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.

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!

sweet childhood memories

As all my childhood friends know, Cindy’s house was the place to be.  And besides being the nicest people on the planet, there were two other reasons: the best junk food and the most makeup.  With four girls in the house, the plethora of makeup is no surprise, though Cindy (the youngest and wildest) somehow acquired the bulk of the supplies.  But the food choices were astounding.  Everything my mother wouldn’t buy, the Linns had in vast supply.  Soda, cheese puffs, every kind of Dorito and masses of cookies.  As we would open the pantry doors, it was almost as if there was a chorus of salty and sweet voices beckoning to us.  At Cindy’s birthday party one year, we made our own individual pizzas.  And this was pre-Boboli.  Mrs. Linn was a party master.  There was also a pond in the backyard for winter frolicking and skating.  Like I said, it was the place to  be.  So when Cindy sent me her mother’s special hot cocoa recipe, the foodies and I whipped up a batch in hopes of making some new memories.  It worked; my kids love the cocoa and are so pleased that they have a (not so) secret recipe from my childhood, which, in their words, was “a long time ago.”  Whatever.

So here’s to Mrs. Linn!  Thank you for opening your home to bunches of giggling girls.  And if we didn’t say it enough then, thank you for all the memories of a house full of laughter and love.

Mrs. Linn surrounded by her adorable grandchildren!

Hot Cocoa

from Mrs. Linn

Note:  This makes a LOT of cocoa, which is great for a large family.  Halve the recipe if you don’t need as much.

[print recipe]

  • 1 8-quart box dry milk
  • 1 6-ounce jar powdered non-dairy creamer
  • 1 pound sifted powered sugar (4 3/4 cups)
  • 1 16-ounce jar pre-sweetened cocoa powder (such as Swiss Miss)
  1. Mix all ingredients together and store in an air-tight container.
  2. To prepare, mix 1/4 cup mix with 3/4 boiling water and stir.

We  created some cocoa faces while waiting for the water to boil.  What can I say—we were bored.

the cocoa runneth over

One of the things I used to look forward to when I would come home from college was the food.  No matter how good the cafeteria service seemed, there’s nothing like home cookin’.  So when I get a chance to visit with my much-younger college-age friends and their family, I like to put on a good spread.  A few of weeks ago, we had a brunch that left us wishing we could stuff more into our already full tummies.  Our mouths were clamoring for more while our stomachs were saying, “Are you crazy?”

Here’s the menu: Malted Hot Chocolate with Vanilla-Infused Cream, Classic Breakfast Casserole, Cinnamon Rolls.  A while back, I used a vanilla bean in a custard recipe.  It’s a shame to throw away the vanilla pod after you’ve scraped the seeds, so I stuck it in a jar, poured granulated sugar over it, and sealed the jar.  After a few days, the sugar had a wonderful vanilla aroma.  Perfect in whipped cream, tea, or coffee.

I have tried many breakfast casseroles, and this is the easiest and most consistently successful recipe.  I found this years ago in the Edwards of Virginia cookbook, which my Dad gave me for Christmas (I think he hoped to be the taste tester).  You must use Jimmy Dean (mild or hot; not sage) or better quality sausage to get the delicious flavor.  Cheap sausage will feel rubbery and won’t brown nicely.  This dish is assembled the night before, then baked for only 30 minutes.  The edges will be slightly puffed and crisp, with the cheese melted and bubbling on top.  One casserole will feed about 8 people.  Click here for the recipe.

I will describe the cinnamon rolls, along with lots of photos, in another post.  I want to be sure to capture how easy they are because the word “yeast” seems to strike terror into the hearts of many.  Really, you need not fear.  They are worth the bit of effort and can also be made ahead and baked fresh in the morning—perfect for the upcoming holidays!

Malted Hot Chocolate with Vanilla-Infused Cream

from foodie plus 4

[print recipe]

  • 5 cups milk
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup malted milk powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • Whoppers for garnish
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2–3 tablespoons vanilla sugar, depending on your sweet tooth
  1. In a heavy saucepan, gently heat milk until the edges begin to bubble.
  2. Turn heat down to low.  Whisk in cocoa, malt, sugar, and salt. (If you like a stronger malt flavor, increase the malt and decrease the sugar).
  3. Whip cream with an electric mixer and add sugar when almost done.
  4. Divide cocoa into mugs, dollop on the cream, and top with a Whopper.
  5. Serves about 6.

a good cup of tea

I used to be a low-maintenance tea drinker.  I was satisfied with any bag of tea.  But my husband has wrecked me.  It started last Christmas.  We decided that we would give each other one small Christmas gift so that we could start saving to finish our basement.  And let me interject here that hubby has many endearing qualities and natural talents, but gift-giving isn’t one of them. (Remember that saying of coal in your stocking? G once presented me with a velvet ring box filled with an actual lump of coal that he had sought out at a mineral and rock store.  He still smiles remembering how I threw it across the room.)  However, over the last 18 years, he has stepped up to the challenge of surprising me from time-to-time, and last year was one of those occasions.  He visited a tea purveyor (Simpson & Vail) in the next town and bought me three types of loose tea, one green and two black teas.  I thought it a very creative and thoughtful gift.  And then I tasted it.  My favorite was the Kenya Black Tea, which was strong and bold but not the least bitter.

