Apple Picking and Apple Pie

Saturday was a perfect fall day in New England. The sky was blue, the leaves have begun to change, and the air was crisp and cool. You needed a light jacket or sweater, but the sun was warm on your face. It was a perfect fall day for the most perfect fall activity -- apple picking.

While Chris stayed home working on grad school stuff, I took the drive up from Connecticut, my sister, her husband and their 3-year old took the drive down from Vermont, and we met up at my parents house in Massachusetts. One of my dad's friends has a farm in Amherst, and with his usual generosity, offered it up for our (free!) apple picking enjoyment.

Bags in hand, we began our walk through the orchard. The trees were laden with red and green fruit, literally ripe for the picking. My niece walked up to a low-lying branch and informed me, "This is how you do it, Auntie Amy: twist and pull!!!" It was an instruction that was repeated often throughout the afternoon. We picked until the bags were filled with Cortlands, while visions of crisps and crumbles and pies danced in our heads. It was, in fact, the perefct fall day!

Here's my recipe for apple pie, or should I say, apple pie filling because I use
Pillsbury crust.

1 package refrigerated pie crust, or homemade crust
10 apples, variety of your choosing, peeled, cored and diced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons apple pie spice
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 425. Place one pie crust in an ungreased pie plate and press firmly against the side and bottom of the dish. In a large bowl, toss the diced apples with the lemon juice. In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients well. Pour the dry ingredients into the bowl with the apples and mix well so that all the apples are coated. Spoon the filling into the crust-lined pie plate. Cut the butter into pats and place randomly on top of the apple pie filling. Top with the second crust and press the edges together to seal (if using refrigerated pie crust, see package directions for a two-crust pie). Brush the crust with the milk. Cut slits in several places in the top crust and bake for 45 minutes, until apples are tender and the crust is brown. Cool for at least an hour before serving.


Suzi Sells Stonington Sea Scallops to Serve in the Shell

Last weekend's farmers' market (Coventry, CT) was buzzing with new vendors, among them Suzi's Seafood. It was the large sea scallops, caught locally in Stonington, CT, that called to us, and we bought a pound. Suzi had a recipe suggestion, copies of "Scallops on the Half Shell" from Alton Brown. She even had complimentary shells on which to serve them, so we went for it. We even made up our own tongue-twister (see post title).

The fresh scallops were huge, tender and succulent. For the tomatoes, we only need one (it was a big one, though!) of the heirlooms from our garden. While we've forgotten the exact variety, it has the oranges and reds of a gorgeous sunset, and tasted very sweet. Finally, we substituted panko for regular breadcrumbs. Overall, we loved the ease and freshness of this light, tasty dish.

Ingredients (adapted from Alton Brown, 2005):

1 pound sea scallops
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt (separated)
2 cups panko style breadcrumbs
1 large tomato, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the scallops with cold water and thoroughly pat them dry. Melt the butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Once the butter is melted add the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and cook for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and toss in the bread crumbs until well combined. Set aside. In a small bowl, toss together the chopped tomato, parsley and the remaining salt. Evenly divide the tomato mixture between 8 large scallop shells (or oven-proof ramekins). Place the scallops over the tomato mixture and top with the bread crumbs. Bake in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve immediately.


Goodbye, Tavern on the Green

It seems that one of New York City's landmarks is set to close. Tavern on the Green, the epitome of NYC's old-school, fine dining restaurants, aptly located in Central Park, has filed for bankruptcy, according to this article in the New York Times. It will close its doors on New Year's Eve.

I was lucky enough to have eaten at Tavern several times, as a young lady brought into the city on day trips with the other ladies in my family. These were special treats, funded by my self-employed, hard-working father who had no interest in going to the city, but knew his girls loved it. Sometimes it was just my mother and I, then, as my sister grew older, she came along, and sometimes so did grandma (mom's mom) and an aunt or two (mom's sisters). Almost always the trips were around the holidays, so we could see New York's shop windows in all their festive finery. There was window shopping, real shopping, and usually a show, on Broadway, at Radio City, or at Lincoln Center. And, almost always, we luncheoned (for that's what ladies do) at Tavern on the Green.

I forwarded the article to my mother and sister and we passed emails describing memories of our visits to Tavern. My mom recalls a raspberry Charlotte russe dessert that made her want to lick the plate (she didn't of course). I remember feeling decadent (and quite important, thank you!) when I placed an order for French Toast that cost $12 (it was the early 1980's and that seemed like a lot of money for French toast!). It was the first time I had French toast that wasn't made from white sandwich bread but with challah, and, besides learning what challah bread is, I realized how fabulous French toast could be. All of us laughed when we remembered the time we were sitting in the
Crystal Room, looking out at Central Park in all its glory - the trees changing color, the squirrels building their nests. It was only after we finished eating and left that my mother told us that those squirrels were actually rats. But even that is a fond memory, one we always mention when we talk about "those trips." And my sister, well, she is mostly just disappointed, for Tavern is a part of our childhood that she won't be able to share with her daughter.

