Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

The new eggy-mobile did just fine on its first road trip this weekend. Big thanks to my friends who know how throw a party!

As a treat for those of you who expressed interest in my venison carpaccio during last Dim Sum Sunday, I did get around to making it, with a bit of zucchini and some smoked garlic I found at Findlay Market, and capers (of course).
Cheers! And wishing all a happy halloween!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

ALERT: House-Cured Lox and (Possibly) Fresh South Carolina Shrimp Available in Cincy

Just had to pass this along after receiving today’s e-newsletter from Lobsta Bakes of Maine, one of my favorite local fishmongers.

They have a smokehouse adjacent to their retail outlet in Newtown and offer such items as housemade smoked salmon brats. But this is the first I’ve heard they’re making their own lox, available this Fri. afternoon at $17.99/lb.

Also, if they receive enough pre-orders by this Sat., Oct. 30, owner Kevin Smith will drive to South Carolina to bring back a truck load of “fresh raw, shell-on, heads-off South Carolina shrimp,” which will be available at $14.99/lb. for pick-up Fri., Nov. 5 after 10 a.m.

If you’re interested, call and talk to a live person at (513) 561-0444 during business hours, which are currently 10:00 a.m.-6:30 Tues., Fri. and 10:00 a.m.-5:00 Sat. Do not leave a voice mail or contact them by email to place an order (but you can sign up for their weekly e-newsletter on their website – the best way to keep up to date on their offerings).
3533 Church Street, Cincinnati, OH 45244-3001 (Newtown)
Phone: 513.561.0444

I love this place so much I've posted about it before (here, here, and here). Or perhaps a few photos will entice you to check out Lobsta Bakes and place a Carolina shrimp order. I'm hoping there will be enough orders I can get some myself!

Sunday, October 24, 2010


One of the reasons I decided to start my own blog was so I could participate in Dim Sum Sundays, hosted by Big Shamu of The Karmic Kitchen from time to time. This Sunday's theme is "Heart Healthy," and I had the best of intentions to make a dinner along these lines, until my weekend was overrun by purchasing a new eggy-mobile. Since the DSS "rules" are on the loose side, I'm including two that were inspirations for what I had hoped to make. Maybe they'll inspire you too.
This is the zucchini crudo I made one night on my California vacation. It's a Michael Symon recipe that I was especially inspired to try after reading this post from Joanne at Eats Well With Others. With thin-sliced zucchini (I used yellow summer squash as well), lemon zest, lemon juice, olives, feta, dill, and a wee bit of olive oil, it was a remarkably satisfying dish. Check out Joanne's post for her version of the recipe.

I had in mind to pair it with venison, which is much leaner than most beef. Some may wrinkle their nose at the notion of carpaccio, but venison carpaccio is one of my favorite dishes, and I'm still thinking it would be great to augment it with this zucchini salad, especially since both would be delicious with this Winterhill lemon olive oil I found in CA.

And here's another gem of an idea, which I picked up from fork.heart.knife - a fabulous new local food business that serves up an outstanding brunch (plus dinners Thurs. and Fri. nights) in addition to their catering capers. It's a salad of apple slices, raw beet matchsticks, and sliced celery, lightly dressed in lemon oil. Very refreshing and flavorful - who knew raw beets could be so good? It made for a great side to fhk's brunch strata (which I tried to crop out of the photo for, you know, the purposes of this heart healthy post).
See what the rest of the DSS gang is cooking up by checking the comments over at Shamu's place. And a happy DSS to all!

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Goodness, it's been a month since I returned from vacation. But I can't resist sharing photos from our Lake Tahoe day, which started with a splendid omelet, if I do say so myself. Stuffed with the previous night's leftover grilled veggies and extra ricotta/herb filling from my foray into stuffing squash blossoms, it made for a fortifying breakfast before set out for Tahoe, just an hour away.

On our way out of Placerville, on a tip from my cousin Heather, we stopped at Beyond Baked, which had an outstanding array of sweet and savory baked goods. As soon as I saw this foccaccia with tomatoes, red onions, and cheese, I knew I had to buy it to round out our evening meal. Good thing we arrived early or they would have been sold out.

I'll get back to dinner later. Here are some sights from our approach to Tahoe's south shore.
And here are some shots as we wound our way around Emerald Bay. On a day this clear, you could see why it is aptly named, and one of the most photographed spots at Tahoe. The color of the water reminded me of Cozumel.
Someday I'd love the chance to drive around the entire lake - some 72 miles, google tells me. But I suspect that trying to do that in a single day would either be overly ambitious or insufficient to appreciate all Lake Tahoe has to offer. Once I saw the vastness of the lake, it reminded me of the time I was intent to visit the Grand Canyon plus Bryce and Zion National Parks in the space of three days from Phoenix. (There's nothing like being made to readjust your expectations when you suddenly find your keys locked in the car trunk on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, shivering as the sun goes down, trying to find help, and wondering where you'll end up sleeping for the night. In that case, I think it was the universe's way of reminding me to slow down, and fortunately I had a later opportunity to spend a full week between Bryce and Zion.)

