Tuesday, May 30, 2006

First Harvest

Ah....Memorial Day Weekend. A weekend of parades that honor our veterans and the sacrifices they have made for our country. A weekend for barbecues and gatherings with friends and family. A weekend that signals the beginning of the summer.

This weekend, MBH and I went to Philadelphia for the wedding of one of my best friends. It was nice to get away together and spend a weekend in a hotel that offered room service twenty-four hours a day and cable television. Our room had a huge bed covered with a plush down comforter and more pillows than I have ever seen on a bed. We also celebrated MBH's forty-third birthday by going out to dinner on Saturday night to The Capital Grille, a very well regarded steak house. We both had very good steaks, done perfectly at medium-rare and tender enough to cut with a fork, but I was a bit disappointed with the augratin potatoes and the creme brulee. Neither was awful but considering how good the steak was, I would have hoped for better. The wedding was very nice. The reception was held at the Braddock's Tavern and the food was quite good, especially the chateaubriand both MBH and I had for our entree. All in all, a very nice get-away for us.

But the best part of the weekend was coming home to find my garden had bloomed while we were away, especially my lettuce, greens, and spinach. It has been such a cold and wet spring, I had begun to give up hope of having a harvest before the heat of summer caused them to bolt. But, despite a pretty warm weekend, the lettuce and greens had grown to the perfect height to pick my first bowl of salad of the season. I love to use tender early summer greens to make a classic Midwestern salad with a warm sweet bacon dressing. It was the perfect compliment with the pork chops I served for dinner tonight and the perfect way to end a nice summer weekend.

Salad Greens with Warm Bacon Dressing

Large bowl of young lettuce, mesclun or baby spinach (or a mixture of all three)
3 slices bacon
3 Tablespoons of sugar
3 Tablespoons of cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped red onion (optional)
1/2 cup chopped hard boiled egg (optional)

Wash and dry the salad greens. Place in a large heatproof bowl and set aside. Cut up bacon into small pieces and brown in a saute pan (don't use a non-stick pan, you want little bits of bacon to cling to the bottom). Turn down heat and add the vinegar to the pan, stirring with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan. Add the sugar and stir until thickened slightly. Remove from heat and pour over the salad greens. Add onions if desired and gently toss the greens until they are slightly wilted. Sprinkle hard boiled eggs on top and serve immediately.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Postman Always Brings Dim Sum

Yesterday evening while I was in the process of making MBH's requested dinner of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, our doorbell rang. Moments before I had heard the rumble of a delivery truck stop outside in the street but as it was Saturday and the people across the street had been moving out, I assumed it must have been them making one last trip with the U-Haul. Quickly washing my hands of flour and egg batter, I rushed to the door to see the retreating back of the postman as he walked down our porch steps having just deposited at our door a small, brown box from Amazon. "Honey, did you order something from Amazon?" After being met by silence, I turned down the burner on the stove to avoid setting the kitchen on fire and walked into our bedroom where MBH and LB were ensconced on the bed for an evening of reading and napping. "No. Did you?", he asked with a funny look on his face. "No, but it is addressed to me", I replied. "Well then, I suggest you open it forthwith", MBH ordered me. And never being one to be ordered twice to open unexpected packages, I complied.

It seems that MBH decided that after the way my end of the work week was going, that it was his duty to show me how much he (and LB) appreciate my care for them by ordering me a cookbook from Amazon Wishlist as a surprise. The newest addition to my vast cookbook collection: Dim Sum: Delicious Finger Food by Fiona Smith.

We both love dim sum and I have been wanting to learn to make it at home since I watched Rhoda Yee on a PBS cooking show make steamed pork buns and little tiny pot stickers. I even checked out her videos several years ago and made a very poor attempt at making some dim sum for New Years Eve. Now, armed with this new cookbook filled with lovely pictures and what appears to be easy to follow recipes, I am ready to try again.

