July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s been a long, long spring and summer. All work and no play makes Dainty a very sad and tense Dot. Good thing we scheduled vacation for this week.
We typically vacation in Provincetown and spend the whole time lying low—as in low on a beach towel. But, as crazy as this is gonna sound, being on a beach towel soaking up the sun can be a bit boring after awhile. Our solution for that is taking a hike.
This time around, we headed to Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s a Mass. Audubon sanctuary on the western edge of the Cape Cod forearm, right on Wellfleet Harbor. Lots of marsh grass and sandy soil, lots of Cape woodland, lots of birds and wildlife, so bring a camera. And there’s lots of green head flies and sand flies, so arm yourself with repellent and you’ll be fine. There are … let’s see … close to 4-5 miles of hiking trails, so pack a light lunch and enjoy it while watching the shore birds at the end of the boardwalk.
The folks at Mass. Audubon must have gotten some inspiration of Groupon deals, because when we arrived at the nature center they were offering a “half-price sale” on membership. $10 would have gotten the two of us into the sanctuary for the day. For just $29, we could have a year-long family membership that would give us free admission to the 50 Mass. Audubon Wildlife Sanctuaries throughout the state. And, it feels pretty terrific to support an organization that is protecting our state’s natural habitat.
Somewhere along this hike my eye decided to focus on the little things nature had to offer. Except for a couple of spectacular angiosperms, I mainly captured slime molds, lichen, fungi and the occasional gymnosperm. (Look at me, throwing around fancy botanical references. I feel like I’m in college again!) The vistas at Wellfleet are beautiful, but some of the coolest things are underfoot.
June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’m throwing a pity party for myself. Bear with me.
My plate is full. Dripping gravy off the side, actually. A sample of what I have going on:
- I’m an editor for a trade magazine. Full time. Travel, writing, managing freelancers and editorial schedules and advertising opps, putting out (a kickass) weekly enewsletter, being a resource 24/7 for my industry, etc etc.
- I am a paid blogger, weekly posts.
- I put in about 16 hours a week managing a series of gardens. Seasonal, but still.
- I’m also a paid podcaster. Twice a month and I’m just the color commentator. But still, it’s about scheduling.
That’s the paid stuff, as meager as it is. On top of that:
- I volunteer for my local garden tour – on the committee, actually.
- I’m on my community garden’s board of directors.
- I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan. That’s three hours a day right there. I know, that’s not a good excuse, but still.
- I run and bake and cook, or at least I try to. When I have the time.
And all I really want to do is that last line. The running and baking and cooking. All I want to do is Dainty.
Get over it, we’re all in the same boat, right? I know that, but why? Because all the work gets us more money which gets us more stuff? That may be true for some people, but not I. My portion of the spoils pays for half the mortgage and monthly bills, and self-employment income tax—that’s about it. So, it’s not about the money. Okay, so maybe it’s about paying the mortgage—banks do like to get paid. But I’m not doing this for the money.
If I’m not doing it for the fortune, it must be for the fame. Ha! Okay, so, when I travel on business, people I don’t even know do come up to me and talk to me like we’re great friends. And that’s only because I appear in their inboxes weekly and mailboxes monthly and Facebook feeds randomly. Is that fame? Nope. It’s kinda nice, but still.
Then I must do it because it’s all easy, right? Wrong. On my daily to-do list, there is at least one thing (who am I kidding? Three things!) that just doesn’t happen. Even remotely. I have so much going on, I can give none of them the quality and respect due to them. Oh boy, and does that stink. My father the farmer, god love him, is and was always saying, “good enough.” The weed-choked garden was good enough. The produce with spots going into the bag for sale, good enough; the plowing job, good enough; the barn in need of repair, good enough. His health, his family, always just good enough. Dear lord, it’s happening to me. Just in order to get it done—and good enough—to move on to the next.
Why am I doing it, then?
That’s a very good question. One I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.
May 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
It may be raining and a bit chilly here today, but I love every minute I spend in Amsterdam. And I love everything about it—the cheese, the beer, the bikes, the people, the canals. The cheese. Did I mention how wonderful Dutch cheese is? You get my point. Oh yeah, and cheese.