Goodbye, Tavern on the Green. Thanks for the memories.


Foodie Movie Friday: The Ramen Girl

Okay, it's not a book, as we normally do "Foodie Book Friday." However, when we saw the charming film The Ramen Girl, we knew we had to let our fellow foodies know about it. Thus, "Foodie Movie Friday."

Abby, played by Brittany Murphy, is four years out of college ("Phi Beta Kappa" she'll have you know) but she has nothing to show for it. She has followed her boyfriend to Tokyo, and when she arrives, he decides he never wanted her to come, and leaves her (at least he gives her the keys to his apartment!). Feeling abandoned, out on the terrace with a beer in hand, she catches sight of a ramen shop. Her first visit is cathartic - the ramen is the cure - and she decides it is her life's goal to learn to cook it.

She begs the ramen chef, a crotchety Japanese man named Maezumi, to be her sensei (teacher). He agrees, but in the style of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, she must earn her way up through the kitchen by starting with the "grunt work." It is the scenes between student and teacher that are the most authentic, and the most touching. He speaks little English, she, little Japanese, and there are subtitles to help the viewer. But the ramen is their shared language, and what makes this a great movie for foodies. That, and it gives ramen its rightful place in the world of noodles.
Best of all, it reminds you that spirit is one of the most important ingredients in any dish.


The Cat Ate My Cookie!

Sunday morning we stopped at our local Italian bakery/cafe for double espressos, and after peeking into the cookie case, I bought a half-pound of cookies. Turns out my favorite one is a light and airy sugar cookie with a sweet jam center. Unfortunately, I did a variety box and bought only four of these now-favorites. Last night I found a half-eaten Italian cookie on the floor. Naturally, it was the last of my favorites. It had little bite and scratch marks in it, which was a clue - I don't think Chris took a nibble and then dropped the cookie on the floor. I went into the kitchen and saw that the pastry box containing the cookies was open just enough. It too had scratch marks on it. Very interesting. One of our cats, Stanley, has "thumbs," and since he can open a Hershey's Kiss (he really can!), I figure he's the culprit. Yeah, the cat ate my last cookie. At least I know he has good taste.


Chunky Tomato Soup

We spent some time Labor Day weekend harvesting, cleaning, stewing and freezing our crop of plum tomatoes in preparation for the fall and winter months. Then this past weekend, we found ourselves craving tomatoes. We also found ourselves craving soup, as the temperature cools down and the air of early fall turns crisp. When this happens, what better meal is there than tomato soup and grilled cheese?

We grabbed a bag of those stewed tomatoes from the freezer and chopped up a few of our ginormous beefsteaks for the base. A few potatoes, a couple slices of bacon and a can of white beans rounded out our list of ingredients. We let the soup simmer long enough to mix the flavors and allow the tomatoes to break down, worked some magic with the immersion blender, and served it with a grilled cheeses made with fresh mozzarella. Unfortunately, we neglected to take a picture. We'll remember next time!


3 slices bacon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large red potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups stewed tomatoes
2 large fresh beefsteak tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1 14-ounce can cannelini (white) beans, drained and rinsed

Cook bacon in a large saucepan until it is cooked to your liking and the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and set it aside on a paper towel to cool. When it is cooled, chop the bacon. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the bacon fat and add the chopped onion to the pot. cook it in the bacon fat over medium heat until it is soft and translucent. Add the garlic to the pot and cook until you can smell the garlic, about a minute. Then add the potatoes and cook about five minutes. Add the stewed and chopped tomatoes and the chicken broth to the pan. Allow to cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through. Stir in the brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for a couple of minutes longer. Move half of the soup to a large bowl or blender and set aside. Put half of the white beans into the soup pot and half into the soup that you've set aside. Blend the set-aside soup in the blender or using an immersion blender. Return the blended mixture to the soup pot. Add the bacon, stir well and cook five minutes longer.


Foodie Book Friday: Girl Cook

"Chick lit" meets the chef scene in Hannah McCouch's 2003 novel Girl Cook. The author knows of what she speaks, as besides being a writer, she is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and has worked as a cook in many restaurants, just like her heroine, Layla. Layla is longing for culinary success, but must fight her way through the misogyny of the restaurant world in order to get it. Her tale starts, "I've been tossing mesclun greens in the garde-manger at Tacoma for the past nine months, and I'm about to lose my sh*t. I've been begging the chef to let me give the Caesar salads and cold beet couscous specials a rest and actually cook something for once." The food talk is completely satisfying - suffice it to say, the description of the mashed potatoes (pages 90-91 in the paperback edition) changed the way I'll cook them forever. But there's more to the story than food, there's the problem Layla's love life (or lack thereof). Part romantic comedy, part inside-look into the world of professional cooking, if you like both, you'll love this quick read.



