Tuesday, July 31, 2012

All Good Bakers Cold Cucumber Soup

I'm off dogsitting in North Adams, MA again, and my husband was sweet enough to send me off with some tasty items from All Good Bakers. It is a loaf of sourdough and some cold cucumber soup. Now I am a huge cold soup fan. But this cucumber soup is something else. I think what makes it so unique is the possible presence of hot peppers. I would guess it also has black pepper, carrots (?), and scallions. This soup is amazing, like a mouthful of how it feels to walk into a cold movie theater from a sweltering, dusty asphalt parking lot. It is completely refreshing, and yet a bit unexpected with the scallions and peppers. The bread is great too. It is moist on the inside, with a fabulous crust, and a fully developed sourdough flavor. I liked their wheat loaf too. They are just so talented, and we are lucky to have them around in our community.

As a side note, we went on vacation to the Finger Lakes a couple weeks ago. We drove through a lot of upstate NY towns, and had some good dinners in Rochester (The Old Toad) and Syracuse (Pastabilities). I kept grabbing the tourist brochures wherever we went, and I wondered how living in Albany, Rochester, and Syracuse might be different. Everyone we've known who has lived in Syracuse hasn't been too keen on it (they say it is spread out - there isn't much there), but they have a zoo! We don't have a zoo, how bad can it be? Sure, the economy hasn't been that great in the Rochester area since the invention of the digital camera (Kodak is based there), but there is some great history, architecture, and music there. But really, you can't get a sense of what it would be like to live in a place as a tourist. I think it is really what is going on in the neighborhoods that improves life for the residents. Do people feel a sense of community? Do they talk to each other? Do they care about what happens in their city? My only point is that All Good Bakers is the type of place that improves life in the city. It is unique, everything tastes amazing, and they are the kind of people who will let me know if, in fact, there are carrots in that soup.

TWD, Baking with Julia: Blueberry Nectarine Pie

As part of Tuesdays with Dorie, using the book Baking with Julia I made the blueberry nectarine pie. I made it for some friends we were having over for dinner, and even though I just walked in from a trip to the flea market late in the afternoon, I was able to make it in time for when people came over. I thought it was a pretty easy recipe. Everyone really enjoyed the pie and the unexpected combination of blueberries and nectarines.

 Then, after we ate the full size pie I had a good amount of blueberries, nectarines, and pie crust leftover. I decided to make these little handpies to serve at my salad bar party

 To do this I used my tortilla press with small balls of dough. I did the first few by folding the dough around the mixture, but then I realized it was much easier to treat it like a ravioli. I put one piece down, put a spoonful of filling in the middle, laid another piece of dough on top of the whole thing and pressed down on the edges. I can thank my ravioli class for having taught me those skills.

 Then, I brushed them with egg, sprinkled some brown sugar on them, froze them on cookie sheets, and then when they were all frozen, I threw them in a big ziplock bag. When the day of the party came, I was able to just toss them right into the oven after applying a little more egg wash. It was really convenient. I'm a big fan of handheld foods for parties, and I think this ended up being a great variation to do with the leftover supplies.

Check out all the other bakers here!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Big Summer Potluck 2012

 This weekend my friend Celia and I went to the Big Summer Potluck in Bucks County, PA. We had a fabulous time, and she even won a KitchenAid standing mixer! There were several great presentations, and lots of amazing food. I helped ladle the juices onto the pig that was roasting for dinner.

Here is the pig being carried to be set up for serving.

And it on the table for carving.

 The result:

Celia made me, herself, Joy the Baker, and Shutterbean "Boom Boom Pow" t-shirts. Its s reference from a podcast. Totally fabulous. I love it so much! Apparently, you can do anything with freezer paper.