This is my third visit to the city – all for business, lucky me – and each time I’ve tacked on at least a day to spend on my own. Each time I’ve tried to add on to my experiences. Even though I’ve just finished an absolutely lovely second day in the city – which I will tell you about in another post – I have a few thoughts about Day 1:
As a rule, the Dutch people are tall and beautiful. I don’t know why or how, but we should be so lucky. I’ll try to provide visual evidence to this affect later this week.
I don’t recommend being like your average New Yorker and just walk along the cobblestone streets with your head down and your headphones on. If you do, you will suffer injuries. Someone will hit you with a bike or moped or tram. Pay attention! And I will now put a positive spin on this: It’s terrific that there’s so much green transportation in this town. But seriously, transporting yourself on two wheels – whether motorized or person-powered – is the fastest and smartest way of getting around. Some mommy bloggers would have a fit if they saw how unprotected children are on the bikes, for sure. But that’s the way this society is, and motorists just motor along with bicyclists’ safety top of mind. Again, we should be so lucky.
Interestingly, bars/restaurants serve only particular beers. Like some restaurants in the States have either Coke or Pepsi products. For the bigger beer companies, they’ll serve Heineken or Amstel—that’s regular Amstel, not Light—or Grolsch or whichever other. Oh, and by the way, Holland, you need to have bigger beer glasses. If only to keep around in service for American customers.
For the foodie types out there, I have an interesting food delivery gadget for you. I ordered the largest piece of apple cake I’ve ever seen “to go,” or as they say, to take away. And check out the cardboard sleeve they placed the slice into. It’s not a pastry box, but it still gives support to the baked item. And it uses minimal cardboard. Who knows, maybe these are commonplace somewhere in the U.S., but I’ve never seen it and I think it’s a fabulous way to box up a to-go pastry.
The hotel I’m staying in has the most amazing line of toiletries. I stayed at the same hotel last year—Jennifer joined me at the end of the trip for a few days, too—and we snagged as many of the teeny tiny bottles of shampoo, shower gel and lotion as we could. Especially the lotion. The brand is called Rituals, and I believe it’s made in the UK, but I’m not sure. We’ve been very judicious in our use of our bottles from last year and are constantly on the hunt for it. In fact, I nearly accosted a flight attendant last week because I swore she was wearing the stuff. I slather as much lotion as possible on myself each morning and seriously, I should be a little worried about this obsession. I wish smell-o-vision was possible, but until then, here’s what the bottle looks like:
This is truly a beautiful city. Picturesque beyond words. I don’t have the best photography skills but I think this might capture just a bit of what makes Amsterdam so special.
Day 2 coming up next.
April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment
Several weeks ago I attempted my first-ever Indian-spiced meal. Cauliflower masala. Turned out pretty well—read about it HERE. That was then followed by a chana bateta from the Brooklyn Eats blogger, not blogged about here but really tasty. That one includes potatoes in a homemade tomato-based curry. From those two recipes I figured if you have some mustard seeds, cumin, coriander and a touch of heat—and a whole bunch of other stuff—you can whip up a curry.
Last night’s meal is what I’m calling Dainty’s Concocted Curry. I had 2/3 cup of coconut milk I needed to finish off, and I didn’t have all the ingredients for either of the above recipes, so I kinda/sorta combined the two. Believe me, it can be tweaked here and there, especially in the heat department. But I’m pretty proud that I even attempted getting jiggy with these East Asian flavors.
Dainty’s Concocted Curry
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3-ish garlic cloves, minced
0.5-1.0 TBS grated ginger
1-2 TBS oil (I always use olive but you can use canola)
1 tsp mustard seed
1.5-2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
0.5-0.75 tsp cayenne (Would have added a touch more if we had it.)
1 tsp tumeric
couple pinches fenugreek
1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
2 big dollops of tomato paste
2/3 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper
-Heat oil in a fairly deep fry pan, medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Move ’em about in the pan now and then and you’re looking for them to be a bit translucent or, better yet, wilted. At this point I just grate the ginger right on top of that, guesstimating a tablespoon’s worth.