I think we shall have to make a trip to Boston's Chinatown very soon so I can get really good wonton wrappers at the Super 88 Asian Market and then I can really show MBH exactly how sweet I think he is with a little shumai

Saturday, May 20, 2006

WCB #1: Working for the Weekend

Several months ago while surfing food blogs I stumbled upon eatstuff.net, a blog written by a couple in Sydney, Australia (Casey and Clare) and their cat (Kiri). Casey, Clare and quite often Kiri drive around the area they live in Australia doing as their title says "eating stuff and writing about it". On the weekends, they host Weekend Cat Blogging for people who have both food blogs and cats. The idea behind Weekend Cat Blogging is to take a break from blogging about food to blog about your cat and sometimes your cat and food. So, since today LB provided the perfect opportunity to snap yet another silly picture of him lying on the very thing(s) I was getting ready to use, I give you my first Weekend Cat Blogging post.

LB, like most cats I know, has this innate need to lie on anything their human companions are about to read, need, use, or move. LB especially likes to lie on anything MBH and I put on the bed and the more uncomfortable the item the better. LB has been known to lie on the corners of books, the pointy side of high heel shoes and if he can arrange it so that the sharp side is jabbing into his belly, even better. Anything to be just 2 mm higher than he was by lying on the comforter. For example, the white fabric in the picture is the cover of the "kat-kooker", a heating pad that MBH turns on low for LB during the cold New England winter. During the warmer months, we remove the cover because LB likes to sleep on it even if the heating pad isn't present. The items that LB is lying on in this picture are a manila folder containing job notes for a project that went to hell yesterday causing me to be "on call" this weekend, my Mont Blanc pen and my mobile phone that was on twenty-four hours yesterday and today because of the aforementioned project that has gone to hell.

I guess maybe LB thinks I should just go out into the sunshine, play in my garden and start some bread.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #5: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Well the fifth installment of the Weekend Cookbook Challenge comes fast on the heels of the last one and like the last one is centered around a holiday: Cinco de Mayo. This was actually the most challenging one yet for me to find a recipe. In fact, this Challenge has exposed a missing link in my massive cookbook collection. I discovered while searching for a recipe to cook that I didn't have one single solitary cookbook devoted to cooking from south of the border.

Maybe this is because MBH doesn't like Mexican or Spanish influenced foods (with the exception of the pollo omeletto he had while in Peru). Or maybe because I have never lived in an area with a large concentration of really good Mexican restaurants. My first exposure to authentic Mexican food was about ten years ago when a friend took me to a basement restaurant located in Harvard Square. It was run by a couple from Guadalupe. It was there that I had my first Huraches (cheese stuffed Nopales). The restaurant made its own tortillas, sangria, and the most delicate mole sauce I have ever tasted. Unfortunately, they closed three years ago when the couple retired and their children didn't want to run the family business. The place is now what feels like the hundredth Indian restaurant in Harvard Square.

Failing to find a recipe in any cookbook for my beloved Huraches, I finally found a very small section in the "World-Wide Cooking" book from my 1964 McCall's Cookbook Collection. This cookbook is part of series that McCall (yes, the pattern people) put out in the middle sixties. It was a very popular collection that consisted of 20 paperback cookbooks devoted to a specific type of cooking. My mother had a complete collection she received as a wedding present. I loved looking at them as a child and would often "steal" a book or two to take home with me when I moved out on my own. When I turned twenty-five, my mother somehow located a a copy of the collection for me, complete with an intact plastic holder that was a bonus piece if you bought the collection as a whole when it was published. The "Cookie Book" is a fabulous treasury as is the "Meats Cookbook". I chose to adapt the recipe from the "World-Wide Cooking" for Beef Enchiladas using grilled chicken breast and rice since I wanted to use some leftovers from my refrigerator.

