Tomato Bread Pudding (aka Rachel Ray FAIL, or DON'T Try This at Home)

Amy writes:
Monday was the first day back for teachers, and while most of you don't have sympathy for us, and only a few of you have empathy for us, we were tired. It was only professional development, but it was exhausting to hear how the new plan, based on state guidelines, of how we teachers are going to be "rated." I'm not going to go into that. But Tuesday was the staff potluck bar-b-cue and on the way home from school on Monday, I couldn't even bring myself to stop at the store. 

I got home, changed into pajamas, and wandered around the kitchen, racking my brain wondering how I was going to keep up my culinary reputation among my co-workers when I had almost no ingredients and no creative energy. Then I spotted that loaf of Italian bread I just had to buy on Saturday that was so far untouched. I could make a bread pudding (please, Lord, let me have some milk and eggs). 

Of course, the milk was spoiled and while Chris wasn't yet home, so could stop for me, by this time I had my eye on the pile of garden tomatoes (some ours, some from the neighbor) on the windowsill and the wheels started turning. Is there such thing as tomato bread pudding?

An Internet search turned up a few interesting recipes that I thought I could rely on: one from Giada, which sounded very good but seemed a little complicated on this particular evening; one from Geoffrey Zakarian, whom I adore and think is a genius, but that one sounded more like a bread salad, and I had made that last year; and one by Rachel Ray.  

Now, I don't mean to offend anyone here, but, to put it mildly (or, perhaps, to understate it), I am not a fan of Rachel Ray nor have I ever been. I don't like her forced perkiness, I can't stand those too-cutesy names for foods she makes up (e.g. "stoup" and "sammies"), and I firmly believe that really good food takes longer than 30 minutes to make. But I ignored my instincts out of sheer weariness and the desire for a relatively easy, quick recipe that used what I had on hand (namely, butter, old bread, and garden tomatoes).

I followed her recipe to the letter, other than doubling it to make a portion fit for a crowd. I took a long look at it before I put it in the oven. It's old bread, tomato puree, a little salt, a little sugar, a little pepper, some butter and cheese. Where was the real flavor going to come from, I wondered? It needed herbs, at the very least, so I sprinkled it with Italian seasoning and called it a night. As it cooked, it smelled very good. When it came out of the oven, it looked pretty good. I stole a small corner piece to taste. It tasted like soggy-ass pizza. So nasty that I refuse to include the recipe here because I really don't wish this on you. What a waste of some gorgeous tomatoes! Wah!

I re-checked the recipe and realized it wasn't me. I hadn't made any errors, had even added flavor to it, and now there was nothing else to be done. I cooled it, chilled it, brought it to school and served it at room temperature. Most unusually, but certainly not unexpectedly (especially after that icky taste test), not a single person asked for the recipe. Really, dear readers. Don't try one this at home.

Thanks for nothing, "Ray-Ray." Next time, I'll have Chris stop for milk.


Acqua di Cedro-Soaked Cherries

We were sure cherry season had come and gone but then spotted these nearly-black beauts at the market. Amy snatched up a pound of them, recalling a recipe she had seen on Food52 on the bus on the way to New York for the cruise. The recipe had been forgotten over the gadget-free week at sea, but the market display brought it right back. She looked it up then and there, in the middle of the store.

Now, a few years ago during a long weekend in the Federal Hill section of Providence, we spent an hour or so at a tasting at Gasbarro's Wines where we were introduced to B. Nardini's spectacular Acqua di Cedro Liqueur. We loved it so much that we bought two bottles, and have bought several since. We think of it as lemon-flavored grappa, which is how it was described to us. The Nardini website calls it "the noble cousin of limoncello," and describes it quite succinctly as "sweet with a citrus taste." 

Well, what we did was take these two unique products, one of nature, one of man, and marry them via the Food52 recipe. We made five small jars of Acqua di Cedro-Soaked Cherries and set them aside as this year's Christmas Eve favors. Our hope is that they have a bit of a cherry-lemonade flavor; a taste of summer in the harshness of winter. Five households, five jars. So if you need a nice Christmas gift, get on it ASAP. These need a few months to soak (and there are only 122 days until Christmas!). 

Acqua di Cedro-Soaked Cherries
(minimally adapted from this recipe found on Food52)


1 pound fresh cherries
enough Acqua de Cedro liqueur (or grappa) to cover
glass jars with air-tight lids

Wash and dry cherries thoroughly. Snip off all but 1/4 inch of each stem (it will "act like a little umbilical cord that drinks up the grappa"). Arrange cherries in jar and pour enough grappa over them to cover. Seal in jars and store in a cool dark place for 4-6 months. 


(Yellow) Watermelon Salad with Bleu Cheese, Pancetta and Basil for Secret Recipe Club

Do not adjust your screen. Yes, that is a yellow watermelon. There are, in fact, over 1200 varieties of watermelon, and the flesh can be red, orange, yellow or white. This one, a Yellow Crimson, has a mildly sweeter taste than the more common red type. It almost has a honey flavor to it, so we thought it would be great to do something unusual with it. 

Luckily, it's Secret Recipe Club reveal day, and we were assigned Eliot's Eats, a food/travel/adventure blog with an ambitiously wide variety of posts and even more recipes. We have been drooling over this plethora of recipes by anonymous author "Eliot" (after T.S. Eliot) for several days now and since we had this beautiful watermelon on hand, decided on Watermelon Salad with Bleu Cheese, Pancetta and Basil. We decided that we were going to follow the recipe to the letter after realizing how much we have in common with "Eliot."

1. We are both near-middle-aged couples (although Amy is loathe to admit that)
2. "Eliot" works at a high school (as do the two of us), and her husband works in technology (Chris's hobby/job).
3. We are both cat people.
4. We both love to travel, cook, eat, patronize local restaurants and businesses, eat local and visit farmers markets.
5. And we both blog about it all.