-While this is happening, put the mustard seeds in a small skillet with a slight amount of oil and heat on med-high. Cover! These seeds will start popping when they are ready – not long, about 3 minutes.
-When shallots/onions/ginger are done, add mustard seeds and all the spices to the mix. Stir about – it’ll be kinda pasty. You just want to get some heat on them to begin releasing their aromas. Doesn’t take long – a minute or two.
-Now, this can of whole tomatoes—one recipe called for one diced tomato, the other for a 14 oz can diced tomatoes. Other than a handful of cherry tomatoes, all I had was this 28 oz can of whole tomatoes. Open the can, reach on in there and grab one or two tomatoes, hold it over the pan and squeeze—carefully, otherwise it’ll squish tomato juice all over you. Do this for the entire can, then add the juice. And also add the tomato paste‚—that’ll help thicken it. Add coconut milk and stir. Give it a taste and see if you need to add salt or anything extra. Since I added way more tomatoes than I needed, I gave the mix a few extra shakes of all the spices except the cayenne (no more left) and the mustard seeds. Bring to just about boiling, then turn down to simmer and thicken. We had this on low while our brown rice was cooking for 45 minutes. Stir now and then and check up on it.
We’re pretty much done at this point. We did a take-out sorta thing with this when it came to assembling the meal. I roasted some broccoli and also baked some marinated sliced tofu. We put a big spoonful of brown rice in a salad-sized bowl, added some of the broccoli and a few tofu slabs, and then spooned the curry on top. Not too bad, I have to say.
You? You can add some cubed potatoes (as in one of the original recipes) and let those cook away while the curry is simmering. Or, maybe add some mushrooms. Maybe some stir-fried chicken. Steamed veggies. It’s a curry, and you can use it to add a little East Asian flair to your Wednesday evenings without leaving the house.
March 8, 2011 § 1 Comment
Where’s Dainty been these last few days? Not blogging, obviously. It think it’s a misdemeanor to blog while in the big warm world of South Beach. We jetted away last week to find some relief from this lagging winter.
While down there, I had to make good on a bet. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Steelers, I owed Jennifer a meal at the Fountainebleau Hotel – a fabulous haven for the young and rich who want to be seen. We just wanted to check out the glitz.
After a little research, we found that Scott Conant had a restaurant in the compound call Scarpetta. Scott Conant – he’s one of the judges on Chopped, the one who practically had someone cuffed and thrown into jail for including cheese with a fish dish, apparently a big Italian food no-no. You don’t know me if you don’t know how I feel about such restrictions. Wanting to learn more about the man’s culinary viewpoint—and secretly wanting to put cheese on fish while on the guy’s turf—we decided that Scarpetta would be it.
The restaurant – dimly lit, private, modernly comfortable. The front-of-house girls – Jennifer even called them vacuous to their faces and they giggled. The waitstaff – well-trained. Although our guy looked vaguely like a thin Charlie Sheen. We were seated on the veranda, which typically has ocean and pool views but was enclosed due to high winds. Maybe our seating had something to do with 50 Cent and his entourage dining inside. Who knows.
Anyway … I’m not going to tell you about our entire meal – I’m sure there are enough reviews out there for your reading pleasure. You can assume it was great. If it wasn’t, I’d write all about it. What I’m going to tell you about is my appetizer, which – and I’m not kidding – may be the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.
Burrata atop heirloom tomatoes. I will forever remember this dish, and here’s why.
A burrata is a fresh cheese creation consisting of a solid mozzarella shell and mozzarella and cream interior, served at room temperature. It takes a caprese salad and makes it look like McNuggets. The burrata is like a pillow of dairy with a creamy dairy filling. This topped a thick slice or two of fresh heirloom tomatoes, perhaps lightly tossed in evoo – it was a little hard to tell after I cut into the burrata, but more about that later. When I ordered, I was skeptical of the “fresh heirloom tomato” bit, but silly Northerner that I am, Florida can grow fresh produce during the winter. I do wish they had specified which tomato variety they used. I know they’d have to change out the menu frequently if they did that. Perhaps the waitstaff could relay that info as the “heirloom tomato of the day” like the “fish of the day.”