I have traveled to England, and even had tea at Fortnum & Mason, London’s tea mecca (there’s a great video of the store on the website), but I’ve never appreciated a fine cup of tea until recently.  There is no comparison between the chopped up bits of tea in the store-bought bags and the loose leaves sold in tins.  Another relatively local tea company is Harney & Sons.  My friend Andrea turned me on to their flavored teas, particularly Hot Cinnamon Spice.  This tea is perfect for a blustery fall day.  It smells wonderful and has an intensely cinnamon flavor, sort of like a melted red hot candy.  Only the sachets were available where I bought the tea, but it’s cheaper to buy the bag of loose tea.

Hubby is a purist and doesn’t go for the flavored teas (or coffees, for that matter).  So when we went on our 24-hour journey last month, we stumbled upon a store that sold EVERY tea from Harney & Sons.  And you could taste test any of them.  G bought a tea called Eight at the Fort.  This tea has quite a history:  the blend was served at dinner at The Fort in Colorado when eight world leaders (including President Clinton, Tony Blair, Boris Yeltsin, and Helmut Kohl) met in 1997.  It took us only 2 weeks to go through a tin, so next time we’re buying in bulk.  With this tea, we purchased this tea filter and laid to rest our annoying tea ball, which was difficult to measure and clean.

Christmas is a great time to restock on delicious teas, so tell me your favorites!  Happy sipping.

frozen chai tea smoothie

I’ve been all about comfort food lately.  The leaves have fallen, and the weather was cold (29 degrees the other night), which in my mind translate into soups, stews, and hot bowls of goodness.  But when it hit 71 degrees here a couple of days ago, this frozen chai tea smoothie recipe was all I could think about.  It was like a mirage that was just out of reach.  I had seen the recipe the week before in a friend’s Rachael Ray magazine but didn’t think I’d be making a frozen smoothie until 2010.  How wrong I was.  Between laying on cushionless lawn furniture (we’d already stored the cushions for the winter) soaking in the sunshine and taking walks with the kids before the impending snow season, I went to the store to make us (mainly me) some of these:

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The recipe is perfect as is.  I only added a dallop more of frozen yogurt with a puddle of honey on top for an extra treat.  What really makes this drink is not the tea, but the spices.  There is no better flavor than freshly ground nutmeg.  And the cardamom—yum.  There is no substitute.  I used some that Cyndi brought me from Finland, and I noticed it was originally imported from Guatemala. It’s traveled more than I have.

Enjoy, especially those of you in the still-hot southern states.

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Globetrotting cardamom.

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For more ideas, click over to Works-For-Me-Wednesday at We Are THAT Family.

Frozen Chai Tea Smoothie

from Simon Majumdar, author of Eat My Globe

[printable recipe]

  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 5 whole cloves
  • One 1-inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 7 bags black tea (I used Twinings English Breakfast)
  • 1 pint low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 cups ice cubes
  1. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup water, honey, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and ginger over low heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Remove from the heat, add the tea bags, and let steep for 5 minutes.  Strain, then let the tea cool for 20 minutes.
  3. Using a blender, combine the tea, frozen yogurt, nutmeg, and cardamom.  Add the ice cubes and blend until smooth.

one bee sting, one fire, and a raccoon

I’ve always heard things happen in threes. Here’s proof.

We just celebrated Gourmet Night last weekend. This is a tradition where a few couples who love food get together after days of preparation and eat fabulous food while talking about, well, mostly food. And although we have put on several Gourmet Nights, this was the first time we have included our little foodies. Now that there are no more diapers to change, bottles to warm, or wailing to calm (okay, there was a little wailing), having the children—11 total—join us is actually enjoyable. Aside from one bee sting, one fire, and a raccoon, all went well.

Did you catch that word? FIRE?! Yeah, there was fire, folks. The full-blown, get-out-the-fire-extinguisher kind. We had moved our party inside to have dessert (believe it or not, there was a chill and many bugs in the air here in CT). The kids were settling down for a movie, and the adults were finishing dessert, when my friend Jennifer points outside and shouts, “FIRE!” Well, that immediately roused the pyromaniacal instincts in the children—all 11 of them. Not only did the kids race to the French doors to see the fire, which by the way was caused by the wind blowing a paper tablecloth over the citronella candle, but they proceeded to run outdoors TOWARD the fire to get a closer look. I, of course, grabbed my point-and-shoot and ran to the scene, while my husband grabbed the fire extinguisher (he’s a fire-fighter’s son) and doused the crisis before anyone got too close. Or got any good pictures. This is all I got:

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As for the bee sting (ouch!), it happened early in the evening and threatened to derail a promising night. But my friend’s tough foodie son powered through and even rallied to take this photo of a very hungry and perhaps slightly possessed raccoon.

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This photographer also concocted these delicious (or so I heard; they were sucked down before I got even a sip or a photo) Pineapple Lemonade Spritzers.

Pineapple Lemonade Spritzers

from allrecipes.com

  • 3 cups pineapple juice
  • 3 lemons, juiced
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 6 slices lemon
  • 1 (2 liter) bottle carbonated water

  1. To make the pineapple lemon syrup: In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine pineapple juice, lemon juice, sugar and honey. Bring to a boil, and cook for 1 minute. Allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight.
  2. Fill 6 glasses with ice. Place a slice of lemon in each glass. Pour in 2 fluid ounces pineapple lemon syrup. Fill glasses to the top with carbonated water; stir.
  3. The syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.