My takeaway thoughts from the event:

  • It seemed wrong that we were out in this incredibly beautiful setting with fabulous food and smart, interesting people, and we were complaining about Pinterest and unattainable ideals that are marketed to us on the internet. The internet isn't that serious. It is the typing television. Think back to the original AOL interface and how you could only spend an hour on the internet before your mother wanted to use the phone. Think of your life before the internet. People dealt with things. They made friends. They got news. It isn't that serious. To say you have to try to slow down and not be obsessed with activity on the internet, I say - how did that happen in the first place? Seems like a little bit of a waste to take it that personal. Here is a good article on the Pinterest subject. I have to say, there was something a little bit surprising about a bunch of people from the internet admitting the internet is idealized. It was like the whole ruse was over. The jig was up.
  • The JTB spoke about jealousy, inspiration, and finding an original voice. Now, it is no secret I'm a huge fan of her. Celia and I went to meet her in March. I make her recipes so much, when I walked in to the food swap last time Christina from the From Scratch Club said "What Joy the Baker recipe did you make this time?" I heard a podcast once where The Table Set guys talked about a pasta salad Joy brought to something, and I thought to myself "California food bloggers are so cool. And they have avocados." Of course, sometimes you really like what someone stands for or characteristics they have, and of course you'll never be them. But you can also stop and think about what is it that you like about them. What about a sense of humor, a splash of creativity, a sense of personal autonomy, and an enthusiasm for community engagement. You can adapt what you like about other people and work it into ideals you hold in your own life. Joy said that yes, an internet version of a person is in fact a bit of a character, or a tailored version of them in real life, but that doesn't mean they can't inspire us to do certain things or aspire to grow certain parts of ourselves. If 'Joy the Baker' is a bit of a character, can I not be the 'Joy the Baker' of Albany? And by that I mean bring awesome cakes to picnics, make hilariously lame hip-hop lyric references in a super serious voice, and do my best to bring people together and to say things that are thoughtful, real, and helpful. It doesn't matter if it is only the fraction of a person in real life, or if that persona is already spoken for - humor, cheerfulness, enthusiasm for community, not acting older than we are - these are all JTB qualities that are worth aspiring to, even if it all isn't completely original. 
  • One of my favorite parts of the weekend was talking about celebrity crushes with bloggers at Brooklyn Supper and Autumn Makes and Does. There was a lot of heaviness, and a debate between the sexiness of Usher and Ira Glass was totally necessary. In related news, on Saturday night I became convinced I read somewhere that Martha Stewart softens butter in her bra, Celia and I were writing hip-hop songs along that theme, and I was laughing so hard I was almost crying. Good, good times, and that all had the least to do with food. Perhaps there is a message here that food can really bring people together, but can get tedious as the actual main topic for too long.
  • I loved learning how to make smoked salmon from Max Hansen. Kind of totally blew my mind. Watch out food swappers! This may come your way.
I think most of all I appreciated how hilarious my friend Celia is, lavender shortbread, the beautiful scenery of Buck's County, PA, the great products from all the sponsors, and how much blogging is just really about communication. The whole thing also made me feel that it is important not to take the internet so seriously. I also met a girl who took a class in college from the father of the ring bearers in my wedding last year, and someone who went to the small town in MA I work in last spring and showed me pictures on her phone of the chocolate case in the coffee shop I visit sometimes after lunch. It is a small world, and that gets back to what is actually good about social media and the internet despite many things - and that is that it has the potential to bring people together.  Thank you so much to the organizers for all of their hard work!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Brimfield Antique Show, Brimfield, MA

Last weekend a car full of my coworkers and I went to the Brimfield Antique Show in Brimfield, MA. We were originally going to go back to the Raynham, MA Flea Market, but that one isn't open on Saturdays. I had originally read about the Brimfield one, which is on a few times a year, in the Martha Stewart Living Magazine. I met my corworkers who live in North Adams, MA at the Lee Outlets, and it was about a two hour drive total. It was totally worth the distance though.

One of my coworkers naively thought we could or should see the whole thing. This thing is monstrous. We got there pretty early, and still couldn't really see it all. By shopping around we only paid $3 for parking, which was pretty good because there were $5 and $7 lots right next to that lot. I got a crazy amount of stuff: one green polka dot dress, one brightly colored floral dress, a schnauzer brooch (we had one of those dogs when I was a kid), a cookbook from 1930 about hot weather dishes, a plate to hang on the wall that has a cool illustration of Canada, a cool white frame with an awful painting of a cat (I just wanted the frame), some needlepoint projects that were framed, an awesome big bag of vintage table linens for a $1, and a huge metal "L". We also liked the food. I got some spicy nuts:

Here are some ways I have incorporated my flea market finds into my home:

Big metal letter "L", awesome yes?