We love arancini, those golden, fried balls of rice originating in Sicily. Some are filled -- with meat, cheese, and/or vegetables. Some are made from leftover risotto (if you can ever manage to have any risotto leftover!). Some just consist of saucy rice that has been breaded and fried. The insides are red with tomato sauce when they're served in Spain, yellow with saffron when they're served in Arabic countries. They can be baked, but they taste better fried (what doesn't?). Arancini can be whatever you want them to be.

In the "fritter" or "croquette" family, arancini got their name from the Italian word for "orange," based on how they look. But the arancini we tend to buy, from D&D Market in the Little Italy section of Hartford, are cone-shaped. And yes, we said buy. The truth is, some things are best left to the experts. We've attempted arancini at home, using leftover risotto. It just didn't cut it, and left us unsatisfied. Besides being an amazing Italian market, D&D makes some tasty arancini.

Chris stopped by D&D on his way home Friday night. Along with the other goodies he purchased (provolone, parmegiano reggiano, fresh mozzarella, speck), he bought two arancini. We heated them and served them over marinara for simple, rustic dinner which we enjoyed on our back deck. With a little chianti, it was like a summer evening in Tuscany. Mangia!


Rotisserie Herbed Chicken

While out grocery shopping over the weekend, we found whole chicken breasts were "buy one, get one free," making them about $4 a piece. That's a pretty cheap dinner, and since our family Labor Day get-together was on Sunday, we made dinner for two on Monday. We chopped up a small handful each of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (yes, we know, just like the song) from our herb garden and mixed the chopped herbs with a half of a stick of softened butter. We carefully rubbed this mixture under the chicken skin. We then seasoned the skin with salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and set it up on the rotisserie attachment we have for the grill. We placed a roasting pan underneath to catch the juices, and put a little white wine and lemon in to baste the chicken as it turned. In a mere 45-minutes, we had a nicely browned, tender and juicy chicken breast with great herb and citrus flavor. Rice pilaf and cranberry sauce were excellent compliments to our creation.


Pay It Forward Giveaway

Just a reminder that today is the last day to be entered into the running for the Pay It Forward giveaway.
Leave a comment on this post or the original post to be entered. See original post for details.


Swiss Chard Bruschetta

We have some Swiss Chard in the garden and the other day we thought up this quick afternoon snack. We sauteed two large handfuls of the Swiss Chard and two cloves of garlic with a bit of salt and pepper in some olive oil and served it on some toasted baguette slices. We loved the sharp taste of the garlic as it mixed with the bitter greens with both flavors balanced by the chewy bread. We'll add that to our growing list of bruschetta varieties!


Cincinnati Chili

It was a cold, dreary day last Saturday, with weather watchers predicting that Tropical Storm Danny would cause windy, rainy conditions. Although some plans had to be postponed due to the weather, we were secretly happy to stay in, relaxing in pj's and catching up on our TV shows after the first week back to work, post-summer vacation. What better way to celebrate such a Saturday than with one of the best comfort food dishes we know: Cincinnati Chili.

We first tried Cincinnati Chili in its actual namesake city, on a one-month road trip that took us from Connecticut to Florida to Louisiana to Ohio to Toronto and back (with many more stops along the way!) during the summer of 1999. Our food guide on the trip was Jane and Michael Stern's Roadfood and while we didn't find the exact chili joint they recommended, we found out that this chili specialty can be had at quite a few great spots in that city.

True Cincinnati Chili is five-way chili: spiced ground meat on top of spaghetti noodles that is then topped with beans, cheese and onions. On our stop, we were told some secrets - that in the best Cincinnati Chili recipes, bull meat and chocolate are key ingredients. Well, we didn't have any bull meat on hand on Saturday, but here is our version of Cincinnati Chili, a four-way chili since our onions are cooked within the chili and are not a raw topping.

2 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
1 cardamom pod (split and use the contents)
2 8-ounce cans tomato sauce
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 pound bucatini pasta
1 small can red beans
shredded cheddar cheese, raw chopped onion, salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, brown the ground beef and the onion together with the water, making sure to break down the beef finely. Cook until the onions are translucent and there is no pink left in the beef. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to mix well. Bring it to a boil, then cover and allow to cook over low heat for about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally. When ready to serve, boil pasta according to package directions and warm the red beans. Serve the chili over the pasta, then top with beans, cheese and onions.