Thursday, September 27, 2012

What's Baking? September: Quick Breads

This month's What's Baking? theme was chosen by Jenna of Jenna's Cooking Journey. She chose quick breads, which is perfect for me, since it's now pumpkin season and I needed a good excuse for pumpkin bread!

Several years ago, I was part of a recipe swap on Ravelry (the knitting social network). It was a fun little group that sent recipes every month. We were divided into groups of 4 or 5, and would send recipes following some theme to everyone in our little group. One of my favorite fall recipes, caramel fondue, came from that group. I also received a delicious recipe for pumpkin bread, which I made almost immediately but of course have since lost- that's one problem about mailing recipes, they come on cards or sheets of paper, and I tuck them somewhere and lose them. I'm much better about emailed recipes.

Anyway, when I found out about our What's Baking? theme I did some sleuthing online, and found what I think is the right recipe. Even if not, it's good!

Harvest Pumpkin Bread
found on a collection of holiday recipes, Gone-Ta-Pott

1 cup sugar
1/2 stick butter
2 eggs
1 and 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
2 cups  flour
1/2t salt
2tbaking powder
1/4t baking soda
1t ground cinnamon
1/4 cup orange juice

Cream butter and sugar, then beat in eggs and then pumpkin. Whisk together flour, powder, soda and salt, then add half to the batter, stir in the orange juice, and then the remaining flour mixture. Mix just till combined, don't overbeat. Optional: add 1/2 cup each raisins or other dried fruit, and walnut or other nuts. 

Pour in a loaf pan (or I did 6 muffin cups and a loaf pan, it would have been a really towering loaf, and I was saving the loaf for the next day, when friends were coming for lunch, and I wanted a muffin now). Bake the loaf at 350F for about 60 min (muffins took about 30)

1/16 of this recipe (if you make just a loaf and cut into 16 slices) has 164 calories, 3.9g fat, 3.3g protein and 1.1g fiber. Which isn't tooooo bad. Normally I calculate by weight, but I forgot to weigh this one!

This is also delicious with a bit of cream cheese frosting, as a dessert, or plain cream cheese, for breakfast. I plan on making this recipe regularly through Christmas time.

Also, I opened a giant can of pumpkin to make this, so now I have like 2 cups of pumpkin to play with! Much excitement! Now, if I could just be home long enough to cook...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What I Ate at the Fair

This is a practice WIAW post. I don't want my first WIAW post to be full of unhealthy foods and have the other participants get all judgey (let's face it, food bloggers are generally a judgey group, probably because we're all the type of people who avoid processed food like the plague and try to make everything from scratch).

Before I start, let me say that the scale was not kind this morning. I'm hoping it's partly the salt, but I'll also say that you couldn't pay me to count yesterday's calories. I just don't want to know. But they were all worth it.

I've been toying with the idea of joining the WIAW (What I Ate Wednesday) bloggers. I like what I eat, therefore I'd like to share it. But somehow photographing it is easier said than done, especially if 1. you're still in the process of waking up, or 2. you're far too hungry to stop for a photo (and my phone has an annoying delay in the camera app). Yesterday I photographed everything I ate, not for WIAW, but because I was at the fair, and my husband was not, and I felt I should document everything so he wouldn't feel sad for missing it. (honestly I think I'm more disappointed than he is that he couldn't go, but still. One thing to note- it's much better to go to the fair with someone else, if only to have an extra set of hands to hold all the stuff you're buying).

When we go to the Big E, there is a very strict order. Usually we get there early, when only some things are open, but this time I had an alarm malfunction (if you get one of those app notifications at the same time your alarm goes off, and you're still half asleep, it's not possible to snooze the alarm, only to turn it off. So I was about 2 hours behind schedule), so I was able to start in immediately.

The first stop is the Rhode Island building for clam fritters and Del's frozen lemonade.

I wait all year for this, my absolute favorite fair foods.