You may or may not recognize him as from the label of the Chateau Lafayette Reneau Northern White. I bought that frame at the flea market with an awful cat painting. Then, we went on vacation to the Finger Lakes and right when we walked into the tasting room we spotted that you could buy him for $5. Another couple was standing there and said "You guys are obsessed with him? We are obsessed with him too!" Totally awesome. When we walked in to our house when we got back from our vacation, I immediately unrolled the poster and saw how well it fit in the flea market frame and knew it was meant to be! Adorable!

This is one of the cool antique textiles I got in a huge bag for a dollar. I'm never sure what I will do with things like these, but I know there are cool things to be done with them. I just have this one hanging up in my bathroom, and I am sure the other ones in the big pile will speak to me eventually. That might have been one of the most fun parts of the flea market experience - my boss and I standing knee deep in vintage table linens, me ruffling through them exclaiming "We should have been textile conservators!"

Needlepoint wall! I painted the frames to make them look a little less old-timey.

I was on quite the redecorating kick on the second half of my vacation. I talked a bit about my feelings on the subject at the end of this post. I think ultimately that old things make me feel that our house has a bit of history (which it doesn't because it is new, but whatever), which leads me to think of stability, but I think I also want to indicate a bit that we are still young and have a sense of humor. It is a bit like a farmhouse (that is actually a modern condo) where we will offer you a freshly baked-from-scratch pie with just-picked produce, but then talk about the newest hilarious HBO show. Completely modern in outlook, but with linen napkins at dinner with quaint flowers embroidered on them. You know, a bit like how Joy the Baker talks about old school ingredients like buttermilk and bourbon, but also quotes lame Black Eye Pea lyrics.

I know I sound quite torn. I think there is also the conflict between displaying your own personal history and keeping to a color scheme or a Pinterest-y ideal. Does that teapot I bought in Amsterdam when I was 17 match the rest of my dining room? Who cares, I bought it in Amsterdam when I was 17, maybe the dining room should accommodate the teapot? Oh, so confusing.

Anyways, I think I did great at the flea market! My advice to you is browse the Pottery Barn catalog as much as you want, and for sure go for their glasses and cocktail-making accessories, but when it comes to frames and decorative arts items you can do much better at the flea market. It is on again in September, and I'd love to go back!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Salad Bar Party

I got the idea for a salad bar party a while ago from a podcast on I absolutely love these guys on The Table Set, who also suggested a "Bring Your Own Pizza Topping Party". You could also do a "Bring Your Own Omelet Filling Brunch Party". When I was dogsitting for my coworker back in the winter, I read something in the Red Hat Society Cookbook (which I made fun of quite a bit) where you could have a boiling pot of water going, have everyone choose which omelet fillings they wanted, then you put the eggs and the fillings in zip-lock bags, write their names in marker on the outside of the bags, shake them around a bit, and throw them in the pot of boiling water. I'm not sure if that omelet technique would work or not, but I thought the salad bar party concept worked out great. You would never buy all of those separate toppings, so making it a group thing is a way to make it way more feasible. Plus, it is summer and who wants to turn the oven on?

To go with the salad, I made some zucchini pancakes from the Joy the Baker cookbook (with zucchinis from the Bennington Farmer's Market) and blueberry nectarine mini hand pies from supplies leftover from when I made a full size pie from the Baking with Julia cookbook. The blueberries and nectarines were from The Berry Patch in Stephentown (who also sell their produce at the Troy Farmer's Market), and they were delicious.

I made a punch with pineapple juice, seltzer, blackberries, raspberries, and a big hunk of watermelon sorbet floating around as the ice cube.  I thought it was really refreshing, and I liked the way that the sorbet melted throughout the evening.

