Berry Fun Picking

Last Weekend on our mini tour of northern Vermont, Jack and I stumbled upon a berry picking farm. We were hesitant to stop, or rather I was, because it was so warm outside, and neither of us had a particularly good night of sleep (note to self-prepare better for camping on solid ground). Fortunately Jack was in a nice and generous mood, and decided it would be worth it for us to stop.

Thank you Jack- this had to be one of my very favorite berry picking excursions, and not even because the berries were delicious. The place was called Charlotte Berry Farm,and they had lovely red raspberries and a variety of blueberries to pick. The raspberries were nearing the end of the season, so the pickings were slim, but it was fun nonetheless. I was most surprised that their red raspberries were almost done, and we hadn't even seen any in Mass yet.

The reason I am telling a story about berry picking is not so much for the berries themselves, though they were delicious. Rather, the farm was simply amazing. The farmhouse was a palette of pastels, figments of little girls' imaginations, and big girls' secret desires. There were flowers, and a baked goods area, and to top it off, a little girl having a tea party with her teddy bear. I fell in love at first sight.

I believe I have a hidden desire to be a little kid again, to experience the tea parties and colors and beauty of childhood, as it all too quickly passed. Thankfully, the Charlotte Berry Farm offered me the chance to relive my little girl desires. I only hope to return to this place, or create one just like it wherever life takes me. Until then, I will cherish that morning, and remember it for years to come.

Ohhh, and what came of the 4 pounds of berries you might ask? We made about 7 jars of raspberry jam to be featured in some of our family and close friends' Christmas gifts!


A Little Food Tour

Moving to Massachusetts offered both Jack and I the opportunity to travel to a whole slew of new places that would be within driving distance in the New England area. One place that I had a hankering to go see since I was a little bit younger was Burlington VT- home of hipsters, great beer, and most importantly, close to Ben & Jerry’s and Cabot Creamery.

We figured that no time was like the present, you know, a weekend that began late as I had to work long hours, a lovely car ride that turned into a nightmare because of lake traffic, and oh yeah, Jack nearly missing hitting a cop car on I-89. Yeah it a weekend in VT started like that. We decided to rent a camp site in a state park called Mt. Philo, which is about 10 miles south of Burlington. It was our first time camping together, and it certainly started off poorly, what with the traffic and all, and of course no real place to put a tent, and the inability to start a campfire.

Nevertheless, Saturday morning started off much better than Friday night ended up. We began our morning with a cup of coffee at a local shop in Shelburne, VT, followed by a visit to the local farmer’s market for some breakfast (which was in addition to the lovely blueberry muffins I made). Surprisingly enough, they can sell wine at farmer’s markets in Vermont! We did a little wine tasting, then began our day long tour of Cabot, Ben & Jerry’s and Magic Hat.

Cabot Creamery was incredible, mostly because I am a cheese lover, and probably because they had unlimited samples of about 20 kinds of cheese. My cholesterol took a turn for the worse after that visit. Cabot allowed us to try their new flavors for the year- Wasabi Cheddar and Chipotle Chedder. Delicious, especially the Wasabi variety. The Co-Op is owned by all dairy farmers, and includes about 35% of all dairy farmers in VT. It’s a great little company with terrific cheese. Try their Private Stock cheddar- simply amazing!

After Cabot, we were recommended to visit a little winery off a 10 mile dirt road that offered local wines that were a little non-traditional. Instead of grapes, they used local fruits to ferment their wine. Grapes do not grow very well in VT because of the climate, but that did not stop this winery from producing. My favorite was a Cranberry wine and a Raspberry Apple Wine.

Next up- Ben & Jerry’s, after a small detour to Waterbury VT for lunch and a little summer Arts festival. I had been to Ben & Jerry’s before, but Jack had not, so it was a whole new experience for him. The place was packed which made for a rather crappy tour, but the ice cream was good, and that’s all that mattered. We sampled one of their newer flavors, Milk and Cookies, which is pretty good. It’s no half baked or S’mores though. And most certainly no Goodbye Yellow Brickle Road.

