Saturday, August 25, 2012

Roadtrip to Geneseo!

If you didn't hear the news, I lost my job about three weeks ago. No need to look sad -- I'm actually quite enjoying life as an unemployed student! And I'm busy busy busy between the Dharma Center, and getting ready to start school.

The Big Tree Inn, Geneseo, NY
So, I carved out a little bit of time for Miss J and me to go on a photography expedition yesterday, down to Livingston County. And of course we needed to stop for some lunch -- how much art can a girl make on an empty stomach?

When we got to Geneseo, we decided that we would try the Big Tree Inn, a place I have eaten several times in the distant past. I think the last time was just before a Indigo Girls concert. But that's another story.

Flavored butters
Of course we were starving by the time we got to the Inn, so we were very happy to see the bread basket and flavored butters arrive at the table. The bread was quite good -- chewy crust, soft bread, but not, alleluia! not under baked!!! We hate the recent trend in under baking. Bakers, please note: half raw is not the same as moist. If you want moist, add fat or sugar. The flavored butters, pesto, lemon poppy seed, and strawberry, were better in concept than in execution.

Spring Chicken Salad
 J ordered the Spring Chicken Salad. It was a grilled chicken breast on appropriately dressed salad greens. Am interesting addition to the salad was some cubed parsnip. It took me a minute to decide what the mysterious yellow cube was -- but in the end I got it figured out. We like to add a lot of unusual things to our salads, but I never tried parsnips. I will in the future, however.

Clam and Mussel Chowder
My choice for lunch was the soup of the day -- a clam and mussel chowder. I love shell fish prepared in any way, and it would have been nice if there had been some actually in the soup. The soup was good, don't get me wrong. It just wasn't very chock full of clams or mussels. Maybe there were two or four all together? Not very many. There were a lot of veggies, however, and that was really good.

So, overall, we were pleased with our lunches and suggest you check out the Big Tree Inn if you are down to Geneseo. Keep in mind that Geneseo is a college town, and don't expect to be able to get into the best restaurant in town on parents' weekend. But with a little luck or pre-planning, you could be enjoying a lovely luncheon there yourself!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Homemade Ricotta and Onion Marmalade PIZZA!

This isn't a recipe, really, as much as it is an assemblage of other things. I decided I wanted to use my ricotta - recipe is here - and onion marmalade - and here- and also the slow roasted grape tomatoes I had in the fridge that I made last week. The tomatoes are super easy. I just washed 3 pints of lovely grape tomatoes, put them on a sheet pan, drizzled a tiny amount of oil over them, and slid them into a 250 degree oven for about 3 hours. I checked on them every 30 minutes or so, to be sure all was well. When they were done, I put them in a container and put them in the fridge. I try not to think about them there, because otherwise they would last me only a few hours!

So last night, I located my pizza stone and cranked the oven up to 500 degrees. I used the pre-made Nan bread that Wegman's carries as the crust, but you could use Boboli pizza shells, or your own pizza dough. Whatever you like. The nan was perfect for me, though. I spread a layer of onion marmalade, not too thick because it is pretty sweet. Then i added olive bar dark olives, sliced in half, my yummy tomatoes, and then the ricotta. A sprinkling of a good Romano cheese and some herbs de Provence, and into the oven they went!

When they were done, about 10 minutes, I topped them with a very lightly dressed salad of arugala. I used hazelnut oil and champagne vinegar because those are the lightest things I have. You wouldn't want to use a good balsamic because the onions are pretty sweet. The tart pepperyness of the salad was perfect.

This was probably the best pizza I've ever made. It was verging in too sweet, so next time I'll use maybe some coarse salt on top, or maybe even a few anchovies. But over all it got great reviews from Miss J. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Homemade Ricotta and Moussaka-stuffed Eggplants

Last week I saw a recipe for a grilled salad that used pears, eggplant, Parmesan cheese, and toasted walnuts. I was intrigued, so I asked Miss J to pick up the ingredients when she did our weekly shopping. Miss J obliged, but unfortunately Rochester weather did not. And after a week, the notion of eggplants and pears together in one dish started to sound more weird than intriguing. So I decided to go with "plan b." Which I didn't have.

Add to the equation the fact that a few weeks back I saw this lovely store-made ricotta on sale at Weggies. And that ground lamb was loitering in my fridge, also the casualty of a rainy week and no grilling.

Google to the rescue! I Googled "recipes for eggplant, lamb, fresh ricotta cheese" and came up with a number of candidates. This Moussaka won out. But first I had to make ricotta cheese. It turns out that making Ricotta is about as easy and fast as can be. Think about it: it's American cousin -- cottage cheese -- is called "cottage" cheese because it can be made by a person of humble means in a small house. You have to try it -- it was a snap, and the result was too yummy!