I made some bread too, both from the Baking with Julia cookbook, wheat loaves and oasis naan using wheat flour.

And on to the important part - the salad bar! What did we end up with? Here is a photo I took before people arrived. I got the suspicion at about 4:00 in the afternoon (which I was right about) that no one was going to bring lettuce and went out and got some. I also made some black beans, and dressings: tahini, buttermilk, and red wine and champagne vinaigrette. I also put out the curry croutons and the cucumber from my friend Jessica's garden I got from the Schenectady Food Swap. That is also jessjamesjake's totally awesome red container I'm holding hostage until next time she comes over, so lots of Jessicas were there in spirit.

Then a picture after people started bringing stuff:

That all includes: julienned carrots, apples, bell peppers cut like stars, hard boiled eggs, snow peas, avocados (from the Californian), chickpea salad with green beans from her garden (Italian flavors from the one with Italian heritage), craisins, and I am sure other things I could be forgetting. It was great! You could make different salads with different dressings, and the variety made it a good time! I'd like to single handedly make salad bars trendy again! Thanks to for a fabulous party idea (makes it worth it that I spent January on a massive filing project and listened to all of the podcasts!) And thanks to everyone for building an awesome, healthy, fresh, colorful salad bar!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Schenectady Food Swap, July

Tonight I went to the From Scratch Club food swap in Schenectady. I hardly ever go out that way, so it was fun to have a reason to go. I brought the mosaic frames I made on July 4th, vanilla extract, and quinoa and kidney bean veggie burgers. My friend Jessica showed up since she works out there, so that made it even more fun!

I always liked this Woody Allen quote, though I realize now I have all along been taking it to mean the opposite of what he meant. About winning awards: "I cannot abide by the judgment of other people, because if you accept it when they say you deserve an award, then you have to accept it when they say you don't.'' -- Woody Allen, shrugging off Sleeper's lack of Oscar nominations, 1974. People were crazy for my lavender lemonade, way crazier than I could have predicted. Sometimes they want things more than you expect, and sometimes less. People went crazy for the frames last time, so crazy they were asking for my non-existent crafting business card. This time I still have "You melt my heart like hot butter in a pan" on my wall, and I'm happy to still have it.

My point is just that you never know. You can bring a few different items, and you won't be able to predict which of your items people will like more than the others.The thing is if you think the food swap is a popularity contest or is about getting specific items, you are probably doing it wrong. I think it is really about community engagement, and sometimes learning about recipes you never thought of. There is a labor/time/expense trade going on there, but if you were really concerned with those things you would start a business. Being a homecook (or crafter, or soap maker) and having a way to share your skills seems mostly about making new friends and trying new foods. That all being said, check out the loot I scored.

That is: curry croutons, granola, berry sangria (with a painted bottle, way cool!), zucchini, cucumber, swiss chard, chives, and oregano.  All in all a great swap!

Monday, July 16, 2012

New Provence Wine Bar Menu

We had pretty much a week long wedding anniversary celebration this year (we even took some photos to commemorate). We went to Provence for dinner, and while we were there they informed us of a new wine bar/tapas menu they have. We thought it was really exciting. It is cool to think that really great Albany restaurants don't just have to be for special occasions like your wedding anniversary (we have friends who went for just cocktails at the bar at McGuire's which is straight up class). You can go on a Friday night for a glass of wine and share an appetizer with someone as a fabulous way to transition from your work week to weekend. After we read their new wine bar menu, we couldn't wait to go back. This Friday we went after work (it was also the start of my week long vacation), and Scott had a great Rhone glass of wine and I had some champagne. I had the sun dried tomato and goat cheese tartlet, which to me tasted a bit like a mini-pizza. There is a crab tartlet too on the new tapas menu, and I can't wait to go back and try that. He had the French onion soup (not a new item but a classic), and we split the escargots (again not a new item, but their new wine bar menu inspired us to think of the restaurant in a different way, so it was responsible for us coming in at all). They had musicians playing some jazz too, so great time all around. I think this makes sense for the restaurant from an economic perspective too - I'm sure they'd rather people came in for affordable appetizers and drinks more often than only coming in for fancy dinners a few times a year. 

