Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is just over two weeks away. I have been saving recipes for new things to try. Except I may not be making Turkey Day dinner this year. Guess I better get our schedule figured out ASAP. We are thinking of going to visit my brother, his wife and their new baby. SO maybe I will be cooking dinner but not in my own kitchen.  As long as the pilot light doesn’t go out on their oven, it should be okay.

Besides turkey, I’ve found a decent looking green bean casserole that is sufficiently different from the old canned bean version of my youth that I am willing to try it.

Gotta make that corn and wild rice thing again, from last year. And its not a holiday without mashed potatoes and gravy.

Since most of my dad’s family lives out in Iowa we made end up crashing someone else’s dinner. Expecting my brother’s family with their 2 month old preemie baby to be able to entertain us food-wise seems exceedingly unreasonable, after all.

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Post-Vacation Hangover

We are back from vacation and I have tons to write about. I suffered mightily during our time in Canada- no internets? no twitter? no phone calls that don’t cost 79 cents a minute?  I wish I had thought about what roaming in Canada would mean with a smartphone but I did not. THEN, we get to Waitsfield and I remembered what I forgot from last year.  The Mad River Valley is not real big on cell phones, particularly Verizon phones.  Someone told us last year that you could get coverage from one carrier but I don’t remember who. It was not Verizon. So, we had no cell service (and internet/twitter/etc) for 3 more days.  There were so many times I wanted to send something on the fly and could not. I might have a problem.

After a bit though, I decided to be easy and enjoy the distance from technology. This part of Vermont (probably like most of Vermont) is very green, very local-centric and organic. It seems only fitting that I detach from the world and focus on the right here, right now.

After a few days in the Mad River, it was time to move on. We were really banking on some sunset views over Lake Champlain, much like that one pictured in my last post.  We headed up to Burlington for phase 2 of vacation. Since it was rainy, I insisted we stay someplace with a jacuzzi. And a fireplace. It was damned expensive but so very worth it. Especially after we got to Burlington, reconnected with television and news media to learn that tropical storm Nicole was going to rain on our parade for the remainder of our time in Vermont. We did get some adventuring in but it wasn’t until we were on our way home that I finally got a few glimpses of blue sky suitable for photography that doesn’t require complex math to determine exposure settings (despite the calculations, I was able to get a few awesome shots during the ‘fall color’ part of the trip).

We made use of the fireplace and jacuzzi and the internet connection. If we’d still been in Waitsfield, I would have missed some really big happenings in another small town 1/2 way across the country.  On the evening of September 30, a wee little baby decided to make his/her impending arrival known. Waters were spilled, pains were had. Mom and Dad-to-be headed off to the hospital. Despite hopes to the contrary, this baby was ready to make her debut, four weeks early.  In the wee small hours of the morning, a wee small  Little Miss A got her first view of the life on the outside*. My brother tells me ‘she screamed, boy did she scream’ and I said ‘wouldn’t you? It was warm and cuddly and dark a minute ago, now its bright and cold and people are poking and prodding you!’

 

Avanelle Elizabeth, 4lbs 10 oz.; 10/1/10

 

After a fitful night of waiting for the a-ok text message, we packed up our things on Friday late-morning and prepared for the long haul back to Michigan.  In the rain. First, though I dragged Chris in to his second yarn shop of the trip.  Then we headed west. Took a car ferry across the lake and decided to do the scenic route via Lake Placid. It was sorely tempting to stop here because it finally stopped raining but was too dark to see the lake(s). Unfortunately, 12 hours of driving plus stops on Saturday to get us home that night was just not feasible.

Instead, we pushed on through to make it to the outskirts of Rochester, NY where we overpaid for a hotel room to sleep in for 6 hours.  That left us with 7 hours of drive time on Saturday. We crossed in to Canada at Saint Catherine’s to avoid the traffic at Buffalo. Not to worry though, the back-ups were all for getting in to the US. The border crossing at Port Huron/Sarnia was a bit slow but she only asked us two questions: citizenship and did we buy anything? I don’t totally get the citizenship thing since I used a passport from the United States of America as my ID and we didn’t buy anything of substance during either Canadian portion.  There was a bag full of McMinis on the seat between us but I decided that didn’t count (McMini defined coming soon).