Normally we split this bag of clam fritters, but since I was alone, I had to do my best on my own. I ended up saving about half the bag for dinner (heated up in the oven- not bad, but not nearly as good as when they were fresh)

This year, I noticed you can actually buy the fritter mix and make them at home!!! Oh so excited.
Next, we go to the Massachusetts building and have a healthy snack. Mom usually gets some chocolate milk too, but I still had my Del's so I was good.
These cups of raspberries are $1 each- kind of expensive for what you get, but then, it's the fair.

I also get some bread in MA, from the Pittsfield Rye bakery. They advertise "buy 1 get 1 free" at the fair, but each loaf is $7 so that's not a good buy! It's not bad though, so I got harvest pumpkin and purple wheat.

Here's the pumpkin loaf cut- it doesn't look overly pumpkinny (nor does it taste overly pumpkinny) but it smells pumpkinny and it is pretty good.

After Massachusetts is Maine, home of the baked potato with insane lines. For a baked potato! I'll never get over this. Maine also has lobster rolls and blueberry pie, both of which I passed on. I was still full from the fritters!

Then it's on to Vermont for Cold Hollow Mill cider. I didn't used to get this unless it was chilly and I needed a warm drink, but now that I moved south I can't get CHM cider any time I want. It's not cheap, this cup was $3.75, but so tasty (so tasty that I had to fight off a yellow jacket as I walked 10 feet between the VT and CT buildings).

Then it's CT but I don't get food there- HOWEVER. I saw they had Avery's Sodas and they had a PUMPKIN PIE SODA. swoon. $2.50 a bottle though, and I just wanted to take it home, not drink it, so I decided I'd try to find some at a grocery store somewhere.

Last up is NH, where they have soups and apple things, but again, still full from fritters, Del's and apple cider. So I took all my purchases to the car (that bread was heavy!) and started in on the rest of the fair.

I was tempted to see the unicorn cow, and it was only $1, but I didn't want to support a carny showing off what's probably just a cow that lost one horn.

 Every New England fall fair needs giant pumpkins...

 ...and chickens...

...and butter sculptures!

 Here is food I did not eat, although I was tempted to hove over there and just see how it all looked. I've done fried candy corn, but somehow I didn't think to try fried jelly beans (the fried candy corn was a big failure, the candy corn melts)

 After I visited the sheep, goats and cows (and resisted the temptation to buy yarn in the "Fiber Nook"- my favorite sock yarn went up from $15 a skein to $24 a skein! No way!), I hunted down the wine and cheese house that I'd heard about recently at the Charlton Winery. I'd also seen a sign about free wine tastings at the entrance to the cow/sheep/goat building, but I couldn't imagine they'd do wine tastings IN there. I found the wine tasting building among the Christmas tree show area.

I really enjoyed both of these wineries. Amherst Farm Winery is located in Amherst, MA, probably about an hour from me. Zoll Cellars is located in Shrewsbury, about 10 minutes from me. I've never heard of either winery, but now I'm definitely planning to visit both! I told both of them where I worked, so we chatted for a few minutes.
Amherst Farm served Red Rooster, Pear, Sangria and Chocolate Raspberry, all very tasty

Zoll Cellars served two different reds, a Vidal dessert wine and a dry Riesling

 Then it was on to the Better Living Buildings (there are 2). The Better Living buildings have booths set up with various clothing, jewelry, household gadget type things. You can buy a super chami cloth thing, or a Wonder Knife, a piano, belly dancing costumes, candy, an ergonomic back support for your desk chair (which I actually find to be excruciatingly uncomfortable), hair clips, paintings, pictures embellished with shiny lines (can't quite explain how they look, but the same class as velvet Elvis paintings), walk-in showers, etc. It's weird. Over the past few years, I've gotten really sick of the Better Living Buildings. I don't like the sellers calling out to me to come check out their stuff as I walk by. You used to also be able to buy log cabins there, but they haven't been there for a few years- I used to like walking through their fake house set-ups. So this year, I pretty much walked in and walked out. Some of the booths do a little show (like for that special non-teflon non-stick cookware) so it's a place to find a seat and rest your feet, but my feet were ok.

