Friday, August 28, 2009

Fresh Salsa

So do you all remember my mom and I growing vegetable plants from seed? Well look at the fruits of our labor!!!:

We were pleasantly surprised to have a huge watermelon plant because we didn't plant it. We did plant yellow squash but none of them took off. But the Roma tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers are magnificently abundant!

With all those tomatoes I decided to try my hand at some salsa.

The ingredients:

white onion
green pepper
garlic cloves
jalapeno pepper
Roma tomatoes
lots of salt and pepper

First, I roughly chopped the ingredients (except the lime) and took the seeds and center from the tomatoes.

Then in a food processor, I added the onion, peppers, garlic, cilantro and just a handful of tomatoes and coarsely pulsed it all. I then put that in a large bowl and added the juice of a lime and salt and pepper. Next I filled the food processing bowl with tomatoes and pulsed them so they're a tad chunkier than the peppers and onions. Then mixed everything together and continued to adjust the salt and pepper.

The finished product! I think it will taste much better after it's refrigerated overnight.

We still have a lot of tomatoes left so I think my mom is going to make some tomato juice and as long as they last until next weekend, I want to make bruschetta for our Labor Day party.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Melting Pot

On Monday we celebrated Adam's 21st birthday at the Melting Pot. A fondue restaurant that has been open for less than a year in Harrisburg, the Melting Pot offered us a great meal and wonderful service! This is the perfect place to go for a special occasion but make sure you're super hungry and have lots of time - you don't want to rush the experience. We had the Big Night Out - a four course meal of cheese fondue, salad, main course of meats and veggies and chocolate fondue dessert. Adam had his first drink - a blackberry margarita - and was proud to be carded!

We had a nice corner table with two burners so to start the evening, we had the Quattro Fromaggio cheese blend and the Wisconsin Trio (fontina, butterkase & bleu). The waiter brought all of the ingredients and mixed the rich and creamy concoction right in front of us - white wine, cheese, herbs.. yum! We ate the cheese with bread, apples and veggies.

I don't have photos of the salad course but we had casear salads, caprese salads and a California salad. All very good!

Here is the birthday boy with his sisters. We got the special occasion package which included the Melting Pot champagne flute filled with truffles, along with the 3 balloons and a framed group photo.

Next came the main course. Here we had shrimp, two different beefs, pork and chicken with mushroom sachettes.
We got to again choose two different cooking styles - we chose the classic court bouillon and the Mojo style, which has a Caribbean flair of garlic and citrus.
There were several different dipping sauces - curry & teriyaki were my favorites - and seasoning for the meat and veggies.
The meat and vegetables were seasoned ahead of time and then mixed with the cooking style, everything came out very flavorful! I was pleasantly surprised!
We also got a bowl of vegetables which we just put in the bouillon for a few minutes and scooped them out with the 'search and rescue' spoon.

Out came dessert, including a slice of cheesecake with a candle in it for Adam. For dipping in the chocolate, we got marshmallows, pound cake, brownies, cheesecake, crispy cereal treats, strawberries and bananas.

We chose the yin & yang - a blend of milk and white chocolates, and the tiramisu - milk chocolate, cream, kahlua and lady finger bites. Decadent!

I highly recommend experiencing The Melting Pot, whether it's for a special occasion like it was for us or just for dessert and wine. The ambiance of the restaurant is very charming with low lighting and privacy - we couldn't see any other diners from our table.
This dinner was a great way for Adam to start his birthday celebration. How the rest of the night went, well... we celebrated his 21st year with all the expected bells and whistles! I'm happy to report he has fully recovered and ready to dive into his senior year of college!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ranch Crackers

It's been quite a few days since I've posted and I'm not happy about that! Lots of things have been going on that I want to share - like my brother's 21st birthday and a friend's baby shower - but as I work on those posts, here is a recipe for one of my favorite snacks. So easy and always a crowd pleaser. This is my Aunt Donna's recipe:
12-16 oz. oyster crackers
1 package Ranch salad dressing mix (Hidden Valley)
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/2-1 teaspoon dill weed
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4-1 cup vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine the ranch mix, oil and herbs in a small bowl. Place the crackers in a large bowl and pour mixture over crackers. Stir to coat the crackers. Spread onto a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly browned.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Taste of the Nation Philadelphia

I entered a drawing to win a ticket to the Taste of the Nation fundraiser in Philadelphia from Foodbuzz, thinking my chances of winning would be few to none. Then, a few days later, I received an email saying I won a trip to the event! Very excited, I mapped out my train schedule from Harrisburg to Phila, assessed the cab ride to the hotel, and felt prepared for the event where I was in hopes of trying some of the best food the city had to offer... and I was NOT disappointed...
After weeks of waiting, Monday finally rolled around and I ventured to Philadelphia's Loew's Hotel. A large ballroom was filled to the brim with world-renouned chefs and mixologists from Philadelphia eating establishments serving up incredible creations that reminded me of why I love food so much! I wrote down everything I sampled and attempted to take a lot of photos to help you get the feeling of this great event. The proceeds of the tickets sales, along with the live and silent auction sales, went to the Food Trust, (a Philadelphia non-profit working to make sure those in need are fed), the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger (fights hunger through education & outreach), Philabundence (hunger relief organization) and the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center (promotes food security).