Homemade Ricotta

Makes about a cup.


Half gallon whole milk
2 cups buttermilk


1. Line a wide sieve or colander with cheesecloth, folded so that it is at least 4 layers thick. Place in sink.
2. Pour milk and buttermilk into a heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently; scrape bottom of pot occasionally to prevent scorching. As milk heats, curds will begin to rise and clump on surface. Once mixture is steaming hot, stop stirring.
3. When mixture reaches 175 to 180 degrees on a candy thermometer, curds and whey will separate. (Whey will look like cloudy gray water underneath a mass of thick white curds.) Immediately turn off heat and gently ladle curds into sieve.
4. When all curds are in sieve and dripping has slowed (about 5 minutes), gently gather edges of cloth and twist to bring curds together; do not squeeze. Let drain 15 minutes more. Discard the whey.
5. Untie cloth and pack ricotta into airtight containers. Refrigerate and use within one week.

 Moussaka Style Stuffed Eggplants


 Serves   2 servings
Preheat over to 400 degrees.

1 lb eggplants (medium-sized)
kosher salt
1 tbsp olive oil
oil (extra, rubbing the eggplants)
38 lb ground lamb (lean)
14 onion (diced)
1 garlic cloves (minced)
1 tomatoes (peeled seeded diced)
12 green bell pepper (peeled seeded and diced)
38 tsp ground cloves
38 tsp cinnamon
38 tsp ground cumin
tsp cayenne pepper
14 cup ricotta (fresh)
23 cup ricotta (fresh)
ground pepper (fresh)
18 tsp nutmeg (freshly grated)
34 tbsp milk
18 cup parmesan cheese (grated)
fresh parsley (garnish)

Halve the eggplants lengthwise and score the interior of each half, leaving about a third of an inch thickness on the perimeter. Use a paring knife and a spoon to scoop out the interior of the eggplant, leaving a 'boat.' Using a fork, pierce the skin in several places, liberally salt the halves and place them upside down on paper towels to drain for about 30 minutes.

Wipe the eggplant shells out with paper towels, brush the skin lightly with a little olive oil, and place them on a baking sheet. Bake them until they are just tender (about ten minutes) then remove from the oven and set aside in a baking dish.

Chop the eggplant flesh into 1/2" cubes and set aside.  Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the lamb and cook, breaking up the pieces, until lightly browned--about 5 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, chopped eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is soft--about five more minutes.

Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, cloves, cumin, cinnamon and cayenne and cook until the mixture is fairly dry.

Remove from the heat.Season to taste and spoon into the 4 eggplant halves.

Place the remaining 1 and 1/3 cups of ricotta in a small bowl and stir in the nutmeg and enough milk until the consistency of the cheese mixture is spreadable.Spread it over the filled eggplant halves and sprinkle the tops with parmesan.

Bake until the tops are very brown--25 to 35 minutes.

Monday, August 13, 2012

CSA Abundance: Onion Marmalade

For quite some time I have wanted us to subscribe to a CSA farm -- that's "community supported agriculture" to you -- and this year we finally did. For some money up front, you get a share of the produce a small farm produces. We chose Lagoner Farms, and couldn't be be happier with the result. The produce we have received from Lagoner Farms has been really outstanding and they are very nice people, to boot.

The only downside (which is not a downside at all) is that we have gotten a LOT of some stuff. For example, I use a lot of onions in our cooking. Miss J and I think if a little onion is good, then a lot of onion is better. But even we couldn't eat 3 big onions a week for 3 weeks. So what to do? Make Onion Marmalade, of course!

Onion Marmalade is in the categories of things labeled "Things I want to try but not right now. " Nine onions in a three week period moved this item up in the list, and so one Saturday, I found myself weeping quietly over some lovely onions. And weeping I was. I usually read five to ten recipes online before I launch myself into a new project, and I can't believe that NOT ONE of the authors mentioned crying. But the result was worth it.

I like "My Husband Cooks" recipe best as a starting place. You can check it out here.

Onion Marmalade
4 cups onions (sliced thin)
2 T bacon fat (If you don't have bacon grease in your fridge, well, too bad for you. Use oil.)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 T port wine (I would have used red wine but I didn't want to open a bottle for 2 T.)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt

1. In a non-reactive pan, melt the bacon fat and add the onions and salt. Cook until the onions are beginning to turn brown, stirring every 5 minutes or so. Be careful -- just a little bit of burning makes the whole mess taste bitter and yucky.
3. Add the sugars, port wine, bay leaf, and balsamic vinegar. Cook over medium heat until until the onions are soft and the juicy part is thick. This will take about 40 minutes. Keep an eye on things -- you don't want it to burn or turn into concrete.

4. Remove the bay leaf and cool. Transfer to a glass or plastic container with a good lid. This will last quite a while in the fridge.