So there it is. We are practically the same people, so why would we change the recipe? And "Eliot" - glad SRC gave us a chance to catch up. We've added you to our blog hop and will be checking in more often! 

Fresh, juicy, refreshing, sweet, tangy, crunchy, creamy, luscious peppery perfection. 

Watermelon Salad with Bleu Cheese, Pancetta and Basil


8 ounces pancetta, diced
1 1/2 cups cubed watermelon
2 tablespoons crumbled bleu cheese
1/8 cup basil, chiffonade
drizzle of olive oil
drizzle balsamic vinegar
freshly ground black pepper

Cook pancetta until crisp; drain on paper towels. Arrange watermelon on a chilled plate. Top with pancetta, bleu cheese and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic, season to taste with pepper.


A Taste of Bermuda

Whenever we travel, we make a point of eating as the locals do, trying local dishes and ingredients, and generally celebrating the local culinary culture. So, although we were in Bermuda for only a couple of days, we made sure to try both the dish and the drink that have made Bermuda famous.  

First, the national dish of Bermuda: Bermuda Fish Chowder. We enjoyed this peppery chowder at The Pickled Onion, a chic restaurant and bar on Front Street in Hamilton. Drinking quotations adorned the walls and Outerbridge's Sherry Peppers Sauce festooned the tables. The waitress offered us free WiFi, a treat since we had been at sea on a cruise for the past four days. Although Amy took a huge digger in the bathroom (sober and all!) that resulted in a ginormous bruise, the afternoon was more memorable for the chowder. Vastly different from our New England version, this chowder had a dark, rich color with flavor to match. The addition of black rum and sherry peppers gave it a robust kick. We will be giving this recipe by Gosling's Rum a try very soon, having purchased the requisite Outerbridge's to take home with us. We'll let you know if we get at all close to the original.

Secondly, the national drink of Bermuda: The Rum Swizzle. We partook in this legendary punch-like cocktail at The Swizzle Inn, known as the home of the Rum Swizzle, but also Bermuda's oldest pub. The drink is a combination of rums including Gosling's Black Seal, fruit juices (specifically orange, lemon and pineapple), and other "secret" ingredients. The gift shop at The Swizzle Inn sells a powdered drink mix for those who wish to try some at home, but we were happy enough to enjoy them in their native setting. Neither too sweet nor too strong, this drink made us happy to "Swizzle Inn...Swagger Out." Delightful!


The Outcome of a Trip to the Farmers' Market

Sunday was the first Sunday we have been home all summer. Yes, we have been gone quite a bit. A family vacation in Maine was followed by a week at work, then a cruise to Bermuda, a trip to New Jersey, and finally, a visit to Pennsylvania. Yes, we realize that all we've told you about so far is Maine. We have a lot to get to, and we will get to it eventually. For now, however, we are settling back into our home, catching up on our laundry and TV, lamenting the state of our garden, and playing with our cats who obviously missed us. And yes, taking our first visit this season to the Coventry Regional Farmers' Market. At last!

The harvest is in full swing (except at our house, where every plant has been choked by weeds or eaten by who-knows-what), and we couldn't wait to make something with the bounty of summer offered by the market's vendors. Since it seems that all we've done is eat rich foods (did we mention that cruise?), we wanted to make a dish that was heavy on vegetables. We bought all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables and a crusty bread, and when we grabbed the last couple dozen Stonington littlenecks from the fish truck, a dish started to come together in our minds. A beautiful pint of blackberries inspired the pre-dinner cocktail, and for dessert, we split a "boozy" cupcake from the NoRA Cupcake Company Truck.

Note: Everything in these two recipes is fresh from the farmers' market, our herb garden, or the neighbor's garden, with the following exceptions: the pantry staples of olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper; the Italian sausage (from our freezer); the bourbon (Woodford Reserve); and can of beer (Heineken).

Blackberry Mint Julep
(makes 2 cocktails)


1/2 cup blackberries (saving 2 for garnish)
4 tablespoons mint leaves (saving 2 for garnish)
2 tablespoons sugar
3 ounces bourbon

In a large cocktail shaker, muddle together the blackberries, mint and sugar. Fill shaker with ice then add bourbon. Shake well, then strain into ice-filled cocktail glasses. Serve garnished with a mint leaf and a blackberry.

Clams with Sausage and Swiss Chard


4 links hot Italian sausage
6 new potatoes, quartered
6 cipollini onions, peeled and quartered
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 dozen raw littleneck clams
4-5 leaves Swiss chard, stems removed
1 can beer

In a large, somewhat deep cast-iron pan, brown the sausage on all sides over high heat. Remove from pan and set aside to rest. Place the quartered potatoes and onions in the pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until softened and caramelized. Cut the sausage into rounds and rinse the clams. Place sausage, clams and Swiss chard in the pan. Pour beer over the ingredients and cook, covered, for 10 minutes, until clams open. Serve with grilled crusty bread.

NoRa Cupcake Company's "Jamaican Moon" Cupcake, a chocolate cake soaked with Onyx Moonshine then topped with both mocha and marshmallow frostings and garnished with a chocolate-covered espresso bean. 


Secret Shame: Dippin' Dots

We're having a very busy summer and we have plenty of food adventures to tell you about, but no time to tell you. We promise to get to it very soon. For now, though, here is a new theme post in which Amy divulges her secret food shames. Things self-professed foodies such as she should never admit to liking. Take Dippin' Dots, for example. The ice cream novelty that only a 7-year-old should love. For shame, Amy. For shame.

Look for more secret shames coming soon. There are plenty of them, unfortunately.