So I enter the ballroom and feeling very overwhelmed, I didn't know where to start! I wandered past a few food displays and made my first stop at the City Tavern Restaurant where the executive chef, Walter Staib, was making some delicious shrimp topped bruschetta. Oh yum! What a great start to the evening! The City Tavern was actually the only restaurant at the event that I've eaten at before.
Wandering more, I found the Rum Bar where they were serving custom-made mojitos. I chose to have a cherry blueberry mojito... I must say, it was a good choice.

Mojito Buffet

I then moved on to try some truffled mac 'n cheese from the Varga Bar. Rich, creamy and woodsy. A very unique twist on the classic. Next I came across some the Twenty Manning stand where I sampled some savory escargot brouchette. Then along to try some Indian fare from Bindi. I tried a great namkeen (street snack) of a lobster corn bread puff. From PS7's, actually a Washington, D.C. hot spot, I sampled a baya sabrosa - a lovely cocktail made from Barsol Pisco, hibiscus tea, lime, blueberry puree, egg white and sumac berry powder. Yum! With it had a slice of chicken sausage with compote (French for applesauce).

Baya Sabrosa & chicken sausage and compote

I moved on to try a lobster spring roll with aioli from the Octo Waterfront Grill. Then on to try some brie, strawberries and pumpernickel bread round from the Di Bruno Bros. To wash it all down, a Maker's Mark Manhattan from the Dylan Bar was a perfect choice!

The DiBruno Bros. spread

Moving on, I tried a pork belly bun from Chifta, one of the five restaurants of the Garces Restaurant Group. Chef Jose Garces is a highly honored chef in the US since the opening of his first restaurant in Philadelphia, Amada, in 2005. Chef Garces is nationally recognized, especially after appearing on Iron Chef America and defeating Bobby Flay. I believe this my first time trying pork belly and I'm now a big fan of this savory, tender meat!

The pork belly bun with hoisin glaze, pickled daikon & carrot, and togarashi mayo

On to the Le Castagne stand where shot glasses of gazpacho topped with yellowfin tuna were being served. Since I didn't have a drink, I went to the Southern Wine & Spirits thinking I could try a red wine, but when I asked one of the pourers what would go well with the gazpacho and tuna, she said, 'when in doubt go with something sparkley!' I loved this answer! She poured me a glass of brut Domaine Ste. Michelle.

Brut with the gazpacho & tuna

How fitting that the event served exclusively Belgian beers - the three that I greatly enjoy: Leffe (Blonde & Brown), Hoegaarden and Stella Artois. Those of you who know me, know Hoegaarden (I recently found out it's pronounced who-garden) is my absolute favorite beer so I couldn't resist having a glass. I'm not sure if it was the best to have with dessert but sure enough, it tasted great with key lime and cocnut cream tarts from Tartes.

Hoegaarden & tarts (excuse the messy tablecloth - people have been eating for quite sometime at this point!)

Moving on yet again, I came across Little Fish, a restaurant serving up a crab on a pumpernickel round, topped with cucumber and egg yolk.

Then I tried something I never fathomed would go together - a fois gras covered bing cherry from Blackfish. While I wasn't a big fan of the flavor combo, I was happy to give it a try! I can see how someone would like the salty and sweet tastes together though.

Cherry & fois gras

But then I found a salty and sweet combo I loved: watermelon with feta and a balsamic reduction from The Witch. Oh how great! The feta used was very firm so it was a nice contrast to the supple watermelon texture.

For my final cocktail of the evening I tried a delicously unique creation from APO called the Aviation. Gin, Luxardo, creme de violette and lemon juice shaken together for a sweet and tangy purple treat!

The apothocary (APO comes from apothocary) jar of Aviation

To round out the evening, I sample four different flavors of Ciao Bella sorbet - blackberry cabernet, Alphonso mango, Lebanese yogurt and Valhrona chocolate. The blackberry cab and yogurt were my favorites. This was the first time I've tried Ciao Bella and I'll be sure to pick some up at the grocery store soon!