At the end I said "We should do this every Friday!", and there are so many new items on the wine bar menu (which is also serving as their lunch menu now) that I'll have to keep going back until I try them all.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cold Soups

We are crazy for cold soups right now.

First off, gazpacho from the French Laundry Cookbook. Oh my goodness. It is about as fabulous as you would expect. So you just combine all the ingredients (tomato - mine were from the Berry Patch, bell pepper, cucumber, red onion, tomato paste, tomato juice, lemon juice, olive oil, cayenne pepper, vinegar, and garlic) in a large bowl. You let the ingredients sit overnight, and something about the lemon juice sitting with the tomatoes overnight makes them taste as if they have been cooked when they haven't been. Then you purée the ingredients and serve.

 Then you purée the ingredients and serve. It is amazing and refreshing, and I even had some for breakfast this morning.

The recipe said you could also use gazpacho as a sauce or squirt some on your plate next to a salad. Basically, the luxury in Keller's recipes comes a lot from straining and puréeing things really well. There's something about the smooth textures of his recipes that feels luxurious in your mouth, but I think some scallions or croutons for garnish would be great too.

Also, we previously covered my cucumber obsession. Now we are on to cucumber soup! I went an entire summer when I lived in NYC dying from the subway platforms when all I ate was cucumber soup. Some can taste like the Indian condiment raita and just seem like puréed cucumbers with dill and yogurt. The recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything includes a little bit of cooking, but it a much improved version. It has chicken stock, butter, onions, dill, and a little bit of cream or yogurt. My freezer is filled with chicken stock I made so it is great to have a reason to use the stock even in days with 100 degree heat. Check it out.

Fill your fridge with these and you are set all week long. There are more I want to try. Any opinions on sweet cold soup? My Gardner Museum Cookbook  has one with melon, strawberries, and champagne, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bennington Farmer's Market, Vermont

I went to the Bennington, VT Farmer's Market today. They are open on Saturdays and Tuesdays. You may remember when I tried to go in November and it didn't work out.  I love Vermont so much. I went to the anti-hydrofracking concert at The Egg a few months back, and they mentioned how Vermont had a ban on hydrofracking. That's a good thing, since it seems like easily one of the most beautiful places on earth. It would absolutely break my heart if anything were to ever happen to that state to diminish its natural beauty (also there doesn't seem to be any gas deep down there, so it wouldn't seem likely hydrofracking would occur, but its nice their priorities are in the right place). Oh, Vermont, doughnuts, cheese, and produce! How can you not love it completely?

My former coworker has a farm, it is actually called the True Love Farm, and she posted on facebook about the Tuesday Farmer's Market which reminded me about it. It was small and adorable, but I did pretty well.

First up: Crazy Russian Girls Neighborhood Bakery. I bought my husband this adorable mini rhubarb pie. I bought something for myself for the ride home, and to call it a cookie is the world's biggest understatement. It was a cookie, but halfway on the way to a scone. It was filled with cranberries - juicy, tart cranberries bursting with the taste of summertime, and flavorful, crunchy oats. I usually think I am a good baker, and once in a while I find something so delicious I can't make anything that would compare at all - this was one of those moments.

Then from Wildstone Farm, Vermont I got some beautiful zucchinis, cucumbers, and an adorable sunflower (for a dollar and totally worth it - check him out!). I made some amazing Zucchini Potato Pancakes from my Joy the Baker cookbook.

From my former coworker at True Love Farm  I got great looking scallions, blueberries, cousa squash , and a little bit of gossip. All around, it was a great time at a little pop up farmer's market in the middle of the week.