I digress. Anyway, last on our food touring agenda was Magic Hat Brewery. The tour was ehhh, but a video they played during the tour was great. It spoke about the history of beer, and more importantly, Craft Beer. Craft Beer is making quite a name for itself these days because it is made with all good intentions in mind- without desire to sell to the masses, rather to sell good quality beer to those who desire it. The tasting was fabulous- unlimited and full of non-traditional and well known brews. My favorite was one that involved some Ginger. Look for it in Magic Hat’s variety packs.

Overall, the trip to Vermont was a grand success. I am pretty sure I am destined to live there. I love the laid back culture with its emphasis on good food, good beers and wine, good treatment of the environment and farmers and most importantly, good people. I am sure you will be hearing aobut another adventure where I drag Jack there again- this time for Moose witnessing and chocolate factory touring!


Zucchini and Summer Squash Overload

Ahh the joys of a garden. There are so many lovely benefits of having one-as a stress reliever, a sense of gratitude and self satisfaction, a food source, and many more. That is until you come across the zucchini and summer squash plant. You know, the one that will not stop producing veggies no matter how hard you try to make it stop. Here's the scoop on the squash and how we evolved from loving the plant to wishing it would go into retirement.

Once upon a time Jack and I really wanted to start a successful garden. We purchased organic seeds from local areas and afar. We planted them inside, cultivated them as they grew nicely. Then when the weather was warm, we transplanted them. And killed most of them. We didn't know the first thing about gardening, especially the one essential rule- slowly introduce seedlings to the outside world. Take them outside during the day, and bring them inside at night for about 1 week. Well, most of our little guys went to plant heaven, and as a result, we went to our local farm to purchase ready to plant vegetable plants. The only criteria we had was that the plant had to be very difficult, if not impossible to kill. So we picked zucchinis, summer squash, cauliflower and eggplant. They were all about 3 inches tall in May. In July, the zucchini and squash have grown to take over the garden. Every other day Jack hauls inside another 10 or so. The fridge is loaded with them, and we are slowly running out of ideas to do with them.

I've done the zucchini bread (a fabulous low fat, whole grain recipe from my friend Laura), the grilled veggies, pickled zucchini, stuffed zucchini, and zucchini stir fry. And there are still at least 10 in the fridge. One recipe that I wanted to share though was a Summer Squash galette. The meal was pretty easy to put together, requires little hands on time, and is delicious. It was a perfect Friday night meal. The recipe was from Smitten Kitchen, and modified with a different cheese or 2, but will definitely be something that Jack and I make again.

If anyone has any zucchini recipes to share, please do. Chocolate Zuccchini bread and zucchini salsa (with fresh Mass peppers and tomatoes!) is on the very near horizon.

Zucchini and Summer Squash Galette
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

For the pastry:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, chilled in the freezer for 30 minutes
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces and chill again
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup ice water

1 large or 2 small zucchinis, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds (We used a zucchini and summer squash combo)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium garlic clove, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup (about 1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese (We used Romano)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded mozzarella
1 tablespoon slivered basil leaves

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Make dough: Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle bits of butter over dough and using a pastry blender, cut it in until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with the biggest pieces of butter the size of tiny peas. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lemon juice and water and add this to the butter-flour mixture. With your fingertips or a wooden spoon, mix in the liquid until large lumps form. Pat the lumps into a ball; do not overwork the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Make filling: Spread the zucchini out over several layers of paper towels. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and let drain for 30 minutes; gently blot the tops of the zucchini dry with paper towels before using. In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil and the garlic together; set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, Parmesan, mozzarella, and 1 teaspoon of the garlicky olive oil together and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare galette: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch round. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet (though if you line it with parchment paper, it will be easier to transfer it to a plate later). Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the bottom of the galette dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Shingle the zucchini attractively on top of the ricotta in concentric circles, starting at the outside edge. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon of the garlic and olive oil mixture evenly over the zucchini. Fold the border over the filling, pleating the edge to make it fit. The center will be open. Brush crust with egg yolk glaze.

