Saturday, December 6, 2008

What a Week!

We did indeed have a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at my parent's. Besides turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes, there were: peas, carrots, turnips, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms. For dessert, there was pumpkin pie, apple pie (made by my sweet husband), and some wonderful pumpkin cheesecake muffins. Delicious! After dinner, we watched the wedding video taken by my 12 year old niece. She did a fantastic job! I told her she could have a pretty good side job, if not a very successful career. :-)

The rest of the weekend was pretty quiet. We were supposed to go away for the weekend, but the extreme cold weather had closed the Falls Trail at Rickett's Glen State Park, so we decided to postpone the trip for better weather. We did go for a hike on Saturday, a long 6 mile circuit hike in the Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area. Not an easy hike! We were wiped out. We were still working our way through the Thanksgiving leftovers through the weekend, but by Monday we were ready for something different. We decided to try Murphy's Hideaway in Rockaway - not an easy place to find, but I have to say it was worth it. Monday happens to be Lobster Insanity - a 1 1/4 pound lobster, 6 clams, potato and salad for $15.95. I thought about it, but we had actually come looking for a good burger. They have 8 oz Angus Burgers, with your choice of "accessories". I went with bacon and swiss, the hubby chose cheddar and onions. Yum. They were excellent! And the restaurant was a great find, lots of intriguing specials and happy hour treats. Something called Oogy wawa is on the blackboard...

The rest of the week was lost in a blur of hard work and late hours. Both of us are in a very intense time at work these days, so we basically just come home, eat something, and collapse on the couch. One day (Thursday?), we made a pasta dinner that turned out really well. I found the recipe on Cooking Light, although I wouldn't necessarily consider it to be "light". I subsistuted chicken thighs for the chicken tenders, and used half and half instead of cream, but otherwise followed the recipe. You can find it here: http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/recipefinder.dyn?action=displayRecipe&recipe_id=698596

Friday we decided to live a little, so after working until 6:30 (that's just wrong), we went to Thai Ping in Boonton. It is a beautiful little restaurant, nicely decorated, and they were even playing Christmas music. Everyone working there was very friendly and helpful. We started with the Thai Ping Egg Rolls, 4 small egg rolls served with a zippy dipping sauce. For an entree, I had Yum Nuur (Thin sliced tender charcoal beef marinated with fresh chili herbs, red onions, tomato, cucumber, mint leaves, and lime juice served on a bed of lettuce), which was delicious. I ordered it mildly spicy, but it wasn't really spicy at all. My husband got Mussaman (with pork), which is described as "Sauteed potato, onions, peanuts in a tangy piquant curry coconut milk curry". He ordered it medium spicy, and it was... HOT! Like, burn your tongue, breathe fire, sweat from your eyes hot. But tasty! I found that if you didn't get too much of that "piquant" sauce, it was much less painful. But we brought half of it home. Maybe with lots of rice or noodles, it will be a bit milder! I think the lesson here is to just order the food mild. We had a similar experience at Thai Nam Phet in Rockaway, so now we know. Thai food is pretty darn hot. We also rewarded ourselves with dessert. I had one of my favorites, Mango with Sticky Rice, and the hubby had fried bananas with ginger ice cream. I managed to get a taste of the ice cream before it was hoovered off the plate, and it was very tasty. All told, the bill was about $60 (no drinks, it's BYO), and a very pleasant evening after a totally crazy week.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Commitment to Kindness

Happy Thanksgiving! I have so much to be thankful for, starting with my wonderful husband of only 47 days. He is truly the very beat of my heart. But wait, there's more! Good health, a beautiful home, and a secure job. My fantastic family and friends. Sunrises, crisp fall days, apple pie, fleece, the library, my car, woodland creatures, and my silly Christmas (well, Thanksgiving) cacti. And the list goes on and on. So lets just say I'm very happy. This year more than ever, I feel the need to give to those who aren't as fortunate as I have been. So, I have decided that every day between now and Christmas, I will try to do something kind for someone else. I haven't really defined what "something kind" is, but so far I have bought cookies from a young woman at a bake sale, volunteered to be a part of The Army of Women (http://www.armyofwomen.org/), and donated money to two local food pantries and a toy drive. I'll keep you posted!