I guess I just want to make a point here about the huge amount of farmer's markets we seem to have in the area. For whatever reason, we only ever seem to make it to the Troy Farmer's Market, but really there are so many. There are some in church parking lots, bank parking lots, Urgent Care parking lots, even at the Crossings at Colonie - all over. There is no excuse not to enjoy the best of what summer has to offer, and no lack of access to fresh, local produce. Last year we had a CSA, and sometimes it was difficult to know what to do with everything. I think it challenged us as cooks, and we grew out of the experience, but one of my coworkers said it best - "I pay $20 a week for a ton of kale I don't even want." It can be overwhelming, and ideally you can just make it to farmer's markets and get the same product only customized to your tastes and desired quantities. That's where the mid-week market really helps out busy people (or people who love sleeping in on Saturday mornings). 

One more thing I might add, that while Daniel loves tours for all the unhealthy things - Tour de Hard Ice Cream, Soft serve ice cream, doughnut, bucket o' lard, pile o' grease - how about Tour de Spinach Salad, or better yet, Tour de Farmer's Market? There are enough in the area to keep a lot of people busy for a long time.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Panzanella, Potluck Picnic, Picture Frames

We're really enjoying all the perks of summer this week. Do you know what the best part of summer is? Farm fresh tomatoes! Can't be beat. I never loved summer like I love summer with still warm from the sun, big as your head, tomatoes. We make a panzanella or caprese salad and forget all other foods exist. I love The Berry Patch in Stephentown, NY. They also sell their produce at the Troy Farmer's Market.

Then, today we went to a potluck picnic in the Washington Park. It is always difficult to know what to bring. I discovered that we had almost a whole thing of sour cream in our fridge because the strawberry cake I made only required about a tablespoon out of the whole container I bought just for that. I had seen on Shutterbean a sour cream bundt cake, but I thought I would look through a bunch of cookbooks before I decided. Then, I noticed in my Joy the Baker cookbook a very similar recipe that required even more sour cream (bonus!). I made that and people went nuts for it. My friend's husband is one of the most enthusiastic fans of my cooking (see the apple fritters last fall), and he was eating it like he couldn't believe it. I think the story at the front of the recipe said something like "Cake mix if it didn't taste like cake mix" - and that is totally what it tastes like - what you would imagine cake mix would taste like if it was actually completely delicious! Check it out (I added maraschino cherries for aesthetic reasons).

We had a great time at the picnic! Washington Park is so beautiful. I was telling everyone how I asked my friends in Michigan if they experience this whole Albany thing where you invite 20 people over your house and a substantial number of them already know each other in separate ways you knew nothing about, and they said no that does not happen in Michigan.  One of these days I'm going to have to stop being so surprised that everyone in this town already knows each other in all different ways than I know them.

Also, I have been totally obsessed with pictured frames since we got some anniversary photos taken. Christmas Tree shop has crazy cheap frames. Pottery Barn ones are very nice but expensive. You can print your photos on canvas from The possibilities are almost endless. It is maddening. I got to thinking about the Martha-Stewartzing (or Pinteresting if you would rather) of America. I got to thinking about how there is the way you really are, and then the way you imagine yourself in an ideal way. I really enjoyed the book This Is Where We Live by Janelle Brown, and it has really stuck with me. They think they are this super hip couple on the verge of stratospheric success in the arts when really they are ok at what they do, not very grown up, and can't afford their house. What are you trying to express when you choose decorations? That you are hip? That you have impeccable taste? That your home is stable, comfortable, or has some long, historic significance? Are you a cool young couple or just people with a nice house? It really shouldn't be that hard. Anyways, here's some ideas. Hobby Lobby turned out to have some great ones that were reasonably priced. That yellow one in the lower left corner is one of my new ones. It has an old fashioned shape but cool color, yes?

Here are a couple similar ones waiting for their photos.

I also bought the bottom white one because it looked like the one above it that I got from Pottery Barn. That's our wedding invitation.

Now, any more ideas as to what I can do with the following walls? Proves things are going pretty well for me if my biggest concerns are tomatoes, what the hell to bring to the potluck, and how to make my walls look cool!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July at our house

What do you do with a holiday in the middle of the work week? It seemed weird, and yet who is going to argue with any day off in the year, really? We went to the Tailored Tea for lunch because I am in love with it. I went in Hobby Lobby for the first time. I thought it was a cool store. It was huge. The merchandise seemed of good quality and reasonably priced. They have party decorations, cake decorating supplies, nice picture frames, and even some furniture items. I liked the selection a lot better than the Michael's across the street.