*Official time of birth was just shy of 1 AM. Little brother says he asked if they could wait until 1:10 AM so he could have a binary baby. I wonder if 1:01 would have worked too?

Vacation!

Sunset over Lake Champlain

 

A long awaited, do what we want vacation. Begins NOW.

We are headed to Vermont but will be stopping on Montreal first. I’ve driven through Montreal but never stayed there. I think we will stay one or two nights then head towards Waitsfield, VT (site of our honeymoon). From there?  There has been talk of going to Portland or even up to Bar Harbor. 

I’d love to spend a couple of days going along the coast of Maine but we have to be back in Michigan on 10/2 so that will probably be another trip.  I have found it nearly impossible to describe the beauty, violence and 0ld-world feel of the Atlantic coastline as you approach the Downeast tip of Maine. Forget New Zealand, those hobbits really lived in the Bay of Fundy. I definitely want to take Chris there sometime soon.

Our plans include: eating cheese, wine, pictures of fall color and probably a yarn shop stop or two. We hope to dine at the Green Cup Cafe again although the chances of lobster risotto on the menu again are probably slim. There should also be some jacuzzi time, a few drinks on the docks in Burlington overlooking Lake Champlain (see above) and maybe even a cooking class- about Vermont cheese!

Since we are leaving in the evening, our intention is to get to Toronto tonight and get up early enough Saturday to be in Montreal for a late lunch. Toronto is a great city in itself but being “so close” will have to wait for another trip.  Now that Chris has his enhanced ID, it won’t be such a big deal to skip over to Windsor periodically either.

I am so looking forward to this time for some much-needed relaxing. When we get back, there is a visit from family, the last two weeks of school (really done, not a break but a graduation!!), more family including a planned Halloween-type party to keep us busy until the snow flies. I’ll probably be ready for another vacation about then!

Mushroom-Sage Sauce & Squash Risotto

We are in the midst of moving right now (literally, thinks to scheduled posting). Due to my work schedule, size of some of our furniture and general laziness, we hire movers from Two Men and a Truck and they are doing the heavy lifting this afternoon. This will be my 4th move with them since March 2007 and the fifth between Chris and I- how about a volume discount.

For me, using Two Men became a necessity after moving myself (with my parents & aunt’s help) in to a 2nd floor apartment in Charlotte: the building was 120 years old and the 2nd floor was 27 steps up. And it poured rain that day- there might have even been a tornado that night. I immediately started saving money aside for my next move so I could hire movers and I did just that a short 6 months later thanks to my hard-partying, drug-dealing upstairs neighbor. Meeting Chris and moving in with him was a wonderful thing but it also meant that most of my stuff went to storage while we finished out his lease in a 1 bedroom apartment. Our current place, while 2 bed/2 bath was still not big enough for both our belongings and things like my washer/dryer were not needed. Finally, after the dog came to live with us in July, it became glaringly obvious that we needed more room and a place with space to store things rather than pay the storage company another 100 bucks a month.

Our new house, while still a rental, is awesome. Its not huge but we have 3 bedrooms: one for us, one for guests and one as an office/craft room (for me, Chris is not a scrapbooker). A bigger kitchen, a great view of the 10 acres inhabited by deer, wild turkey and something I heard running around in the trees last night. Oh yeah, and a garden tub in the master bath plus, drumroll please: a gas stove!!!

To save time (and money) with the movers, we have been taking boxes of things over to the house, a bit at a time, since October 1. As of Thursday morning, we had the pots and pans, some utensils and most of the dishware in the house. But other than pantry foods, we hadn’t moved or bought any edibles. With Chris’s brother in town, eating out was an opportunity/excuse to eat out but that was getting expensive. So, last night, Chris bought some chicken, squash and beans before calling me on my drive home from work to ask if I “wanted” to come to the house and cook dinner. As soon as he mentioned squash, I knew he wanted the risotto so I sent him out for broth while I stopped at the apartment to load another box with things like butter, olive oil and the like. While at the apartment, I did a quick search for some kind of sauce for the chicken as I didn’t have time to marinate nor did I feel like doing the whole breadcrumbs thing.