Moving on!

I went to the Grange Building, where they have a craft show set up, little crafts and homemade jellies to buy and a quilt raffle. We're members of the Grange so we always go, and we always buy a little something, usually little handmade Christmas ornaments- nothing special, they're usually cheap acrylic yarn and that plastic needlepoint canvas. But they're cheap and they're cute, and I'm happy to give them  my money.

The Grange Building is just across the street from the state buildings, so back I went! They really are the best part of the Big E.

I decided it was time for lunch, so I stopped at the BBQ place in back of Maine for a pork parfait (beans on the bottom, pulled pork on top, very rich and indulgent and enormous- I might bring tupperware next time I go so I don't have to throw out what I can't finish) and a Long Trail Blackberry Wheat beer in VT- for Clint's sake, since he wasn't there (not that he would get Blackberry Wheat).

 I wandered a bit more through the rest of the states, then decided to call it a day. Our last stop is always NH Kettle Korn- NH just happens to be the last building in the row and is right next to where I park. We get kettle korn at the very end because there's enough other delicious Big E food to munch on, and kettle korn is still delicious for days after, to enjoy as a fond memory.
 Oh, where do I park, you might ask? Why, Gate 1. The Holy Grail of Big E parking. I get a special parking permit, and free tickets ;) This is one of the Big E's best kept secrets. (the only thing is the Gate 1 lot fills up fast, so you have to get there early, like well before 9 on a weekend)

 One important part of the Big E is the Official Maple Sugar Candy Taste Test. I buy maple sugar from all the states (except RI doesn't sell any, CT doesn't but should, since I know there are maple sugar places in CT, and ME's are all pre-packaged, not made right there). Every year we have to figure out which is the best (only it's always MA). From MA I get the pumpkin and usually a package of 4 pretty shapes, like hearts and scalloped ovals, etc, but this year they only have mini maple leaves. From VT I usually get men and women, but this year tried maple leaves. And from NH I get the state of NH- easy to remember which state that is from!

 We prefer MA's maple sugar because it's kind of melty in the middle. NH is a close second, but VT tends to be pretty dry and crumbly. However, they all have the same delicious maple flavor!

And then I finish it all and wish I'd bought more. Normally I get a set for me, and a set for Clint, but this year he said he was fine without, so I kind of got one and a half sets. You know next week I'm going to be very sorry I didn't get a full set for him that I could then eat!

For the rest of the week I'll enjoy a Big E breakfast- the Pittsfield Bakery pumpkin bread with Twin Pines Farm (from the CT building, I always like to buy the local agriculture booth of the day's items) pumpkin butter (which is super yum, I need to make some this year).

 Now I need to find another fair to go to.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Nut Butter Bandwagon

Friends, I have jumped on.

I've never been a huge fan of peanut butter or other nut butters. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy peanut butter. I love peanut butter in sweets, like cookies and candy. I still eat the occasional pb&j (perfect for when you're very overdue for a grocery store run!), splurge on a fluffernutter (sadly, not in years, since I've grown picky about my bread and everyone knows the only proper bread for a fluffernutter is wonderbread, or the Brand X version of it), I'll try almond butters and cashew butters, but I don't get excited about them. Several years ago, nut butters expanded to more than just peanut butter, so I was intrigued by almond butter enough to buy it... but the jar (minus about half a cup that I actually did eat) sat around for a while until I decided it was too old and pitched it. You see, if I'm going to eat something high in protein and fat that's not meat, I'm always going to choose cheese (yeah, yeah, nuts are healthy fats, blah blah. It's still high in calories, and until I get high cholesterol, calories are my main concern).

But lately nut butters have really taken off! As a food blog reader, I am well aware of the nut butter craze. It took several incidences, all of which happened to occur within a week of each other, to make me really change my mind about nut butters.