Grilled Chicken and Rice Enchiladas
(Adapted from the McCalls Cookbook Collection World-Wide Cooking book)

2 medium chicken breasts, grilled (seasoned with salt and pepper)
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 can fire roasted green chilies
1/2 cup shredded four cheese Mexican blend (Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Asadero and Queso Blanco Cheeses)

3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 Tbsp flour
2 cans tomato sauce (10 oz cans)
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 beef bouillon cube
1 cup boiling water
1/2 can fire roasted green chilies
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
dash pepper

1 pkg corn tortillas (really and truly, only use the corn ones!)
1 1/2 cup shredded four cheese Mexican blend

Prepare the filling:
Mix rice and salsa and set aside. Slice the chicken breasts into thin slices and set aside. Open can of chilies and bag of shredded cheese and set aside.

Prepare the sauce:
In large sauce pan, saute garlic and onion in oil. Remove from heat. Stir in flour until smooth. Stir in tomato sauce, vinegar. Dissolve bouillon cube in boiling water and stir into sauce. Return to heat and bring to boil. Add chilies, cumin, salt, and pepper; simmer, uncovered stirring occasionally. Add more cumin to taste as needed. When sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat and set aside.

Assemble enchiladas:
Place on paper towel lined plate, corn tortillas. Cover with paper towel and microwave for 30-40 seconds to soften. While the corn tortillas soften, take a ladle of sauce and coat the bottom of prepared (sprayed with cooking spray) large square or 13" x 9" glass baking dish. Working quickly, place a spoonful of rice mixture, a few slices of chicken breast, a "dab" of fire roasted green chilies, and a dusting of cheese in the center of each corn tortilla. Roll tortilla and place seam side down into baking dish. Repeat until all the filling is gone. Ladle sauce over assembled enchiladas and sprinkle with 1 1/2 cup of shredded cheese. Make sure you cover the corn tortillas completely or the tortillas will bake hard. Bake for 25 minutes in 350 degree oven or until cheese is golden brown.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Office Chair Traveling

"Vacation, All I ever wanted. Vacation, Had to get away" - Go-Gos

Right now, I'm sitting on one of those interminable conference calls that managers attached to sales organizations seem to be stuck on either end of the month, especially when the numbers are as awful as they are for us the past few months. Since I really don't have any control over the actual sale (my group is considered pre and post sales support), I have my phone on mute and have decided to take a vacation by surfing City Daily Photo Blogs. What is a City Daily Photo Blog you ask? It is a blog where the author takes a photo every day of a different and interesting place in their city, then posts the photo and then tells the reader a little bit about the photo and a tidbit or two about their city.

The original is Paris Daily Photo by the incomparable Eric. His blog makes you feel are like actually standing next to Eric when he takes his picture. I visit Eric and Paris at least once a day (sometimes two times if I really need to go to Paris). Besides the great photos that Eric shares with his readers there is a witty and pithy group of regulars who comment on his posts. Half the fun if reading the PDP is reading the comments of the regulars. Eric likes to remind everyone that a friendly Parisian does exist and while I have never really encountered a hostile Parisian, I would bet that Eric is indeed one of the most friendly.

Next on my daily travels is normally across the Channel and a quick stop to say "hullo" to Ham at London Daily Photo. Ham is a regular here at the Sour Dough and you may have seen his comments on several of my bread postings. Along with being a fairly serious baker by all accounts, Ham is a darn good photographer. I have discovered places in London I didn't know existed, even in the neighbourhood I lived in for almost two years.

At least once a week I also visit Hong Kong, Mumbai, Toulouse, Kuala Lumpur, and New York City. Sometimes, like this afternoon, I just click on a random city on one of the blogs and find myself transported to places as diverse as Brisbane, Australia to Bloomington, Indiana.

And sometimes, it isn't even a City Daily Photo Blog that provides me with the best little five minute vacation but rather a fellow blogger who I link to over under "Who Breadchick is Reading". Like a few minutes ago, I was catching up on a recent addition to my blogrolling links, Michele over at Voix de Michele. She has a link to what has to be the best view of the Eiffel Tower of all time in her Saturday, April 29th post.

Sometimes, you really don't need an airplane ticket or a suitcase to take a vacation...