Over at Elise’s blog, I found a recipe for Mushroom Sage Sauce. Simply Recipes is one of my go-to websites although I often end up varying from her original based on what’s on hand. While you are there, check out the pictures of her parents’ new kitchen. I’m definitely saving those links for some future reference (I hope).

As per usual, I varied but did use the main elements from this Mushroom Sage sauce recipe. I probably would have been slightly more faithful except I didn’t write anything down and did not have access to the recipe once I got to the house.

Original Ingredients
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped shallots
8-10 ounces mushrooms, cremini or shitake, thickly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc)
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream (light cream may curdle, so use heavy cream)
3 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pieces pounded to an even 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch thickness
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

I only had 1/2 package of mushrooms and no parsley. I did have creme fraiche but didn’t use it here because I forgot. With less mushrooms, I used less sage, about 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped. To add liquid, I used some of the extra broth from the risotto and then swirled in one tablespoon butter at the end.

In Elise’s version, she cooked the mushroom sauce separate from the chicken. Since I already had a burner going to simmer the broth and another for the risotto, I opted to cook the chicken first, hold it warm in the oven and prepare the sauce using any pan drippings/fond to add more flavor.

Basics:

1. Season chicken with salt, pepper and seasonings of your choice. While in Vermont, we bought some Maple Pepper with Garlic so I used that (just like it sounds, pepper with maple sugar and garlic).

2. Heat pan over medium-high heat with olive oil. Saute chicken breasts until light golden, about 5 minutes per side.

3. Remove from pan, cover to keep warm.

4. Add chopped shallots and garlic to pan, plus a little more oil if the pan is a bit dry. Cook about 1 minute then add mushrooms. Allow mushrooms to soften and release their juices. Add 1/2 cup wine to pan to deglaze.

5. Add about 1 cup broth to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer until slightly reduced. Just before serving add 1 tablespoon butter to thicken sauce.

 


 

To accompany the chicken with mushroom sauce, I made the squash risotto which Chris loves so much. This time, I used some butternut squash from the freezer. Chris had bought me a squash- the biggest butternut squash I’ve ever seen. Peeling and chopping that sucker is going to take some time so I was quite happy to have my freezer stash for last night!!

For this version, I used Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc which was on sale at Horrocks and received 90 points from Wine Spectator. Seasonings were sage, thyme and a little cayenne (to counter the sweet squash). I also used about 1/3 cup of Creme Fraiche instead of butter at the end. For cheese, I had picked up of chunk of their special of the week: a really nutty, easily grateable variety from D&W in Williamston last weekend. Fresh sage at the end really added to the “oomph” factor and made the whole house smell delicious!

Both boys went back for seconds so its still a hit.

Multi-Use Tools or a bright idea

Previously, I had talked about multi-use kitchen tools/gadgets which struck me as a bad idea, in terms of kitchen safety. Today, I am pleased to comment on a multi-use tool which could come in very handy, especially in outdoors cooking (i.e. camping) and eating.

The Knork:

knork

A combination fork and knife, the Knork as pictured is plastic and includes a handy loop on the end for clipping to your carabiner for those meals on the side of the mountain. The Knork is also available in traditional flatware setting of stainless steel and has matching spoons, knives and even serving sets. Of course, you shouldn’t need that knife for much, with the Knork on the table. Now you can butter your bread without worrying about butter transferring over to your main entree. Or vice versa, I guess.

I just read about this invention today so I have not tried it. But I am always on the lookout for ways to make our camping box smaller and camping more efficient so I will have to pick up some Knorks at my earliest convenience. I do generally prefer the word Spork to Knork though; It just flows better. I feel as though both came right out of an episode of Fraggle Rock.

Thanks to the Friday Favorites list at Steamy Kitchen for the alert to this new tool/gadget. And, double-bonus, a Michigan Mention in the list too!!