Bake the galette until the cheese is puffed, the zucchini is slightly wilted and the galette is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with basil, let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.


Contemplations of Cooking

As I am standing here cooking a fairly new standby dinner of Chicken Milanese, braised radishes, and green beans, I am contemplating how much I have come to love cooking. Yesterday I was reading Real Simple magazine, and the July issue posed a question of readers-"If you were given one extra day off this summer, what would you do?" My mind immediately raced to all of the things I never have time to do, sleeping in, running to the post office, fitting in a good workout, but then I realized I wanted a little more time to contemplate before I jumped to a typical conclusion.

Today I was in front of my computer, working the 9-5, mind racing to solve the current problem at hand, when I stepped back for a second, and reflected on the question from Real Simple; what would I do with one additional free vacation day this summer? I thought about it, and decided to just free think, and determined my answer, from the heart. No exercise, no pleasing others but myself, enjoying and savoring every last moment of the things that I love. And here it is: I would wake up in the early morning to a cup of coffee with milk and a strawberry chocolate chip muffin. I would eat that glorious breakfast while reading a fascinating novel. After a relaxing breakfast I would head to the nearest farmer's market to buy ingredients and tools necessary to bake the latest on my to do list, and purchase foods for making a lovely dinner. After baking my recipe, I would head to the beach for a snooze and some more light reading. The beach would relax me, and give me some quality "Me" time. Finally, I would finish my day by cooking a delicious dinner for Jack and our friends. We would enjoy delectable, thoughtful food and wine, and end the night with some good conversation and plans for another tomorrow.
Cooking has made me appreciate a quality meal, but more importantly, it has taught me to be a cook for those I love, and to love to cook for those who care.

Three months or so ago when I started to really get into cooking, I never thought that it would become a passion of mine, and yet here I am. braised radish in left hand, blog on right hand, and a whole lotta love in the middle.

Speaking of love, here's a few pictures from my new love-Nice, France. Jack and I recently took a vacation here, and definitely want to go back. Think markets, wine, and beach. Life couldn't get much better...

The last picture is of "Socca" a traditional chickpea flour flatbread. Delicious!


CSA Weeks 3 & 4

The CSA season is in full swing, and every week brings a new vegetable accompanied by some of the same loot from prior weeks. This week we received a variety of lettuces, including some mustard lettuce. As Jack and I were getting ready to go on vacation, we tried extremely hard to use up most of the CSA box prior to leaving. That meant being inventive, and productive with the veggies. We made celery pesto, parsley pesto, and basil pesto. If you have never made a pesto, try it. IT is hands down the easiest recipe to make. Step one: get ingredients. Step two: put into food processor. Step three: eat. The pesto is can be easily frozen for later use, or paired right away with pasta, panini, or salads.

A dinner that we made that week, that was mocked off of one of my favorite restaurants in the Philadelphia suburbs, Zake’s Cakes, was pumpkin ravioli salad. The name sounds a little funny, but the result is delicious. We used some of the CSA box in the meal-romaine lettuce, scallions, and a touch of mustard greens for tanginess. We also used Vermont Creamery chevre, craisins, and Pumpkin ravioli that I had in the freezer from Venda Ravioli in Providence. When all of the ingredients are combined together, the salad becomes a warm, sweet mix of flavors that reminds one of both fall and spring with the mix of vegetable influences. The best part of this meal is that it comes together in 15 minutes, or as long as it takes to boil the ravioli.

If you are ever in need of a quick yet tasty (and healthy!) meal, try this out. You will not be disappointed.

Pumpkin Ravioli Salad- Inspired by Zake’s Cakes
Pumpkin Ravioli
Greens of your choice
Chevre, or other soft cheese
Raspberry Vinaigrette

Cook ravioli according to instructions. Meanwhile wash and prepare lettuce. Top with cheese, craisins, and cooked ravioli. Top with raspberry vinaigrette and serve with crusty bread.