For dinner, Scott made a delicious salad. He cooked up some flank steak in a cast iron skillet, made a dressing with shallots, lemon, and Sierra Nevada mustard, and threw in some olives and giardiniera. It is one of my favorite summer dishes because it is light and refreshing, but still satisfying for dinner. Check it out.

Then, I did an art project. Last time, at the From Scratch Club food swap I literally got off the train from Michigan about an hour before. I hadn't wanted to miss out on the fun, but I knew I wouldn't have any time to make anything. As a way to solve the problem, I made trivets and mosaic frames with food themed quotes on them. They were crazy popular, and one girl even asked for my business card (which I didn't have). I made a few more today to take to the next food swap, and I think they turned out pretty cool!

Hopefully people will like them, but if not I wouldn't mind keeping them for myself. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

TWD, Baking with Julia: Hazelnut Biscotti

As part of Tuesdays with Dorie using the book Baking with Julia, I made the hazelnut biscotti. As with the pecan sticky buns, I tried to find someone else's house I could make them at since my husband is allergic to nuts. In this case, my friend Elizabeth agreed that I could use her kitchen. I mixed the dry ingredients all together at my house, and the wet ingredients (including eggs from my boss's backyard chickens), but then I realized I was late in going over there and skipped putting in the sugar. I got over there and she made a lovely cocktail with Hendrick's and an orange liqueur. It was delicious and refreshing. Their house is older with a lot of character, in contrast to my house which is new and might require less upkeep but might have less of a story to tell too. It is fun to see the inner workings of other people's kitchens - what awesome gadgets they have, cool books, different products or missing elements (my coworker doesn't own a fine mesh sieve). I think I said it last time, but it is pretty fun using other people's kitchens and maybe I can keep this trend going in a variety of kitchens as the recipes demand nuts throughout this project. I think most people appreciate random delicious desserts showing up in their kitchens anyway.

How it went for us:

  • Like I said, I didn't bring my sugar over there since I was running behind schedule, and I didn't guess that my friend would be out. We substituted brown sugar, and actually I thought that turned out really delicious. 
  • I thought the hazelnuts were great. They added a rich, toasty flavor. I don't eat hazelnuts very often at all, and I really appreciated them.
  • Instead of Frangelico we used Disaronno. We put on some cheesy Italian music, sampled some of the liqueur, and felt like little old ladies just off the boat from Sicily. 
  • Her dog, Laverne the chihahua was completely adorable. I should have taken pictures of this tiniest of dogs. It was also the calmest dog I have ever seen, just chilling, waiting for the biscotti to cook. 
  • Overall, I thought this recipe was incredibly easily. Previously, I made lavender and also chocolate chip biscotti from Mark Bittman's basic recipe in How to Cook Everything. I know that making biscotti can seem intimidating to some, but if you follow the steps you can have a delicious accompaniment to your afternoon coffee without much effort. What is really fun about making your own biscotti is that you can make up any combination that you want. Cranberry? Raisin? Lemon? The sky is the limit! Check out what some other people added.
Good times all around! For the recipe check out Homemade and Wholesome and Baking and Boys! Check out all the other bakers here.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer Salads and Sourdough

I've become totally obsessed with cucumbers lately. I'm not sure why, but every summer I seem to get totally obsessed with one thing that is refreshing, easy, and does not require turning on the oven. It is as though being obsessed with one item takes away the work of coming up with what to eat when the heat makes you not hungry at all. Last year, I ate watermelon gazpacho every day. I totally got sick of it at the end of the summer, which will probably happen to cucumbers too. But for the time being, check it out!