Now, about that burrata – this was a mozzarella that must have just begun to form and was immediately served to us, it was that fresh. And delicate. So, so delicate. Cutting into the burrata released a small dose of warm cream, coating the ripe yet firm tomato. Someone’s Italian grandmother was in the back making this. I just know it. So, there was this small bite of rich and creamy cheese contrasting with the bright light tang and texture of the thick slab of tomato. The taste and texture could make me believe angels exist, it was that good.
I had wanted to save a small corner of the burrata to put on my turbot entree, but I just could not leave a drop of it for later. I must learn to make burrata.
Dainty Rates: The burrata – off the charts.
February 27, 2011 § 4 Comments
I’m frugal. I can’t help it; my parents grew up in the Depression. When I see a deal, a quality deal, I take it.
For instance, several weeks ago Jennifer and I did one of our super grocery shops. Two or three grocery stores, big carts full of everything from toilet paper to hummus to chicken sausage. We drove our cart by the Island of Misfit Produce—the rack of old artichokes, spotty potatoes, soft pears—in our local Stop & Shop. We don’t normally shop from this spot, but for some reason that day we did. Four artichokes, somewhat soft = $1.88 – and they are usually $2 each. Four humongous pablano peppers = $1.88. $1.88? Amazing.
Okay, so … the peppers. Normally what we do with peppers is we stuff them. We picked up the idea a couple of years ago from an episode of Guy’s Big Bite. He stuffed them with an arborio-style rice, chorizo and maybe some bell peppers. Instead of chorizo we use shrimp; we’ve also used rice, bulgur and quinoa.
The Misfit peppers had a few spots. Whatever. Spots can be removed. Peel it away, cut it out, chop it up—that’s the Great Depression way. And that’s exactly what I did. I removed anything on the pepper that was soft or wimpy. Some looked pretty good – some looked like they were really mangled in the end. But since they were pretty large peppers to begin with, all four turned out to be a good size, regardless of the chunks I removed. In they went into a Ziploc freezer bag and into the freezer.
Remember a few days ago we made a side dish of quinoa with carmelized onions and mushrooms? That’s what we stuffed into the pablanos. The quinoa is easy—here it is:
- 2 3/4 cups chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups quinoa
Heat chicken stock to boiling. Add quinoa and a pinch or two of salt. Stir. Turn OFF the heat and cover. Let sit for 15 minutes. Yes, it’s that easy. So, listen to this – quinoa has a protein content of about 12% AND it’s a complete protein source. It’s good for you – no need to add hamburger to this, dude.
Okay, so … to this you add caramelized onions and sauteed shitake mushrooms. What we did – actually, what Jennifer did – was caramelized the sweet onions in a pan with fresh thyme. She then removed the onions and put the sliced shitakes right in all that thyme-y, oniony goodness. Mmm, mmmm, mmm.
We combined the onions and mushrooms with the quinoa. Served as bunch as a side dish with fish tacos.
So, with all that leftover quinoa, we stuffed it into those pablanos. We thawed the pablanos several hours beforehand; and stuck them into a 425F oven for about 10 min. That loosened up the skins a bit – just enough to make them not too tough. While that was happening, I warmed up some of the quinoa in a glug of chicken stock AND I added about 6-7 chopped shrimp (cut shrimp in half lengthwise, the crosswise in thirds). Just tuck those shrimpies into the quinoa and turn heat to looooooow. Cover. Let it sit there for just 5 minutes. Turn heat off – you don’t want to overcook the shrimp!
Pablanos out of the oven. Quinoa warm. Stuff them together. Mmmm…. If you have any quinoa left, layer that into the bottom of a cast-iron pan. Put the pablanos on top. Sprinkle with a bit of freshly grated parmasean.Put into a 425F oven for 10 minutes. Dinner is done. And, it’s yummy.
February 1, 2011 § 5 Comments
My friend Amanda’s comment on my Rye Bread: Day 1 post was this: “Amazing how you make this sound time consuming and gross… yet totally tasty and motivating!”
Little does she know what this mass of flour, water and punctured grapes has turned in to …
Here’s a brief journal of my sourdough starter experience. Consider it a journal of Baby’s First Days. And oh boy, if real babies are as slimy as this, I’m so glad I don’t have one.