A big thank you to Foodbuzz for sending me to this great event! And to Natalie for giving me travel advise to and around the city. I look forward to going back to this fundraiser next year, but before then, I hope to have a chance to visit some of these outstanding Philadelphia restaurants soon!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vacay Report Four

I'm wrapping up my vacation reports here with two different eating establishments. It's hard to relive last week because it's just makes me want to be back in the Sunshine State!

The Broken Egg is a popular breakfast destination in Siesta Key. My favorite breakfast treat here is Uncle Jerry's Pancake - a huge pancake with blueberries, banana slices and wheat germ. I eat mine up with tons of butter and it's such a sweet and satisfying breakfast - one I keep telling myself I need to attempt to recreate at home. The other popular breakfast is The Sampler: eggs, hashbrowns and bacon served on a huge pancake!

The Broken Egg is a favorite of sports announcer Dick Vitale and you'll often hear him speak of the Broken Egg or be seen at the restaurant enjoying a meal and sometimes penning away his autograph to fans (his books are sold at the restaurant). While I have eaten at the Broken Egg maybe four times in my life, I've yet to meet him there.

The Sampler

Uncle Jerry's Pancake

Turtle Beach Pub is a laid back little place serving up lots of favorite local fare. Here I was introduced to a catfish-like fish called swai (pronounced sch-wa-hee). It's a white, mild fish that flaked right apart. It was excellent simply grilled with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Since I had gone to Turtle Beach right after the Daiquiri Deck, I was craving some extra carbs and decided to have my swai in sandwich form.


Vacay Report Three

During an adventure away from Siesta Key, we traveled to Longboat Key for dinner at The Dry Dock Waterfront Grill. The restaurant is right by a huge dry dock (a warehouse-like storage facility for boats), on the bay. We were there just as the sun was setting so the view was beautiful!

I tried the grilled Florida grouper, freshly caught from the gulf. It's a very meaty, sturdy fish which is ideal for grilling. It's not super easy to find here in PA, but the next time I see it, I want to get some, throw the filets in a good marinade and grill them up with veggies.

The grouper bruschetta also looked like a very tasty dish - one that I want to attempt to recreate with some fresh summer tomatoes. Grouper filets, grilled, served over rice, and topped with a generous portion of bruschetta, drizzled with a balsamic reduction... yum!

The believe the key to these very basic dishes is the fresh fish. I'm a huge fan of all fish but I'm not lucky enough to live somewhere where I have access to the freshest of the fresh so I have to savor the meals I have when I'm near the water. Then again, if I had access to as much seafood as I wanted, it wouldn't be a special treat. Not many ingredients to these dishes because they're not needed!
We sat inside, on the second level

Grouper Bruschetta

Grilled Grouper

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vacay Report One

In case you were all concerned about me down here in paradise, I am having a blast! Relaxing on the beach, by the pool, taking long naps, sipping margaritas, going shopping... all and all not too bad. We've been ordering in and making some meals at the condo so I don't have a blog-worthy dinner venue to tell you about quite yet. We had a great breakfast after a long beach walk at a cute restaurant (name is escaping me at the time) where I indulged in banana fosters pancakes and cheese blintze with blueberries!

Since watching Julie & Julia, I've been on a Julia Child kick. I have purchased Child's memoir, My Like in France and began reading it on the beach. As you can see, and this has been a pattern on the trip no matter what I'm reading, I fall fast asleep after just a few pages! This sunbathing is tough work! I'll have a full report on the book hopefully sooner than later.

At about 4:00 today we're headed out to the Daiquiri Deck where lots of deliciously alcoholic slushy drinks will be consumed. I'll report back with my favorite drinks and photos!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Vacation Time!

This Sunday marks the beginning of my week-long vacation to the beautiful beach of Siesta Key in Sarasota, Florida.

I hope to do a few posts while there, but if not, know where I'll be... on the beach with a drink in my hand... with some eating and shopping thrown in here and there.



Greek Rice Salad

I have a weakness for any and everything Greek: history, liquor, men, language, but especially food! Thetraditional combo of feta, cucumbers, tomotoes and olives are a mix made in heaven. Light and healthy - scrumptious!

This is a Williams Sonoma recipe. So yum and easy for a summer picnic!

3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (we used whole grain dijon)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano (or 1 T dried)
6 oz crumbled feta cheese
6 oz sliced black olives
1 lb grape tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 cup fresh chopped mint leaves

Bring water and salt to a boil. Add rice and simmer for 20 minutes or until done.

In a salad bowl, whisk together lemon juice and mustard. Whisk in olive oil. Add oregano, feta, olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Toss well.