Here is the first one I made. My goal here was to copy the sauce my sister made for the bacon wrapped asparagus. I also didn't bother peeling the cucumbers completely or scraping out the seeds, but I think after the cucumbers are in the fridge in a dressing even over night it makes it much less soggy to complete those two steps. So pretty much: cucumbers, ginger, jalapenos, sesame seeds, and a dressing of sesame oil, lime juice, rice vinegar, little bit of brown sugar, cumin, turmeric, salt, and pepper. This one was really, really delicious. It tasted a lot like a cucumber salad we loved at Ala Shanghai (where we had to stop going because they fed a person deathly allergic to nuts peanut butter). I did wonder though whether the dressing really needed the brown sugar and whether it could get by with less oil. Thomas Keller always seems to point out that vinegar is a seasoning and if something actually tastes like vinegar you have failed to achieve a balanced dish. I mostly agree with that, except for maybe in the cases of cucumbers and three bean salad. Cucumbers that taste mostly of vinegar would be just fine with me.

The second one I tried was a bit of a variation on my sister's dressing, only tailored to my tastes. Here I did take the extra steps to peel the cucumbers and scrape out their seeds. I also added some chopped up red and yellow peppers. The dressing I went for something like this: cumin, turmeric, soy sauce, a lot of rice vinegar, a small amount of sesame oil, sesame seeds, salt and pepper and quite a bit of sriracha. This one was less greasy and sweet. I did like the way the first one was sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy all at the same time, but after a few bites it is a bit much. This one relied a bit more on the vinegar and hot sauce instead of the oil and sugar, and I liked the lightness of the flavor.

 For this one I went in a slightly different direction. Again with the cucumbers, but I also added onions, sweet cherry peppers, and green and red bell peppers. For the dressing I went with a lot of dill, paprika, garlic, salt and pepper, a whole bunch of Marie Sharpe's hot sauce, white distilled vinegar and champagne vinegar. This is more like the cucumber summertime salad I remember as a kid - soaking in vinegar and dill. This one would be great with some pasta or even garbanzo beans added to it. Cucumber and dill are a classic combination, and I am sure this one is going to make a great lunch tomorrow!

Also, I have been crazy for making sourdough. I got a sourdough starter and this recipe from the proprietor of Burnt my Fingers blog at the From Scratch Club food swap last week. It is so fun, so delicious, and completely worth all of the effort. Also, it is an easy way to impress your friends. It looks like something you'd pay a fortune for at a fancy bakery. Check it out:

Looks like I am all set up for summer. Now I just have to decide what I am going to supply to the communal salad bar at my upcoming salad bar party I mentioned in this post. Cucumber salad anyone?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Jacqueline Lynch, Albany Photographer

Hard to believe we got married already a year ago! J & S Watkins supplied us with a free anniversary cake which was included in the cost of our wedding cake. And Jacqueline Lynch came over to take anniversary photos of us (check them out on her blog). She is the best. She strives for creative, interesting photos, and she is much more reasonable that the other options in the area for wedding photos. Check out all her fabulous photos of our wedding here. My sister loved her so much that she wish Jacqueline could go all the way to Michigan for her wedding. Jacqueline said she likes to keep her prices reasonable because she likes the interesting type of bride that attracts. I think she is a great photographer. I read her blog a lot, and like to view all of her different projects.

I feel that good photography is worth the price. Sure, it can be expensive, but most photographers are running small businesses and have to keep up with the cost of equipment. Also, if you don't take matters into your own hands, you end up with just photos you have taken yourself, out of focus photos (see here the last photo I have with my grandmother and it is out of focus!!), and lacking photos of important events. Sure, my mom and grandmother took a ton of pictures of us growing up, but many of them are too dark, and worse than that are on polaroids - which start to deteriorate pretty much the moment you take them and do so even in a box with no exposure to light at all. I admit that candid photos can be fun, but one day you might be on the look out for a nice photo of you and your spouse or with your family and not be able to find one that is worth saving. One day we might want to look back on our first wedding anniversary, and lucky for us we will have these lovely photos.

 I think you should think about hiring her for all your photography needs! Also, a photo of our wedding is on her business cards that she puts up all over town, and that was pretty funny. Now, we are planning to continue this anniversary celebration by taking the party on over to Provence.

(Photos by Jacqueline Lynch Photography)