As for our day at Tahoe, we saw a lot, but definitely took our time. One treat was to walk the trail from the Taylor Creek visitor center.
This walk through the marsh leads to the Stream Profile Chamber, a semi-underground area with aquarium-style windows where you can view the local fish. It's especially popular during salmon season - Marilyn tells me there was a big celebration last week.

We also checked out the Tallac Historic site, Camp Richardson, and the beach in front of a restaurant called the Beacon, where you can rent all manner of boats.
After an idyllic few hours taking in the scenery, we ventured into the city of South Lake Tahoe. What an overgrown tourist town that was! And as you continue along Route 50, you're suddenly in the town of Stateline, Nevada - you know you're there when the casinos are suddenly doing everything they can to grab your attention. Not being inclined to gamble, we decided it was time to head back, albeit it after an unsuccessful shopping break at an outlet mall and a stop at Starbuck's so Marilyn could grab a little something to sustain her for the drive back.

Fortunately, dinner that night didn't take much work, just some slicing and assembly. Using salmon we'd grilled the night before (I was planning ahead), I made salmon-watermelon salad. When I first  heard of this dish several years ago, the combination of salmon, watermelon, tomatoes, olives, mint, and feta struck me as so unlikely that eventually I had to break down and try it. Although new to me, apparently it's not uncommon in parts of the south. In any case, I've come to love it and have always found it to be a crowd-pleaser.

Here's another one of my non-recipe recipes, where I'll leave it to you to determine quantities based on your preferences and the number of people you're cooking for.

Salmon (sauteed, baked, grilled - I've even done it in the microwave), cut or torn into bite-size pieces
Watermelon, cut into bite-size pieces
Olives - I like kalamatas
Tomatoes, sliced or, if small, halved (for this meal, we were lucky to have some heirlooms left over from Ferry Plaza farmers market, along with some grape tomatoes from Marilyn's garden)
Onions, sliced - red onions add color; green onions have less bite
Cheese - the original recipe calls for feta, which works great. I've also sometimes used a blue cheese and been very happy with it.
Herbs - the original calls for mint, which is a great, fresh complement to the salad. I also like basil and even dill on occasion. With so many lovely herbs in Marilyn's garden, I used both mint and basil that night, and may have thrown in a few others for good measure.
Dressing - the Fines Herbs Vinaigrette I mentioned in the recipe for my chicken salad works great with this dish too. Or you could just drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, which is what I did this time.

I usually serve this salad on a bed of greens, although it is a satisfying entree with or without greens. Feel free to play around with whatever other ingredients appeal to you or that you have available too. Sometimes I add bell pepper. We had so much squash from Marilyn's garden that I sliced some raw for a little extra color this time around.

A couple of other notes. This is a salad that works just fine at room temp and is great for a buffet where it may be sitting out for a while. (It certainly worked well that way when I offered it as one of two mains for my father's 70th birthday surprise party several Junes ago.) If you're preparing ahead, you may want to wait to add the watermelon until serving time - the sweetness of the watermelon juice is a nice addition to the rest of the ingredients, but you don't want the salad to get waterlogged.

So after our fine day of outdoor exploration at Lake Tahoe, we had another fine al fresco dinner - salmon salad, that bread from Beyond Baked (which tasted every bit as good as it looked), and, of course, some wine.

Later that evening, I ensconced myself in my room to watch the premiere of Top Chef: Just Desserts. There came a knock at the door, and look what Marilyn had whipped up for dessert? What tasty - and fitting - little morsels to end the day.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Lest anyone think I'm so lucky as to still be in California on extended vacation, alas, that's not the case. I've been home for three busy weeks, but am enjoying reliving the memories as I cull through my vacation photos, slowly getting up these posts now that "real life" once again has the upper hand.

Tuesday of my vacation week was my first chance to see some of surrounding El Dorado County. Marilyn had lots of great places in store for us. And I had a great time in the kitchen that night - finally making stuffed squash blossoms for the first time!

We started our morning in Apple Hill, a series of loop roads off Route 50 between Placerville and Lake Tahoe, boasting some 50 orchards, Christmas tree farms, and vineyards at a 3000-foot elevation. First stop: High Hill Ranch, with a lovely pond and view, plus crafts booths, apple baked goods, a farm market where we scored apples and some terrific Asian pears, and free apple juice (yes, the free tastings continue). We also received complimentary tastings of apple wine and mulled cider, but they were a bit sweet for me.

