Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2009

Family Table

I’ve had the pleasure of going to several friends houses for dinner lately.  There’s not much that I enjoy more that to share the dinner table with good friends and family.  Last week, Jill and I made plans to go to a friend’s house for dinner and a movie.

We arrived at their house early in the evening.  Ariana greeted at the front door with the comforting pleasantries of being welcomed into house of good friends.  Jill and I were led into the kitchen, which was warm and active from of the buzz of cooking.  Snacks were laid out on the kitchen counter, in a little seating area that offered Henry (the cook) the opportunity to socialize and snack while he put the finished touches of dinner together.  Wine was poured for each of us, a crisp white Riesling from Germany that tasted perfect on this late summer evening.  The family gathered around the appetizers, and talked and drank and snacked on the three delicious cheeses that Deanne had picked up earlier in the day when she was in Cape May.

Friends gather in the kitchen

Friends gather around Chef Henry in the kitchen

There was also a plate of thickly sliced tomatoes, fanned out between slices of buffalo mozzarella, tufts of fresh basil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a healthy amount of EVOO.  It was so simple, and that’s what made it so good.  The tomatoes had been picked up down the street, from a little farm stand that still works on the honor system, earlier in the day.  That very morning, the tomatoes were still getting nourishment from the Vineland soil, breathing the air and gathering energy from the sun.  By the end of the day, they were ours to consume.

After some time had elapsed, dinner was closer to completion.  Henry checked the stuffed peppers in the oven, while Deanne began to prepare the kale dish.  She was happy to say a portion of the kale had come from their garden.  I hadn’t had kale in a long time, and looked forward to tasting theirs.  The table was then set and soon we were ready to eat.

Nicole anticipates a great dinner while Will helps in preparation

Nicole anticipates a great dinner while Will helps in preparation

The food was very good, and I savored every minute of it.  The stuffed red peppers were filled with a quinoa mixture (a delicious, extremely healthy grain that has a slight nutty flavor and delicate crunchy texture), all topped with a hard grating cheese and then baked.  The lightly braised kale retained a nice amount of texture, a little chewy with just a touch of crunch.  It was studded with thin slices of sun-dried tomato, which added a tiny blast of salty, intense tomato flavor.  With these two wonderful dishes went a nice fresh salad and slices of crusty black-olive studded bread.

After eating, it was movie time and we enjoyed watching Air Guitar Nation with full bellies.  As soon as the movie finished and we had stopped laughing, I assembled the dessert that I had brought for the evening.

A sweet end to a great time with friends

A sweet end to a great time with friends

Vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and drizzled with a little rich chocolate ganache that I melted in the microwave.  For the next few minutes, the relative silence was punctuated by the sounds of happy groans.

But it wasn’t the food that was the highlight of the evening.  It was the company, the act of sharing a dinner table with friends and family.  There’s something about sitting down together, sharing a meal, and talking about the happenings of the day that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

At the bakery whoever is working, as well as occasional visitors, sometimes join us sit down for family meal.  We all take a little break from the craziness of the workday to sit down, eat, and share what’s going on in our lives.  It allows us all to take a deep breath, and show that we value good nutrition and emotional well-being.  Obviously our dinner companions of last week felt the same way.  Jill and I were honored to have been able to share such a nice meal with them, to be invited into their home.  Cheers!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Aunt Joan's Famous Chicken & Dumplings

Aunt Joan's Famous Chicken & Dumplings

My recent article about family recipes being lost to the ages struck a nerve with Jill’s godmother, Aunt Joan. We’d been talking about her chicken and noodles for what seemed like ages, but for whatever reason, we had never made concrete plans to get together over her signature dish. That all changed after the aforementioned article, and so we made plans to get together on a Sunday morning to make her chicken and noodles.