1. I joined Foodie Pen Pals. My first match was someone who really enjoys her nut butters, and since I really had no idea what to get her, I decided to find some interesting nut butter.

2. I went to Wegmans, and they had a whole nut butter and peanut butter alternative display. I seriously wish I'd taken a picture of the full display.
This is apparently not bad...? I still haven't tried it, even though I have a jar in my pantry now.

3. I forgot I'm friends with a bunch of nut butter fanatics, and one of them is related to the most creative of them all.

4. I follow a nut butter fanatic on instagram and have daily doses of nut butter excitement. This led to this purchase:

We actually saw this at a winery, but it was $8.99 a jar, which I'm sorry, is kind of insane. But a few days later, I saw it on instagram for a grocery store sale price of $3.49 plus a $1 off coupon and the poster was super excited and I was all intrigued that you could buy it at grocery stores. So on my next trip to Wegmans, I got it.

(Unfortunately I really wanted the honey kind, but they only had regular, chocolate and maple, so I chose maple)

Now that I have all this nut butter, I'm making an effort to use it- hey, it's not cheap! I don't want to waste it- although I'm sure I could find new happy homes for it, like Gal M donated this one to my cause (several months ago, actually)

(the name lies. It's not better, it's just more chemical-y. 
I am making a concerted effort to find a way to use it, however)

I found that nut butter and marshmallows make a very tasty afternoon snack.

Homemade marshmallows, of course!

As you can see, I've been fairly welcoming to nut butters entering my lifestyle.

Now, while nut butters in my pantry are a recent thing, nuts are not. I tend to go nuts in the bulk section. Now that I've left NH, I no longer have the great, reasonably-priced, something's-always-on-special bulk section a mile away. I have to plan ahead and wait til Clint goes up for something work-related and stops there on his way home. Last month, my parents happened to be up there, so mom offered to pick me up some stuff (poor mom usually forgets that I only want bulk things, so it's not an easy "oh yeah, a bag of flour, a box of raisins" type of thing). This time I asked for yeast (2 cups of yeast for $2.70? Can't resist that.) and cashews. Wouldn't you know, a week later we cleaned out the fridge and I found a giant sack of cashews.

But here's a little comparison. I asked mom for "a bunch of cashews". I wasn't really specific with the amount. Her bag is on the left. My bag of cashews is on the right, after I'd used half of them in the following recipe. A little difference, eh?


Anyway. My nut hoarding has been going on for years. What do I do with them? Yeah... I'm not really sure. Make cookies, I guess. Spiced nuts at Christmas time. I really love tossing in almonds or peanuts with caramel corn, kind of in a Cracker Jack esque manner. But really, in this day and age, what better use is there for 2-3 pounds of cashews than to make.....

Nut Butter?!

Gingerbread Cashew Nut Butter
heavily based on Chocolate Covered Kate's recipe (thanks to Google for introducing us)

2 cups of cashews (dry roasted, unsalted. Use salted if you'd rather, but don't add any additional salt, and it'll be realllly salty.)
1/2 cup (approximately) oil (I used olive)
3T molasses
2t cinnamon
1.5t ginger
1/2t cloves
1/2t nutmeg
1T brown sugar
salt, to taste (I added about 1/8t of sea salt)

In the bowl of your food processor, dump in the cashews and about a third of the oil. Process for about a minute, then add the molasses, spices, sugar and salt. Process for another half minute or so. It'll be pretty chunky/crunchy. Now start adding more oil, about 1T at a time, until you've reached the desired consistency. More oil=smoother nut butter. I skimped on the oil, as usual. That's it! Now eat it. I found this particularly delicious spread on apple slices, the apples really brought out the sweet and spiciness of the butter.

Cashews are notorious for going rancid, due to the high oil content. I'm keeping this in the fridge. It might be fine in the pantry, but I'm going to play it safe. I don't know enough about nut butters yet to instruct you all on the proper storage! We'll learn together.

