaceful and happy cooking the risotto?  No stress at all.

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DSC_0106Did I mention the garlic bread?  I took some softened salted butter, mixed it with a mashed clove of garlic and some Italian herbs, then spread it on the halves before broiling.  One half of the bread also had some Asiago cheese.  Yum.

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