Recipes passed from one generation to the next are treasures

Recipes passed from one generation to the next are treasures

Jill and I arrived in the morning to see that the kitchen was all set up for us. The table was laid out with a large glass top, ready for rolling dough, as well as flour, eggs, salt, baking powder, a big green plastic bowl and a whisk. It was like we walked onto the set of a TV show, since everything was ready for us to cook!
We got right to work making the dough. Joan’s rule of thumb is that the recipe starts with one egg per person, and everything else is based on that. Into the bowl went seven cracked eggs, where each landed with a plop, and a half-teaspoon of baking powder and salt per egg. Joan picked up the large whisk and vigorously but steadily mixed the eggs, baking powder and salt together.
All-purpose flour was then added, roughly a half cup per egg, and this was then mixed by hand into a tight, but fairly moist dough. Unlike grandmom’s pierogi dough from a few weeks ago, Joan did not rest the noodle dough before she rolled it out.
A softball-sized piece of dough was torn from the large mass and a handful of flour was sprinkled onto the glass. The dough ball was placed in the middle of the sprinkled flour, and with the rolling pin, Joan began to flatten the dough into a larger and thinner mass. She seemed to roll it with relative ease, sprinkling more flour when needed, and in a minute or two, the dough was roughly the size of a sheet of newspaper and was just about as thin. Joan then rolled the dough over the rolling pin, transferred it onto a sheet of newspaper on the kitchen counter, and covered it with another sheet.

Stephen learning the art of dumpling making from Aunt Joan

Stephen learning the art of dumpling making from Aunt Joan

After repeating a few times, I asked if I could roll some dough to try it out for myself. That’s the best way to learn after all, to just give it a try! I pulled out a piece of dough and rolled it into a circle, dusting with a surprisingly large amount of flour. When I thought I was done, I was told that it was too thick. I rolled it thinner, and was told, once again… too thick! So I pressed harder and rolled the dough about as thin as it would go, and that ended up being the perfect thickness. That was the key to great noodles, to roll the dough paper-thin.

Jill prepares dumpling dough

Jill prepares dumpling dough

Jill gave it a shot too, and pretty soon we had blown through all the dough, making six or seven large amoeba looking shapes. Now they would rest for the remainder of the morning and into the afternoon before being cut. Now was the time to start the broth.
Out of the fridge came a decent sized whole chicken, which was rinsed off and cleaned out. Aunt Joan then pulled out a huge stockpot into which went the chicken (along with all the innards, aside from the liver). One onion, peeled and cut in half, along with several stalks of celery that were rinsed and cut in half went into the pot. She then added a lot of water, enough to cover the chicken with several inches, as well as parsley, bay leaves, black pepper and salt. She made it a point to tell me that no carrots were added, because she feels that they make the broth too sweet. The fire was turned on under the pot and we went out onto the porch for delicious cafe con leche.
We made plans to return later in the evening, after the noodles had rested for a while and the broth simmered long enough to cook the chicken. Uncle Bill had yard work to do, Joan had errands to run, and Jill and I had a wedding cake to deliver. This is where the story turns interesting!
Jill ended up breaking her pinkie toe in a freak accident and so we had to go to the emergency room. I told Aunt Joan to complete the chicken and noodles without us, so she described to me how she finished everything. The dough was cut in half and then rolled into a tube. She then cut the tubes into inch thick slices, and fluffed the noodles together with flour so they didn’t stick. The chicken came out of the broth, as did any large pieces of celery or onion, and the chicken was shredded and put aside. To the broth, she added a jar of brown gravy (for body), and then she slowly added the noodles, stirring as they fell into the steaming broth. She then cooked the noodles for about twenty minutes.

Aunt Joan puts the finishing touches on the broth

Aunt Joan puts the finishing touches on the broth

Since Jill and I had been saving ourselves for dinner, and our time in the emergency room dragged on and on, we were incredibly hungry by the time we got home. We were relieved and thankful that a small pot of chicken and noodles was waiting for us on the stove. My mother-in-law had brought them from Aunt Joans for us, and dinner never tasted so good! The noodles and puffed up and thickened the broth. Pieces of shredded chicken gave it a little texture. It was comfort food at it’s finest, and I’m glad that this family tradition was been passed onto us, the next generation.

Read Full Post »

Love and Hoppiness

The author harvesting home-grown hops

The author harvesting home-grown hops

In honor of my fourth wedding anniversary this past weekend I’m going to talk about beer.  Ok, I know that must sound odd, so let me explain.