On our way “out” of the loop from High Hill, Marilyn wanted to take us past Madrona Vineyards and, well, it was such a lovely sight that we decided to go on in for their wine tasting at 11:00 a.m.
Unlike Napa, where I went on my last trip to California and found most wineries charge you for tastings and a guided tour, in this area, the norm seems to be free tastings of 4-7 of each vineyard’s standard wines, with a potential charge for its “select” offerings, and the assurance that anything you pay for, you’ll recoup if you actually purchase wines on premises. When we stopped at Madrona, we were the only customers in the place, and the fireball of a gal who served us offered well more than the standard 5 tastes, along with samples of some of the food items they sell. A fun morning. And yes, we bought several bottles of wine.

Afterward we stopped at several more Apple Hill orchards before deciding we were ready for our picnic. Again, Marilyn knew the perfect spot – Boeger Winery, with more great wines, beautiful landscaping, and lovely picnic tables. Plus they sold figs and other produce grown on the estate. Too bad we’d already bought figs at Ferry Plaza. But we enjoyed our picnic. While walking the grounds and seeing figs hanging from the trees, we Midwesterners put 2 and 2 together and suddenly understood where fig leafs come from.

Back at Marilyn’s house later that afternoon, I had in mind to serve a platter of grilled veggies from our Ferry Plaza purchases, as well as the abundant squash in Marilyn’s garden. While the grill was hot, it made sense to go ahead and cook the beets for an appetizer I wanted to make later in the week, along with the salmon I planned for an easy salad supper the next night after our day trip to Tahoe. We had plenty of salmon, so I decided to use it to augment what otherwise would have been an all veggie meal, unsure whether it would have been considered “enough” by everyone at the dinner table, including Marilyn’s husband.
We brushed the veggies with olive oil in which I'd steeped garlic and fresh herbs from Marilyn's garden. Jeanette was kind enough to helm the grill while I tackled something I’d been salivating for all summer.

Blogger friend Chef Dennis of More Than a Mount Full has been making me crazy for months with his tantalizing photos and recipes for stuffed squash blossoms. I hadn’t had any luck finding squash blossoms to stuff myself all season, until I took a closer look at Marilyn’s vegetable garden. When I asked if I could use the blossoms, I think she thought I was crazy.
I was able to delicately remove about five blossoms – far fewer than Chef Dennis’s “standing weekly order” at his farmers market for five bunches. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to test out all his variations (including this dessert version, squash blossoms filled with cannoli cream!). But I would do my best to make these five little blossoms worth the effort.

These are delicate things to work with, at least my specimens. So I gently washed them and patted them dry with paper towel. Thanks to Dennis's post about "zucchini pops," I felt empowered to keep the blossoms attached to the baby squash, to the extent I could.
I based my filling on Dennis's standard recipe here, adjusting for quantity (since - did I mention? - I only had five), and adding a healthy dose of fresh basil, rosemary, and thyme from Marilyn's garden to his suggested cheese mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, and romano, working with cheeses I had available.
Side note: I used Marilyn's mezzaluna (the curved knife/shallowly indented wood chopping block thingie pictured above) on quite a few occasions that week, and found it to be a great tool for cutting small-leaf fresh herbs. Apparently my mom gave it to her sister awhile back, and I think I should put it on my xmas list now that Mom is asking for mine.

Using a ziplock bag with the corner snipped off, I piped the cheese-herb filling into my little blossoms as best I could. This is a job where you need two hands, if not more - holding the blossom open, and keeping the cheese mixture pressed into the tip of the plastic bag while you do your utmost not to tear or overfill the blossoms. Which means you have no extra hands available to photograph your efforts. However, Marilyn was kind enough to snap this one as I worked.
Following Dennis's recommendation, I refrigerated the filled blossoms while I whipped up his light batter of eggs, milk, flour, and - best of all - a little romano (or parm) and more fresh herbs. After dipping the chilled, filled squash blossoms in the batter, I fried them in olive oil in a shallow pan, turning after about 2 minutes.
Fried till golden, here's how they turned out. I must confess I'm not sure how much I could detect the innate flavor of the squash blossom in my first try at making (or eating) this dish. But the filling was excellent, and the cheese and herbs in the batter are a definite plus. We're talking delicately fried foods here, and I enjoyed the heck out of these. As cook and hostess, I usually let my guests eat all they want first. But since we had five squash blossoms and only four at the table that night, I asked (politely, I hope) if I could take the fifth. I don't know whether my family still thought I was crazy after making this dish for them or just appreciative of my efforts. But I was glad to have one more taste of these goodies.

Not that I let my dining companions go hungry, of course. Here's what else was on the dinner table that night - grilled veg platter and salmon topped with tomatoes and basil.
No one left the table hungry. Although (typical of the way I cook when actually presented with the opportunity to cook for others instead of just myself), we did have a lot of grilled veggies left. No problem. The next morning we would head to Tahoe, and the leftover veg would make a great omelette before we set out.