(I skipped the first few hours. Perhaps I had a bout of postpartum depression.)
Monday. 11:21 a.m. Sourdough starter roughly 19.5 hours old. Microwave trick and dissipating boiled water have warmed the starter to 74F. The best I’m gonna get at this point.
Monday, 5:12 p.m. 25-ish hours old. Sourdough starter has turned into bubbly goodness! It smells like … grapes. Really. Yeasty. Grapes. Alas, work prevents me from tackling Step 2 at the moment.
Monday, 6:49 p.m. Still bubbly goodness, with a pleasant grapey-yeasty aroma. Added 113 grams room temperature water and 72 grams unbleached all-purpose flour. Stirred. Put back in microwave. Crossed fingers. Needs to bubbey away for another 12 to 24 hours.
Tuesday, 6:02 a.m. Baby Dough’s big! Must have almost doubled in size overnight. Lots of big bubbles. Hmm… should I move on to the next step?
Tuesday, 8:27 a.m.: I decided to move on to Step 3 after only 14+ hours. It calls for scooping out the grape remnants and a bit of the starter. It’s snot. It looks like snot. It pulls like snot. It’s baby snot. Of course the grapes all settled on the bottom and I had to scrounge around with an iced tea spoon and pull them up through miles of gooey snot. Good thing was there was a layer of liquid on the bottom through which I could see all the grapes. Finding them all wasn’t so hard through the gooey yeasty snot.
Answer me this: Why would anyone EVER think this would be something yummy to add pulverized wheat to and then put in a container to cook over hot coals? That leap of faith from snot to baked goods—if you think about it, that crazy idea created civilization. Goo. Flour. Water. Heat. The wheel. The combustible engine. The Internet.
Added 36 grams flour. Mixed thoroughly. Put back in the microwave. Waiting another 12-24 hours.
Tuesday, 4:24. Baby Dough is 48 hours old – yay! Threw a little party, invite other doughs from the neighborhood. They are so adorable at that age …
Baby Dough’s looking a tad under the weather, a little runny. I snuggled him in the microwave with another cup of boiling water and will check back in later. For now, I’ll let him rest. Perhaps the party was too much.
January 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s about time I bake some bread, wouldn’t you say?
It’s a lazy-dozen days into the Year of Ellen Baking and flour hasn’t yet been sprinkled on the kitchen counter. I rolled out of bed this morning and decided to remedy that. Measuring cups and the mixer were in use within 15 minutes of my alarm going off.
It’s not like I have a lot of time to make bread today. The pile of work on my desktop is pretty steep. Making a poolish (a dough starter) and then going through the hours of rising and deflating and proofing and on and on – the protocols for my most flavorful breads – just isn’t in the day’s agenda.
Luckily, I have a quick, one-rise recipe I keep in my back pocket and pull out when time is tight. I found the recipe at Principia Gastronomica last summer. Easy enough to remember. Easy enough to prepare. Easy enough to adjust.
Here’s the ingredient list:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp fast-acting/instant yeast add straight to the flour (I increase by 1/3 tsp – not sure why but it works!)
- 2 tsp salt (I use kosher)
- About a cup of warm water (your finger should feel comfy when inserted into it)
The thing I like about this recipe is that the blogger had suggested to add whatever proportion of flours you wish – all white, half white/half wheat, some spelt – whatever. Just make it 3 cups flour. Baking isn’t known for it’s flexibility; quite the opposite in fact. I like the freedom to try my own thing.
I vacillate between a strict 50/50 white-whole wheat ratio and one where I use 1.75 cups of whole wheat (King Arthur Flour’s whole wheat, which is on the fine side of wheat flours). Today’s bread is the latter.
Don’t have time to make bread in the morning? Dainty Dot does it this way:
- Mix flour(s), yeast, salt in bowl of Kitchen-Aid mixer. Attach a paddle (oiled with Pam or something like that) and secure bowl to mixer.
- While mixer is on low, add about a cup of warm water. When dough becomes shaggy (less than a minute), stop mixer, take off paddle (clean off dough that sticks and put back in bowl) and attach oiled (with Pam etc) dough hook.