This past weekend coincided not only with my and Jill’s wedding anniversary, but with the third annual hop harvest here at our house.  Three years ago in the spring, I ordered hop roots (actually rhizomes) online and received them in the mail a few days later.  I found a place in the yard for the hops, planted the roots, and by fall had a small but respectable harvest of the bitter, fragrant berries.

Hops, as you may or may not know, are a key ingredient in the production of beer and provide the trademark bitterness.  The addition of hops in the brewing process also provides distinct flavors, aromas, and preservative qualities that are vital to making beer.  Since I brew my own beer (although not as much as I’d like these days), I thought that growing and producing my own hops would be a fun and exciting way to make my beer a little bit more ‘local.’  My interest in growing my own hops actually started before I even lived in New Jersey.

I started brewing beer about a year before Jill and I married.  We were living in San Francisco, and since we were paying for our own wedding, I figured a good way to save money on alcohol for the wedding would be to simply brew my own beer!  Some friends of mine brewed, and there was an excellent brew store in San Francisco, so I had the support network that I needed.  Over the course of the next year, I experimented with different styles, flavors, and additives.  I brewed imperial stouts, India pale ales, English brown ales, cream ales, and more.  I made a few fruit beers including an amazing raspberry brown ale (if I do say so myself) and a cranberry wheat beer, which became a Thanksgiving tradition.  I learned a lot about beer during that year through note taking, experimentation and trial and error.  (There were several instances of bottle bombs and less than satisfying flavors, but that’s how you learn!)

With every batch of beer that I made, about a third was saved for the wedding and by the time the wedding rolled around, we had 12 cases of beer, with at least a dozen different varieties, all stored in 1-liter San Pellegrino bottles.  Even the favors that we gave our guests were home-brewed beer, one in which Jill and I brewed together and christened ‘Love and Hoppiness.’  We ended up spending a fraction of the money we would have spent had we simply bought beer and wine, and let me tell you, it tasted a whole lot better.

I became quite proficient at homebrewing, but was somewhat unsatisfied with the hops.  The only way that I could buy them was in the form of little green pellets, which looked remarkably like rabbit food.  They smelled great, and added a wide variety of flavors to the beer, but I felt like it was cheating to use this highly processed hop product.

When I moved to New Jersey, I left the homebrewing equipment behind… there simply wasn’t enough room for the cross country drive in the mini-van for the carboys, buckets, tubes and various gadgets that I had.  When I arrived here, I found out that the same conditions that make our area of New Jersey ideal for growing great wine also make it an ideal condition for growing hops.  I also had a yard now, something I certainly did not have in downtown San Francisco, and so I gave it a shot!

Our harvest

Our harvest

The first years harvest was modest, and the second year’s harvest was downright awful, due to the fact that I did not erect a trellis that the hop vines could climb.  This year though, I put the trellis up and since the roots were firmly established by now, the plants went a little crazy.  During the summer, the vines quickly grew upwards and topped out the trellis by mid-summer.  At about that time, little buds began to appear.  They looked like little green puffballs growing off the vine, and they quickly grew in size, eventually getting to the size of blackberries.  Hundreds of the flowers grew on the vines in the backyard, and last week, Jill and I harvested them.

It took about an hour, but we picked off the mature hop cones.  They had become dry when squeezed, and the oils in them had taken on the bitter smell of a good beer.  We picked the cones off the vine, and dried them in a dehydrator to evaporate any remaining moisture.  The next day, I bagged them and got six Ziploc bags of Jersey Fresh hops.

Love and Hoppiness!

Love and Hoppiness!

Fortunately, my father has taken the title of family homebrew master and has surpassed me in adventurism and skill.  He loves brewing as much as I do, and I am fortunate enough to join him every once in a while in the production of another beer.  As I write this article, I’m drinking a South Jersey IPA, brewed with the meager amount of hops I got last year.  This year, I hope to be able to brew several batches of the amber colored, bitter and delicious homebrew made with hops grown right in my backyard.

And so I’d like to propose a toast to my wife, Jill, in honor of our wedding anniversary.  Cheers to a lifetime of love and hoppiness, may we be blessed with a lifetime of both!

Read Full Post »