On to more mundane things - dinner last night. Actually, it started yesterday morning by loading up the slow cooker with two small onions (cut into chunks), three boneless chicken breasts, two cans of Ro-tel tomatoes, and one package of taco seasoning. I turned it to low and set the timer for eight hours. When I got home from work, I shredded the chicken using two forks, and added a can of drained black beans and a cup of corn. This recipe was sort of ad-libbed from http://littlehomeontherange.blogspot.com/, in a blog posted back in May. It was ad-libbed mostly because I couldn't remember where I had "filed" the recipe! Anyway, we served the chicken mixture on whole wheat tortillas with shredded cheddar cheese, salsa and brown rice. I'm not going to lie to you - it was MESSY! But it tasted great. Next time, I might add some hot Ancho or Chipotle Chile powder to make it spicier.

Today we travel to my parent's house in Pennsylvania for a true Thanksgiving feast. My mom informs me she has "cut back" on the number of vegetables she is making this year. I'm not sure what that means, as one year we counted nine different vegetables, not counting the mashed potatoes. But she is a fabulous cook, so I'm sure whatever she makes will be delicious. My husband made an apple pie, which I know will be yummy because we had a "test pie" earlier this week. The two of us ate the whole thing in 3 days. The proverbial icing on the cake will be a bottle of wine that we bought in Sonoma Valley on our honeymoon. It's going to be a great day!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Flirting with Obsession

You know how it goes. You have a passing interest in a subject, pick up a book on the topic, and suddenly you're obsessed. My latest idea? Making my own cheese! But let me back up...

For a few months now, I have been hearing about the Slow Food movement, eating locally, and being a "more responsible" carnivore. We actually joined an Organic Food Co-op back in the spring, and now every other week we get a big sack (canvas, of course) of fruits and veggies, all of them organic, most of them local. I'm not big into the politics of organic food, but as you know by now, I am big into the taste of food. And I can tell you, these fruits and vegetables sure do taste good. I don't know if it's because they're organic, or because they are local (and therefore, fresher, and not bred to be transported 2,000 miles), and I don't really care. And we try to buy other produce from the local farmstand - lots of corn, tomatoes and peaches over the summer, and apples in the fall. And then I went to the library and got the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.

In a nutshell, the book documents a year in life of Barbara Kingsolver and her family as they move from Arizona to Virginia and try to grow all their own food, or buy locally whatever they can't grow themselves. And I am totally sucked in. Here I am, in November, trying to figure out where to put the vegetable garden (we have a very hilly, shady, rocky yard). Wondering where we can buy locally raised beef, pork and chicken. Contemplating my own little flock of chickens (okay, that's a lie. I hate chickens). But seriously, I really want to try making my own cheese. It seems so EASY. Just one gallon of milk and a few cheese making implements, and 30 minutes later you have a pound of fresh made mozzarella! In the summertime, add fresh tomatoes (heirloom varieties are best) and basil from my (imaginary) herb garden, and voila! You have a caprese salad.

All I can say is, stay tuned. I haven't finished the book yet, but I can only imagine what will tickle my fancy next. Our own fresh goat's milk? Hand loomed alpaca sweaters? I guess at a minimum, I could double the size of my container garden (one tomato plant, that after a rough start - thanks to the deer - did finally bear 3 lovely Brandywine tomatoes). That doesn't seem like too much of a stretch!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

And the Winner is...

Well, there is no winner, at least not yet. I had mentioned in a previous post that I had a favorite Mexican restaurant - Rattlesnake Ranch Cafe. But, realizing there is always room for improvement, my husband and I tried a new Mexican restaurant on Friday, Chili Willie's in Boonton. I had heard some good things about their food and their friendly service, so we decided to give it a try. We were actually concerned that we might have to wait for a table, since it was a Friday night, but maybe the rain kept people away, because there were only a few folks in the place. The decor was very cute and homey, with serapes on the tables and some kitschy photos and artwork on the walls. We were greeted warmly and within moments had a bowl of fresh tortilla chips and some tasty salsa on the table.