- Why I oil paddle/hook: Makes it easier to clean dough off paddle, and helps prevent dough from creeping up to top of hook. Alton Brown’s suggestion, not my own genius, unfortunately.
- With hook now on, turn mixer of medium low. Let the hook and dough do their thing. IF the dough is looking a tad dry – if it looks like that dryness would hurt if you were a lump of developing dough – I add squigges of warm water ’til it softens up a bit.
- If dough does creep up the hook, stop the mixer and adjust dough downward.
- After about 5 minutes, the dough should look like it’s swollen just a tad and look a bit like a soft baby’s bum. At this point, take out the dough and put into an oiled (or Pammed) bowl. I like to put my in a large (2 quart-sized) plastic measurer with markings. That way you can tell how much the dough has risen. Next, cover the container with plastic wrap. Put in a warm draft-free space.
- Warm? In January? I’m a frugal gal myself. My house is nowhere above 68F at any time between August and June. How the heck do I find a warm space that’ll make my baby snuggly and happy? Here’s the trick: Boil a cup of water in the microwave. Put the dough bowl in the microwave with the just-boiled water. Close door. You’ll have a warmish space for the next hour or so as the water releases heat as it cools down.
- The original recipe says to let the dough rise an hour or so. I take mine a but further – up to two hours. The dough is likely to double in that time.
- Spill the somewhat-puffy dough onto a lightly floured surface. The light pull of your hands on the dough coaxing it out of the container is pretty much enough handling to count toward a light “punch down.” You don’t want to let too much of that air out – this is a one-rise dough, after all.
- Actually, you can even skip the “lightly floured surface.” Why? This is a dry dough – a quick dip of your fingertips in some flour is more than enough to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers. And, in this next step you actually want the tackiness of your surface to work in your favor.
- Pull in all sides of the dough into the middle of a round ball. Try your best to pinch them all into one spot. Top should be a smooth rounded surface, and the bottom should look like puckered lips.
- Next, put the ball bottom side down. Put both hands on either side of the ball, cupping it from the top, and rotate the ball under your hands – kinda pushing up with your left while pulling down with your right. The tackiness of a flourless work surface pulls the dough taut. And, it helps in drawing in those “puckered lips” and sealing it closed as best as possible. Do the push-me, pull-you thing about 10-20 times. When the “skin” of the ball starts to pull very very tight, STOP!
- Put the dough ball on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper that has been lightly sprinkled with corn meal. Cover with that plastic wrap you used previously (waste not, want not, right?). Let it sit while the oven warms up to about 420F (recipe says 425F but my oven runs a bit hot). In fact, I’ll let it sit for up to 1/2 hour.
- Five minutes before you’re ready to put the dough into the oven, throw in some ice cubes. This creates steam, and a humid, steamy oven helps create a nice crunchy crust.
- Right before inserting the dough into the oven do these two things: 1) slash the top of the dough lightly with a quick movement. This slashing will help prevent the crust from breaking haphazardly elsewhere as the dough expands. The dough is gonna split regardless – pre-slashing is like a controlled split. 2) Spritz the loaf 4-5 times with a water spritzer-thingy. Again, this helps create a crunchy crust. But I don’t go crazy trying to control the crust, not like I would if I were making French bread or a sourdough. This is a quick-and-easy bread recipe – the crust is what it is. I’m good with that.
- The recipe calls for the bread to bake about 40 minutes. Because my oven runs a bit hot, I take it to 35 minutes and then check its status. Check for doneness by thumping your thumb against the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it’s time to set it free from the oven. What’s a hollow loaf of bread sound like? Good question. And I suggest you take a loaf out at 30 minutes, give it a good thump, and remember what that sounds like, and then keep comparing thumps every couple of minutes. Eventually the bread will be done and you’ll note the difference in sound. Well, that’s how I did it, anyway.
- Let it sit on a cooling rack for a while so it can finish cooking completely inside. If you can keep your hands off it, that is.
Using this recipe, I made a loaf of half-whole wheat bread 5.5 inches wide and weighing approximately 1 lb. 6.5 oz. in less than 4 hours. Fresh. Bread. Fast. Yum.