Next up: fall-themed nut butter. And different nuts! I'm making up Clint's grocery list for when he heads north next week, what nuts should I get? Almonds? Hazelnuts? How would pecans or walnuts be in a nut butter? Or brazil nuts? Should I buy some of everything and make a mixed nut butter? Help me decide!

This recipe makes 16oz of cashew butter. Per 1oz (2T) serving: 172 calories, 14.7g fat (2.5g saturated), 9.5g fiber, 2.6g protein, 4.1g sugar. Because I now do that for every recipe I make. (I've lost 12 lbs so far!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Anniversary travels

We recently celebrated our 3rd anniversary
Unlike previous anniversaries, when we had frozen wedding cake to gnaw on, I remade our wedding cake in cupcake form. My cousin Rich made our original wedding cake using my great-grandmother's vanilla cake recipe, my favorite vanilla buttercream recipe, and lemon curd, so it's very easy for me to recreate it- although I'm unlikely to make 140 gum paste roses each year.

To celebrate 3 years of wedded bliss, we decided to take a trip.

It was not as exciting as our trip 3 years ago
having a cold drink at the ice bar in Stockholm

visiting the ruins in Sigtuna

 but it was a fun little day trip. In past years, we've celebrated our anniversary at Nashoba, but now that I work there, and especially since I worked Labor Day Saturday and Labor Day Monday, it seemed silly to go there on Labor Day Sunday, our observed anniversary (our actual anniversary was the following Thursday). But I also realized I had only been to one other MA winery besides Nashoba, and  it seemed like that now I work in the wine industry, I should learn more about the wineries in my state!

Now, CT has a CT Wine Trail Passport program thing, which is super fun: 32 of the CT wineries are participating this year, and you go around and visit them, and get your passport book stamped. Once you've gotten 16 or more stamps, you can enter to win, and the grand prize is a trip to Spain for a week! Even the little prizes are good, two bottles of wine. I would be perfectly happy with 2 bottles of wine! To get a stamp, you just need to visit the winery, not even buy anything... although really, if you've gone all that way, why not do a tasting? My parents and I have this down to a science: we can hit 6 wineries in Litchfield in one day, or 5 wineries in eastern CT. There is also a cluster in southeastern CT and in the New Haven area.

When planning our anniversary day trip, I was not aware of a MA passport program (there is one, but you have to visit all 29 or so wineries and you have to buy the passport. I have no chance of visiting all the MA wineries before the deadline so maybe I'll do it next year), or even a MA winery map, so I googled "MA wineries" and found the MA tourism page. Word of warning: this page isn't very well updated.

The original idea was to visit the Cape Ann Brewery in Gloucester, since I'd fallen so madly in love with their Sunrise Saison beer (strawberry rhubarb beer) at the VT beer festival. I was pleased to find 3 other wineries in towns surrounding Gloucester, so I planned our little route and we left after breakfast on Sunday.

Our first stop was the Mill River Winery in Rowley. This was a small winery with a small but very comfortable tasting room. The bar was a huge piece of natural-looking wood, which you can see part of below.

MRW's wine tasting gives you a choice between 2 flights: option 1 is the dry option, with chardonnay, riesling, zinfandel and Plantation Red, which is a dry red. Option 2 is a semi-sweet flight, with rose (dry rose, so not sure how that's a sweet option), riesling, Plum River White and Plum River Red (both sweet and dry at the same time). The last wine of each flight was a choice of any of their wines, from either flight.

Clint had the dry flight and I had the sweet flight. We liked the wines reasonably well, I think my favorite was the Zinfandel, which was flavorful but not strong or super dry. The chardonnay was good. We also had an impromptu tour of the winery, which was very small but the owner seemed very nice.

Our next stop was Alfalfa Farm Winery, which had my favorite wines of the day. 