I ordered one of the specials, a shrimp and chorizo sausage dish with peppers, onions and mushrooms. My husband had the "Queso Flameado con Chorizos", which was sort of similar, but without the shrimp. Both were very good! They both came with beans and rice, and some wonderful Pico de Gallo. We ate heartily (as usual) and still had enough left over for lunch the next day. We decided that we would have to go back at least one more time to crown them our new favorite Mexican restaurant, but it's definitely a good sign that we want to go back. Maybe next time we'll remember to bring the cerveza (or the wine), since Chili Willie's is BYO.

And I can't forget to mention the dessert! Also on the specials menu, the banana empanada. I'm not a huge fan of bananas, so I was a bit dubious, but my husband was pretty gung ho. Boy, am I glad he was! This was a beautiful, tasty, and somewhat decadant dish of bananas wrapped in pastry, deep fried, and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. It was served with a huge pile of whipped cream, caramel sauce, and some kind of banana cream. Wow. Don't miss this one.

Since we've eaten there twice in two weeks, it has come to our attention that Boonton is quite the hotbed of mom & pop restaurants. In addition to Chili Willie's, we noticed a Thai restaurant, many Italian/pizza places, the Boonton Street Grill (where we ate dinner last week), and someplace that is definitely on our radar, the Cafe SoupHerb. Looks like further investigation may be required! It's a dirty job, but someone has got to do it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Flashback

I don't think I could write a blog about food without mentioning a large, somewhat food-centric event that occurred last month - our wedding! Yes, my sweetie Bill and I tied the knot on October 11, in front of 100 family and friends... and lots of fantastic food. The wedding was held at Perona Farms, in Andover NJ. After a wonderful ceremony held under the gazebo, we had the pleasure of the Perona Farms cocktail hour, featuring the world-famous smoked salmon made on site. Of course, there was much more than smoked salmon - everything from scallops and lobster cobbler (oh my) to carving stations, to edible cocktails (fun!), the food, drink and service was outstanding. While I don't specifically remember the food, I do remember everyone telling me how wonderful it was.

After cocktail hour, we moved inside for dinner. We started with a broiled lobster tail and salad, then a choice of entre├ęs, and then finally dessert of wedding cake and assorted treats. Everything was amazing. Bill and I had a great time - I just wish I had a chance to enjoy the food a little more! Luckily, Perona Farms also serves brunch every Sunday, so we can go back and relive that wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Welcome to My Blog

Since this is my first post in the blog-o-sphere, I will try not to be too ambitious. I will just simply say: I love food. While I have some preferences (crab, lobster, ribeye, peaches, tomatoes, cookies, etc.), I am willing to try almost anything. For the past few years, I have been searching for the perfect restaurant. Here is the criteria: close to home (not more than 10 miles or so), not too expensive, open for breakfast/lunch/dinner, unique menu items, an everchanging specials menu, casual atmosphere, friendly and attentive service, and of course GOOD FOOD! I am lucky to live in an area that has its fair share of restaurants. Although they seem to be mostly Italian fare, I have a favorite sushi restaurant (Yama Sushi in Denville, NJ), seafood restaurant (South City Grill in Mountain Lakes, NJ), steak place (okay, that's in our own backyard), and Tex-Mex (Rattlesnake Ranch Cafe, also in Denville). Even a favorite diner (Hibernia Diner in Rockaway, NJ). Yet, none of these places truly meets my "Perfect Restaurant Criteria".

I admit to being a follower of The Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives". Not so much for the theatrics of Guy Fieri, but for the vicarious enjoyment of all the neat places he gets to visit. Places where everything is homemade. Where the menu is designed by the chef, not by a corporation. Places where, once you've been there a few times, they greet you by name and seat you at your favorite table. The closest I have ever come to this restaurant nirvana was a place called "Eat-a-Pita" in Southwest Harbor, Maine. We stumbled across this gem by accident while on vacation there in September 2007, and proceeded to visit 5 (or 6?) more times in one week. That's what I'm talking about!

But, a girl's got to eat, so in this blog you will also hear about new recipes we tried, old recipes we love, the places we travel, and the epicurious delights (or nightmares) we find there. Hope you enjoy yourself, and let me know what you think!