Rinse cooked rice in cold water. Drain. Add to bowl of dressing and other ingredients. Add mint and stir well. Serve at room temperature or chilled (I prefer chilled).

Julie & Julie Review

After waiting for months to see Julie & Julia, last night's viewing left me happy and inspired. Not only was I captivated by the sensational acting of Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, but the stunning real life story of Julie and Julie. The movie highlights the transitioning lives of two American women of different generations but other than the dates, the two are very similar.

The movie follows the life of the somewhat feminist, ambitious, fun-loving Julia Child as she moves to Paris, totally dedicated to learning the secrets of French cooking because, as she states in the movie, she loves to eat. The movie continues to highlight her passionate personality as she struggles to get her cookbook published. Meryl does a thoroughly entertaining job of portraying Julia's charming quirks and distinctive voice.

As for Julie - the struggling writer, stuck in a dead-end bureaucratic job in NYC - she is surrounded by sucessful friends and dreading her 30th birthday. At the enouragement and support of her husband, she starts a blog to document her cooking through Julia Child's cookbook. Since cooking was her daily release, she knew she'd love this task, as daunting as it seems. Through ups and downs in the kitchen and her personal life, Julia brings Julie alive.

Throughout the movie I found myself with a huge grin on my face as Julia began exploring the wonders of Paris, which made it difficult for me to focus on the movie because I was reminiscing about my time in Paris. Oh, a trip back would be a dream... some day!

The movie very much brought to life the title of Julia's book - the main characters love food so much, they put oodles of time and effort into their meal preperation - just like an art project.

I loved all the little parts of the movie like the beautiful French kitchen stuffs including the copper pots and Le Creuset dutch ovens, to the kitchen of a 1950s French kitchen, to the fashion of the '50s, to the struggles of a modern couple in a tiny NYC apartment. So much to appreciate in this move.
I walked away from the theatre feeling happy and inspired. A sweet, relaxing movie for anyone who loves hilarious kitchen happenings and life-evolving stories!

And now, I am on the search for a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child The movie also roused me to push myself a bit more and try some more challenging recipes, like boning a duck (gotta see the movie)!

Photos from the official Julie & Julie website from Sony Pictures

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Martha's Watermelon Bloody Marys

I was going through the July edition of Martha Stewart Living, marking the pages of recipes I want to try. I marked the watermelon bloody marys, not knowing when I'd make them, but that I was very interested in the watermelon-tomato combo. When I got home from the gym yesterday, my momma had these drinks whipped up and waiting for us for dinner. A sweet hint to a classic!

Makes 4 drinks

8 cups watermelon chunks, plus pieces, for serving
1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste
Ice, for serving
1 1/2 cups tomato juice
13 dashes hot sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 to 1 1/4 cups vodka
Celery stalks, for serving
Working in batches, puree watermelon (with seeds) and sugar in blender. Strain into a bowl through a fine sieve, pressing with a rubber spatula; discard solids. (You will have 5 1/2 cups juice.)

Stir 3 cups watermelon juice with tomato juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and celery seeds in a bowl set in a larger bowl of ice. Season with pepper. Stir in vodka and divide among 4 ice-filled glasses.

Garnish with a piece of watermelon (we didn't do this) and a celery stalk.

Gotta give my mom credit for this! She is a great cook!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sneak Preview of Julie & Julia

Yesterday I got sneak preview tickets for Julie & Julia!! If you remember, I was very excited to see this movie when I first heard about it. Now I'll be seeing it this Thursday evening, the day before it officially hits theatres. I'll have a full report on Friday morning in case anyone is rushing out to see it Friday.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Baked Potato Soup

I have to give Arielle credit for making this very yummy and rich afternoon snack yesterday. I wanted to share it because I will definitely be making it myself sometime soon. The dill gives it a nice summery touch. The recipe comes from Easy Dinners: Soups & Stews by Carrie Holcomb.

2 large baking potatoes (about 8 oz each) - we used about 6 russet potatoes
3 tablespoons thinkly sliced green onions
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoon snipped fresh dill
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 cups milk
3/4 cup shredded American cheese (3 oz) - we used cheddar
3 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
4 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained & crumbled
Scrub potatoes thoroughly with a brush; pat dry, Prick potatoes with a fork. Bake in a 425 degress oven for 40 to 60 minutes or until tender. Let cool. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, gently scoop out each potato. Discard potato skins.
In a large saucepan cook 3 tablespoons green onions in the butter until tender; stir in flour, dill, salt and pepper. Add milk all at once and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Add potato pulp and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese; stir until cheese melts.
Ladle into soup bowls and top with bacon crumbles, more cheese and onions.