These were fruitier wines, more similar to Nashoba. The tasting here was the same set up as Nashoba, where you get a free wineglass and tickets that let you choose which wines you'd like to try, not a pre-planned list. AFW had a tart strawberry wine, a sweet blueberry wine, 3 red wines, a chardonnay and a gewurztraminer. Between the two of us, we tried everything. My favorites were the gewurztraminer and the blueberry and one of the reds (but I can't remember which!). The strawberry was really different, in that it was tart and not sweet. They also had sangria, which we had as our last tasting.

AFW has a pretty little patio, and since it was such a lovely day, we took the last few tickets' worth onto the patio for a picnic lunch.

Wine, maple smoked cheddar, crackers and mushroom pate... a perfect anniversary lunch!

The 3rd winery was Russell Orchards, which had a very wide variety of fruit wines, including dandelion wine and jostaberry wine (what's a jostaberry?!?). I was very excited to try these unheard of wines, but when we arrived, we found their tasting of 4 different wines are a pre-selected group of wines. We tried the sweet cider (good), the Baldwin apple (meh, but I generally don't really love Baldwin wines), the blackberry (good) and the rhubarb (ok, just not what I was expecting- it didn't taste like rhubarb at all, sadly). 

Russell Orchards is just that: orchards. They have PYO fruit, a store where you can buy pre-picked fruit, as well as other goodies like local honey, penny store candy, and there was a bakery section...

So we got apple cider donuts. Look at that happy husband!
These were really good donuts. Later on I wished they'd had cinnamon sugar though, but when they're fresh and hot you don't need it.

They had turkeys there.

Our last stop was Cape Ann Brewery in Gloucester, the main reason for putting this trip together. (side note: Gloucester is very scenic. I will be back)

We had to wait for a table. Sunday night of a holiday weekend, at 6:30, not surprising. The restaurant isn't huge, but they had an outdoor bar so we headed over there after putting our name in, since it was the perfect day to have a beer at an outdoor bar on the docks. I was very pleased to find Sunrise Saison on tap out there (along with Not Your Ordinary Bitter and Fisherman's Brew). Sunrise Saison was just as good as I remembered!
Salt and pepper shakers at Cape Ann Brewpub.

I ordered fish tacos, which were basically fish and chips with guacamole, corn salsa and tortillas. Pretty good! Something about that salty sea air makes fried food taste amaaazing.

Clint had jambalaya.

Then it came the time when we finished our blue soho cups of beer and had to decide what else to drink.

choices, choices! Fortunately, we saw someone with a beer flight at the next table, so we asked about that.

Fisherman's ale, Rockporter, Pumpkin Stout, Fig and Date Imperial Pumpkin Stout, Honey Pilsner and Pineapple Express.
I really wanted the pineapple, but it was too hoppy for me, and it hid the pineapple flavor. I liked Fisherman's Ale as a nice light summery beer. Honey Pilsner wasn't very honey-y (Clint could taste the honey though) but the Fig & Date stout was amazing, unlike anything I'd ever had before. It was definitely a sipping beer, though, so we decided against getting a growler, since it would take us forever to finish it.

The evening ended on a sad note: they didn't sell bottled beer at the brewpub, so we decided on a growler of sunrise saison. But when we asked for it, the waitress said they had an unexpectedly busy weekend and were completely out of growlers! ugh! so disappointing. She gave us directions to a liquor store that sold their beers, but when we got there, they were closed (Sunday night! totally forgot).

Fortunately, that story has a happy ending, and I can buy the Sunrise Saison by the bottle (not 6-pack) just down the street.

I love their labels! Very Gloucester-y.

Part 2 of our anniversary was dinner on the 6th at our favorite tapas restaurant, Bocado in Worcester. Cheers!
House sangria, Idiazabal cheese, bread and house-cured pork loin

seared scallops with pimenton cream sauce and potato and corn pancake

Trio of grilled sausage: chorizo, sweet Italian sausage and pheasant sausage (the pheasant sausage was ridiculously good)

pork albondigas with figs and bleu cheese, and venizon with rice and eggplant in rioja gravy

vanilla-brined chicken with blackberry sauce and pureed cauliflower

for dessert, we had churros with chocolate sauce.